Friday, April 30, 2010

Beer Club, Volume Eight - Saisons!

Well, it appears that spring has finally sprung in Minnesota. About damn time. I thought it was time to start introducing the group to some beers that go down well in the summer so that they don't try drinking an imperial stout when mowing the lawn and accidentally revert back to Miller Lite.

Wheat beers/witbiers/hefeweizens were all on my radar but I decided to start with my personal favorite of the summer styles, saisons. Admittedly, I needed to brush up on some good examples myself as I had tried less than ten different ones before April's Beer Club meeting.

I knew that I wanted to do Lift Bridge's Farm Girl and Surly's CynicAle, both because of the local angle and because they're damn good beers. Another one that was a personal favorite had to make the cut so Goose Island's Sofie was on my short list. A visit to the Four Firkins helped round out the lineup with Alvey's help. He recommended Ommegang's Hennepin (I felt silly for forgetting that one) and also Saison Dupont which he said was the classic example of the style. A couple new arrivals, Victory Helios and Great Divide's Colette rounded out the list.

I had tried five of the seven beers on the list and I usually like to try most of them before Beer Club so I bought a 375ml bottle of the Saison Dupont and drank it on Sunday. I was a bit leery when I saw it came in a green bottle and pretty disappointed when I popped the top and smelled some skunky aromas. Luckily though, the smell faded quickly and it turned out to be a pretty good beer.

After October's meeting, I realized how devastating it can be to have an awesome beer in the middle of the lineup followed by a less-than-awesome beer. I hadn't had Sofie since last year and had only tried it twice but I was confident enough in my tastes to move the Dupont from the end of the lineup. To cover my ass though, I put Hennepin at the end with Sofie second to last because I knew I liked Hennepin and I knew it was another renowned example of the style. My fear was that the skunky aroma in the beginning would turn the guys off a bit to it and I didn't want to finish the night on that kind of note.

Beer Club Monday rolled around and we were a little light compared to the full capacity Trappist month in March but that was OK with me, I love good attendance but I think about six people is the perfect number and that's exactly what we had. We started off locally with the Farm Girl and the Cynic which both surprisingly had some mixed reviews.

The new litmus test that I started using is "Would you drink this beer over Miller Lite (or whatever your favorite macro was) if they were the only two beers in a bar?" and also "Would you drink this over Summit (or whatever your go to easily accessible standard craft beer is) if they were the only two beers in a bar?" For the most part, everybody picked the saison in question over the macro with a couple exceptions but they didn't necessarily beat out the go to craft beers for as many people.

Note - I don't use Summit in that second question as a slam to Summit at all. On the contrary, I use it as my example because for about a decade now, I've walked into every shit bar just hoping they have Summit because they've done such a good job getting into bars in Minnesota that they're my oasis in an otherwise bad lineup of taps.

We moved on to the Colette which for some odd reason was Great Divide’s first appearance in Beer Club. They make some incredible beers (Yeti, Hibernation Ale, Titan, Hercules) and I’m glad the group finally got exposed to them. The Colette seemed to be one of the middle of the road, everybody liked it enough that they’d drink it again but there was no raving about it. I had it at right in the middle myself but will seek it out to drink more.

Then came the Helios. Oh my, I wasn’t ready for this one. Or should I say, the group wasn’t ready for this yet. My first experience with “da funk” came from Saison Brett from Boulevard last year. It’s kind of hard to describe other than using the term funky. Well, Helios has it too. Now don’t get me wrong, I personally didn’t think it was a bad thing and neither did Brett but we’ve come across it before.

Convincing the rest of the group was a whole other thing. My question was and remains, how do you tell someone who’s getting into beer that aromas of “barnyard funk” and “horse blanket” not only not bad but sought after? The Helios wasn’t too overpowering but for Pat, Phil and Paul L, it was shit. Literally.

Pat's reaction to da funk

Brett and I liked it and Paul U was on board for the most part but the other guys were less than enthused and choked down their samples. I’m thinking we could have some issues for certain styles in Beer Club’s future. But we’ll cross that bridge to the barnyard when we get to it.

Next up was Saison Dupont, considered by many to be the epitome of the saison style of beer and was once named by Men’s Journal as the best beer in the world. It went over very well. It did have a bit of the skunky aroma which I learned from Brett is actually more of a sulfur aroma, or DMS (dimethyl sulfide) in the very geeky section of the beer world. The thing about it with this beer was that it luckily faded quickly after the initial pungent punch to the nose and the beer ended up being very enjoyable. It did spark a good discussion about aromas and the difference between skunky and DMS notes.

Brett popping his (former) favorite saison

Next on the list was Sofie. Up until this point, this was my favorite saison and it remained in the top slot after going up against the others as well. It was the winner of the night in a landslide and even prompted Brett to change his mind on his favorite saison. If this stuff keeps happening, I might start to think I know something about beer!

Beer of the Night

The final saison of the night was Ommegang's Hennepin. It went over well but also a bit uneventful. I should have trusted my instincts and moved Sofie to the end but at least Hennepin was liked by most and wasn't a bad beer to end the nig ht on.

We finished the night with a few random beers including Matt Schiller's "Double Broken Tap" Imperial IPA (142 IBU 8.4 ABV). Matt's another home brewer that I met via Twitter. He brought me a couple bombers of his beer one night after work and after we drank one together, I grudgingly decided to save the other to split with Beer Club. It's a damn good beer and everybody loved it. Can't wait to drink more of it one day.

Matt's Double Broken Tap IIPA

Thus ended another successful Beer Club. I'm not sure that saisons went over real well for the whole group, but at least we were all exposed to something new and will hopefully continue to try more of this unique style of beer.

***Note - One thing that I wanted to mention was the perception of price in regards to packaging. The main reason I picked Helios to add to the lineup was because I thought it would be good to have a very affordable option and since it was only $3.99 a bomber, it really fit the bill.

One comment I always hear about Surly is how they're so expensive because $10-12 for a four pack of cans isn't what people are accustomed to paying. Well, the "cheap" bomber of Helios comes out to about 18 cents an ounce and the "expensive" CynicAle comes out to about 16 cents an ounce. All perception.

I'm not trying to knock Helios or say that Surly is the new cheap beer on the block, I just wanted to mention it so that you're always aware of what you're actually paying for a beer. The Hennepin was another good lesson in paying attention. If you buy a 750ml of cork and caged Hennepin you'll pay about $8 for it. If you buy a 4 pack of 12 oz bottles you'll pay about $10-11 for it. The 750ml costs about 32 cents per ounce, the 4 pack costs about 22 cents an ounce.

Bottom line is do the math, figure out the best value for your dollar and be able to afford more good beer.


  1. Great line up. I love Helios, but would never throw Brett onto someone who doesnt know what is coming. I thought the Helios was over carbinated, so I let it sit in the fridge for an hour opened, and it was delicious. I grabbed a couple more bottles, hoping that my first was just a bad bottle.

  2. Tell Brett to suck in that gut when having pictures taken of him. Wait, he probably already is. Ha!

    I was great finally seeing the legendary bar in person Mike. You gave my buddy Jason a ton of ideas for his own bar!