A new Godzilla movie comes out today! I’m a fan of the kaiju classics, so I’ve got my ticket for tonight. Babysitting realities prevented me from going to any of the advance screenings this week, but no matter – I’ve been prepping for tonight by watching Showa-era Toho kaiju movies for weeks with my thirteen-month-old. He’s enjoying them so much that he now smiles every time he sees the Toho Company logo, laughs when he hears an Akira Ifukube score, and kicks happily when he sees Godzilla’s head (sure signs that I’m doing something right as a dad).
Last night while watching Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster, I also tapped the first glass of my new dry-hopped saison Le Petit Kaiju. This was an update of last year’s Le Petit Plésiosaure, a Summit-hopped pseudo-clone of Brooklyn Sorachi Ace I brewed and bottled to give as favors at my wife’s baby shower. Why kaiju this time? Not just because of Godzilla’s return to the big screen. See, we’ve been calling our little one “kaiju” for as long as I can remember. And replacing the peaceful, cuddly Loch Ness Monster I featured on the Plésiosaure label with the shrieking, atomic-breathed, stomping lord of destruction Godzilla seemed very fitting now that he’s a toddler.
The grain bill for the saison was the same as last time. I mashed in with 11.75 lbs (5.33 kg) of Belgian pilsner malt for a single rest at 148°F (64°C) for 90 minutes, which is recommended at lower temperatures to ensure full conversion of the starches. I added a pound of dextrose at the beginning of the boil to bring the OG up to 1.067. And lest you turn your nose up at the dextrose, let me say that I believe kettle sugar does wonderful things to the right beer recipe (i.e., dry), and I follow the teachings of Randy Mosher, who said in his book Radical Brewing that Belgian candi sugar – which many would use in a similar recipe – is “a complete rip-off”. Dextrose or evaporated cane sugar for light beers, or a little piloncillo or demerara for darker beers, have never done me wrong if I keep those simple sugars to less than 25% of the fermentables.
I duplicated the Summit bittering hops of Plésiosaure with .4 oz (11.3 g) of 16% AA pellets at 60 minutes, but changed up the later hop additions to pay homage to Gojira’s Japanese island roots. While Sorachi Ace – a Japanese cultivar – would have been perfect, I’m still having trouble sourcing them. I did, however, manage to get my hands on some 15% AA Pacific Jade from New Zealand. It’s still Eastern hemisphere and Pacific rim, and has a profile reminiscent of Sorachi Ace, if not quite as sublime. I added 0.4 oz (7 g) at 30 minutes and 3 oz (85 g) at flameout.
I pitched a starter of White Labs WLP565 and fermented for 3 weeks before dry hopping with my last ounce (28 g) of the Pacific Jade hops, which sat in the fermenter for 2 more weeks. The FG was 1.005, leaving this kaiju saison a monster at 8.2% ABV, even stronger than last year’s batch.
Surprisingly, Le Petit Kaiju is very easy drinking, as I found out last night. It poured a lovely golden straw color. A little cloudier and thicker than I expected, but this was the first glass off the keg so there was a lot of sediment in suspension.
The head dissipated very quickly, so more time on the CO2 will do it good. But the aroma is sweet and citrusy, almost like lemonade, with a lot of yeasty character. As for the flavor, it’s spicy and lemony, bold and memorable. But it’s not quite dry enough. At first I was shocked by the heavy mouthfeel given the low FG, but then I remembered all the yeast in suspension. I’m hoping once the dregs are drawn off and I get some clear beer out of this keg, it will have the dry character I’m looking for. I’ve got a lot more Toho movies to show my little kaiju this summer, and I’m going to need lots of refreshment.
In French, the word means season, as in the seasons of the year. Spring, summer, autumn, or winter. A generic term, a category with specimens so varied that each is the opposite of another.
Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the beer style we call “saison” is a varied, open-ended style as well. Call it a seasonal beer unattached to a particular season.
Okay, that’s not entirely true. Look it up anywhere from Wikipedia to the BJCP Style Guidelines, and you’ll learn that saison has its roots in the farmhouses of the French-speaking Walloons of Belgium who spent the winter brewing spicy, refreshing ales to be consumed in the summer by workers pulling long shifts in the fields. So traditionally it’s a summer beer.
