Door County Brewing made its debut late last summer with an initial round of beer releases, but it wasn't until a few months ago its regular lineup was expanded with a pair of farmhouse ales, or saisons. "It's a style that gets the beer geek crowd excited," says Danny McMahon, who partnered with his brother Ben and their father John to launch the brewery. Both will be year-round beers, and of the pair, the Bière de Seigle stands out with a creative use of rye malt.
What is it? Bière de Seigle from Door County Brewing Company of Baileys Harbor, Wisconsin.Style: "Saison" is the French word for season. This style was created well before the advent of mechanical refrigeration. It emerged centuries ago in the French-speaking regions of southern Belgium around Wallonia. Historically it was probably very low in alcohol-strength and light in body so as to be refreshing to farm workers on hot days.
Saisons are associated with low to medium malt aroma, and a light to mild yet crisp bitterness. The hoppiness can be assertive but shouldn't be overwhelming. These beers can be dry, spicy and fruity, with a balanced amount of sour or acidic flavors. Spices may be used as an ingredient, including grains of paradise and black pepper. Saison can be sessionable or quite big, and range from 4.5-8.5% ABV.
There really aren't many saisons that are bottled in Wisconsin. Those that stand out include Saison Farmhouse Ale from Hinterland Brewery of Green Bay, Picnic Ants Farmhouse Ale from O'so Brewing of Plover, and the new Zenith from Wisconsin Brewing Company. All of those are seasonal, limited-release takes the style. Door County Brewing jumps into the game with not just one, but two, and both will available throughout the year.
Background: "Saisons are such a broad category there is so much we can do with them," says Danny McMahon, who serves as brewmaster for Door County Brewing. "We wanted to come right out of the gate with a year-round saison," he notes. Make that two different takes on the style. Pastoral Farmhouse Ale and Bière de Seigle were initially released in early May and made their southern Wisconsin debut during Madison Craft Beer Week.
The biggest difference between Door County Brewing's two saisons is the rye malt that goes into Bière de Seigle. Its recipe calls for about 70% French Pilsner malt and 30% rye. McMahon uses two types of the grain: malted rye for body and flaked rye for some additional spice and dryness.
For Bière de Seigle, McMahon added rye to make it stand out not only from Pastoral, but other saisons on the market too. "We thought we would go with rye because it's one of those ingredients that is trending, and people seem to love rye in their beer," he says. In comparison, McMahon calls Pastoral a straight-forward saison -- nothing too crazy, it's mostly just a combination of Pilsner malt with a little bit of wheat.
McMahon's own appreciation for saisons also provides inspiration. "It's my everyday drinking beer, a style I usually go to," he states. Its recipe also reflects McMahon's experience as a homebrewer. "I've probably brewed it a hundred different ways, tweaked it here and there, but it all started as a five gallon home brew batch," he explains.
A key to making a good saison, notes McMahon is to give time for the yeast to do its thing. "These are beers we don't rush, we let them sit a few more days and allow the yeast to keep working," he says. Door County Brewing Bière de Seigle takes about four weeks to make before it finishes at 7% ABV. It's sold around Madison in four-packs for around $9 apiece.
For those lucky enough to have a ticket to the 2014 edition of the Great Taste of the Midwest, both Bière de Seigle and Pastoral will both be served at Door County's booth. The McMahons will also be offering samples of an imperial porter aged on oak, a pale ale made with citra hops that's fermented with wild yeast, and a sour lambic-style wheat beer aged with peaches. Bière de Seigle will also be served during Door County Brewing's party at Star Bar for this year's Great Taste Eve. The McMahons are expected to be on hand to pour it along with three other saisons, their Svart Vinter (imperial porter) and a coconut milk stout on cask.
Door County Brewing is also gearing up to release its newest bottled beer this fall. Its name is Silurian Stout, a milk stout made with a small amount of lactose. This beer should have a rich, creamy body yet be very drinkable at around 5.5% ABV. It should be available in six-packs by late September.
All of Door County Brewing's bottled beers are produced at Sand Creek Brewing in Black River Falls. The McMahons opened a seven-barrel brewery in Baileys Harbor this spring, and are planning to have a larger production system up and running in Door County within 18-24 months.
- Aroma: Light yeasty-fruitiness, a hint of pepper-like spice. Appearance: Hazy, yellow-golden color with a thick, soft white head.
- Texture: Medium bodied, soft and bubbly.
- Taste: Lots of carbonation up front that allows its yeasty notes to pop out of the beer. All that bubbly-body also helps bring out the dry-rye tones alongside the hints of spicy-pepper.
- Finish/Aftertaste: Spicy-rye flavors, with a firm, yet mild, dryness.
Glassware: The curved body of a stemmed tulip glass will show off the hazy yellow color of a saison while the flared lip supports its soft white head and allows the aromas of yeasty, pepper, spice, and bready-rye to gather under the nose.
Pairs well with: The saison is a very versatile beer for food. Bière de Seigle is particularly great for outdoor meals. When looking for a cheese, I recently discovered a nice pairing with Sargento Tastings Bruschetta Jack; this cheese has bits of sun-dried tomato, basil, parsley and garlic, which brings out more of the beer's dryness and blends with the spicy-pepper notes.
Rating: Three Bottle Openers (out of four)
The Verdict: Bière de Seigle has solid saison qualities, including its yeasty aroma, a very effervescent body, dryness, and spicy pepper-notes in the background and finish. The rye malt accentuates that dryness and lends additional spicy qualities of its own, which are just a bit more assertive than what you find in a lighter-bodied saison. There is also a hint of warmth from the 7% ABV that goes well with the spicy accents. High carbonation and dryness give this brew refreshing qualities, especially so for summer drinking.
However, Bière de Seigle is a well-made saison that shouldn't be confined to a single season for enjoying. Good for Door County Brewing to add this beer to its year-round line-up.