Saison Farmhouse Ale
When picking a favorite beer to go with food, the Saison is almost always at the top of my list because it works with so many dishes. That's helpful this time of year, when saisons are more readily available from local brewers as a spring seasonal. The brew falls between the sweeter, more full-bodied stouts and doppelbocks that go well in cold weather and the light, effervescent, fruity hefeweizens of summer. I've been sampling saisons lately, and was really happy to discover that Hinterland in Green Bay just added one to its lineup, one that's just starting to appear in Madison.
What is it? Saison Farmhouse Ale from Hinterland (Green Bay Brewing Company) of Green Bay, Wisconsin.
Style: "Saison" is the French word for season. This style beer that originated in the French-speaking Wallonia region of Belgium. Created well before the advent of mechanical refrigeration, its low alcohol and light body refreshed farm workers on hot days. Saisons are associated with low to medium malt aroma, and a mild but sharp hoppy bitterness that is assertive yet not overwhelming. They can have a spicy and fruity character, with a balanced amount of sour or acidic flavors. The use of spices as an ingredient in the recipe sometimes includes grains of paradise and black pepper. Saisons range from 4.5% to 8.5% ABV.
Background: Hinterland Brewery owner Bill Tressler says his Saison is similar to the popular Belgium import Saison Dupont (Brasserie Dupont of Tourpes, Belgium). "It's the first time we have made one, and it's a really interesting brew," he says.
Hinterland's version features additions of coriander, lemon peel, lemongrass, and ground peppercorns that offer spicy black pepper tones to the beer's finish. It's fermented with a Trappist-style yeast, a type that's known for adding light, sweet, fruity accents to beer. This brew is a moderately strong Saison, finishing at 6.3% ABV. It's sold in four-packs of 16-ounce bottles for around $10.
Only about 60 cases of Hinterland Saison Farmhouse Ale have made it to Madison thus far, so it's most readily available at local liquor stores that offer extensive beer selections. Tressler says that while it's currently on its first run as a seasonal release, it has potential to become a year-round beer.
The release was inspired by the company's newest brewer, Scott Kissman, who joined Hinterland last year. Kissman's brewing resume includes a stint at Samuel Adams in Cincinnati.
Another Hinterland beer to watch for in the next few months is a bourbon barrel doppelbock that is aged in oak barrels for six months before it's bottled. It will be sold in single bottles.
You may have noticed that more Hinterland products have been turning up on a regular basis in Madison. The brewery continues to expand production, and its beers are now available throughout Wisconsin and parts of five other Midwest states. By summer, the brewery plans to break ground on a new addition to its building in downtown Green Bay. That expansion will allow its beer output to grown by as much as 40% over the next year.
- Aroma: Yeasty, with light musty character and hints of lemon-citrus.
- Appearance: Unfiltered, hazy bright orange-golden body, with a medium soft, off-white head.
- Texture: Medium-bodied, bubby and crisp.
- Taste: It offers a range of citrus flavors like orange, lemon and apricot. Those citrus tones are crisp and clean (not sticky or overly sweet; rather, sharp).
- Finish/Aftertaste: The crisp sharpness continues with a spicy-pepper finish that lingers and builds on the palate.
Glassware: The stemmed tulip glass' curved body will show off the bright orange-golden color of Hinterland Saison, while its flared lip supports the soft white head and allows the yeasty aroma to gather under your nose.
Pairs well with: The Saison style is a very versatile beer for food, and is particularly great for outdoor meals. Hinterland's version, with its spicy-peppery finish, is especially well-suited for flavorful seafood. It's also a nice match for earthy and musty cheeses.
Rating: Four Bottle Openers (out of four)
The Verdict: Hinterland Saison Farmhouse Ale has a yeasty-citrus flavor with hints of orange, lemon and apricot. It has the nice crisp, bubbly character of what one appreciates in a well-made Saison. But what stands out is the spicy pepper and dryness in the finish. For those who enjoy Dupont Saison, that Belgian standard for the style has an even dryer finish, without the spicy pepper you get with Hinterland's version. Hinterland's aftertaste is more a ginger flavor with a touch of pepper heat that lingers and builds on the tastebuds.