Craft Brew of the Week - Week 3, Wake Forest

I will be profiling a quality craft brew each week prior to the game, one that fits with the theme for the week, because beer and game day are highly complementary. This week, I'm expanding the discussion a bit. ACC Season play begins and it's time to take our game to the next level. Please don't ‘rec' this post, as I would like them to roll off the front page each week.

My criteria for developing this list is:

A) use a combination of foreign and domestic beers that are generally available this time of year
2) only high quality beer
D) beers from a variety of U.S. regions for domestics
%∆) present a variety of styles, with attention to the season, and do both classic styles and offbeat beers
Graceland) in general, bigger beers for bigger games

I'm going to begin a short series on beer flavors this week. I will attempt to describe how the components of beer create flavor in layman's terms and in as few words as possible. This is my ‘opponent preview', if you will, and I will break it down into a series rather than bogging you down with a lot of information at once.

Let's do this thing.

Sept 15 - Wake Forest 12:00 p.m. -

The Brewery: Green Flash

Selected Beer: Saison Diego

This beer gets a little more complex than the last few weeks (like our opponent - get it?) but I'm sticking with a lighter beer from a California brewery. Green Flash hails from San Diego. This will probably be our last brew from the region, although I could easily spend the whole season covering beers from the state considering the number of formidable breweries on the West Coast.

When I survey friends who enjoy craft beers, I feel like many prefer hop- or malt-forward beers, and beers which feature yeast often get overlooked. However, the popularity of American brews that are based on classic ‘yeasty' styles out of Germany and Belgium seems to be on the rise, which to me is a great thing. Green Flash has a few offerings that profile the effects of specific yeast. Saison Diego is their take on a classic Belgian style, Saison (pronounced SAY-sohn - say it with a French accent for great effect). A brew once referred to as ‘the phantom of beers' due to its rarity [insert Demon Deacon/ Ghost ‘Nole reference] will be a great introduction to ACC ‘Saison' play, as well as a great, mild introduction to the style if you haven't yet been introduced.

On Brewing and Yeast (a very small treatise):

Beer is based on four ingredients: water, malt, hops, and yeast. These ingredients can be manipulated to produce very different end products by adjusting timing, volume of ingredients, and temperature. Brewers may add other ingredients including water salts, fruit, vegetables, herbs, spices, sugars, bacteria cultures, non-traditional yeasts, spirits, and wood aging to further change or complement the flavor profile. We'll cover some of these sporadically through the season, but start with the big four. All in all, the goal of craft brewing in my opinion is unique, well balanced beer.

This week, let's talk yeast. In the brewing process, after beer wort (the sugar-filled liquid made from grain malt) is boiled and hopped, it is cooled and yeast is introduced. Yeast convert fermentable sugars into alcohol, and produce a host of chemical compounds, including all-important esters, which add a range of flavors associated with the taste of beer. Different yeast strains produce different levels and types of these chemicals and thus impart different flavors. Breweries in different regions of the world (Great Britain, Germany, Belgium, etc.) developed and used different strains over the last few centuries, balancing their preferred and/or available yeast with malt, hops, and water, which resulted in beer styles that we think of as classic styles today. Yeast can lend a wide range of tastes to beer, including wood, musk, mineral, fruit, spice, and sour characteristics. Besides the distinct flavors produced by different strains, the brewer can manipulate how a particular yeast expresses itself (i.e. how much of certain chemicals are produced) by changing the temperature and time spent fermenting and aging the beer. For example, higher temperature fermentation causes yeast to produce more esters, resulting in more pronounced fruitiness, musk, etc., than beer fermented at a lower temperature. In some styles, this is desirable, in others, not so much.

Yeast is generally the last ingredient in the brewing process but has the most impact on how beer tastes. Ale, lager, and wild yeast strains are what make beer taste like beer, and help make particular beers or styles unique. When you drink a beer, think about what you taste, and see if you can pick out what the brewer intended the yeast to do. In some beers, like sour ales or hefeweizen, this is easy to identify. In others, like a pale ale or pilsner, the yeast may merely provide a nice backdrop for profiling and complementing the malts or hops.

On to our game day brew:

Belgium has a lot of unique beer styles, and Saison, also called farmhouse ale, is no exception. Saison could be referred to as the pale ale of Belgium; they generally have some light malt and noticeable to strong hop flavor. However, they have a more pronounced and unique yeast character than, say, a classic British or American pale ale. The yeasts in Saison are generally considered somewhat wild, and brewers traditionally ferment this ale at high temperatures to encourage the wild flavor. Historically, Belgian brewers incorporated sugars, spices, and herbs into Saison, and each brewer added ingredients to their own taste. As a result, every farmhouse ale was different, and the same holds true for the style today. You will notice variations in color, taste, and aroma from one brewer's take to the next, and some will have slightly milder or heavier use of hops, malts, or spice, but they are all distinctly Saison. Craft brewing at its finest! There are still a number of great breweries in Belgium that brew these, and they can be quite affordable.

You are going to taste some musky and mildly fruity character when you drink Saison Diego. The yeast in the Green Flash isn't over the top, and is fairly mild for the style. The malts are also mild, the hop bitterness is just enough to complement the fruity flavor of the yeast, and there is a nice spicy bite to it. It pours a light yellow-gold, is a little murky, and has a dense head. This is a crisp, light, and slightly funky beer that will match up well with the warm weather on a late-summer day in Tallahassee.

Alternate Brews - Green Flash has some interesting offerings, including Le Freak, a Trippel/IPA hybrid that smacks of banana, Rayon Vert, a hoppy pale ale with sour yeast strain, and Palate Wrecker, an overhopped IPA. All are tasty.
If you want to get some Farmhouse Ales from the U.S., Jolly Pumpkin out of Michigan kills the style with several offerings, and there was a recent Victory/Stone/Dogfish Head collaboration called Saison du Buff where each brewery did a different take on the same recipe. I've compared two of these side by side and they are quite different takes.

If you want to get a Belgian version, Ommegang offers the Hennepin (though some batches are brewed in Belgium and some in New York, so it might be domestic), and Dupont and Fantome offer top notch takes.

What I'll (probably) Be Drinking Saturday: Saison Dupont and Saison Diego, Rayon Vert, Dogfish Head Punk'n, Monk's Café Flemish Sour, and homebrews.

What about you? What are your thoughts on this beer? What is your favorite Saison? What will you drink on Saturday?

Previously reviewed brews:

Sept 01 - Murray State 6:00 p.m. (click to review this post)- Stone, Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale

Sept 08 - Savannah State 6:00 p.m. - Lagunitas, A Little Sumpin' Sumpin' Ale

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