But the Wallonian brewing tradition was highly improvisational and localized. Each farmhouse brewed their own beer with the ingredients available at the time, often raised on their own farms. The resulting beers were, unsurprisingly, vastly different from place to place and from month to month.
So unlike the seasonal beers of, say, Germany – which tend toward profile standards of characteristic Teutonic rigidity, with names easy to mark on your calendar like Märzen, Maibock, and Oktoberfest – this traditional Belgian seasonal can be light or dark, strong or sessiony, and anything in between. A December 2006 Style Profile article from Brew Your Own magazine lists a wide disparity of characteristics for the modern style in regards to color, mouthfeel, residual sweetness, strength, hop profile, and spices. The main common thread is the yeast, descended from traditional Belgian strains that produce a characteristic spiciness, an estery je ne sais quoi that makes these beers decidedly farmhousey, even when made in the (sub)urban backyard.
With that range of profiles, I’d say seasonality goes out the window. A strong, dark, spicy saison would be a great nightcap on a cold winter night. I like light, refreshing saisons in spring (I’m pretty sure spring in Texas feels like summer in Belgium anyway). So I brewed one now to be ready by the last week of March.
There was another reason for my timing besides the oncoming vernal equinox. The last beer my wife and I drank together was a bomber of Brooklyn Sorachi Ace, the day before we learned she was pregnant. Our baby is due in April, so what better beer to have on hand to celebrate her return to the world of the ethanol-metabolizing than a hop-forward saison?
I started my brew with a clone recipe of Brooklyn Sorachi Ace from the December 2011 issue of Brew Your Own and a Gallic sense of laissez-faire. The recipe called for 11 lbs (5 kg) of Belgian Pilsner malt, which I increased to 11.75 lbs (5.33 kg) to compensate for lower efficiency on my system (more on that below). This made up the bulk of the fermentables along with 1 lb (453 g) of dextrose in the boil. The recipe also used a 3-step mash, which I did not. I did a single infusion mash at 146°F (63°C). The low mash temperature makes a more fermentable wort, but saccharification takes a little longer so I mashed for 90 minutes instead of my usual 60.
Brooklyn Sorachi Ace is hopped entirely with Sorachi Ace hops, which I couldn’t get locally. Instead of replacing it with a similar substitute, I took a different path entirely. I used 16% AA Warrior hops for neutral bittering, two additions of .37 oz (10.5 g) each at 60 and 30 minutes (~6 AAU in each addition). At flameout, I added 3 oz (85 g) of 15% AA Summit.
I had prepared a 2-liter starter of White Labs WLP 560, an Austin Homebrew Supply-exclusive Classic Saison Yeast Blend. That starter was decanted and pitched into a wort with an OG of 1.073, eleven points higher than my target OG of 1.062. Eleven points!
Little mishaps are common in brewing, and usually a good sign. Minor, easily correctable problems during the brew day keep the brewer on his/her toes, and (I think) make us less prone to serious mistakes that can’t be fixed. But overshooting target gravity by this much is a new kind of problem for me.
Is it even a problem? Obviously my efficiency is much higher than I thought – I’m noting the data for future batches – and the extra malt I added was unnecessary: a “problem” many brewers would love to have. I’m not entering any contests, so the fact that my OG landed past the upper limit of the BJCP range for saison doesn’t concern me. If it fails to attenuate completely, I may end up with a beer that’s too sweet. But if I got the kind of fermentability I was shooting for out of my low mash, that extra sugar should ferment out, leaving me with an ABV higher than I intended.
So if I’m lucky, I’ll be welcoming the spring with a dry, high-alcohol saison. Maybe it won’t be strong enough to qualify as an “imperial saison”, but it should be worthy of some noble title. I’d settle for “ducal saison” or better yet, “marchional saison”. With its extra kick, it might be a little too intense for farm work, but it sounds about right for celebrating the birth of a new Marchese.
I’m pretty sure every homebrewer and beer geek has at least one personal story about how they surprised – and perhaps even converted – some non-craft drinker they know with the awesome power of real beer.
Maybe one night in college you handed an Imperial IPA to your malt liquor chugging buddy, and he quickly commended it before twisting open another 8 Ball. Or maybe you once convinced a co-worker to try a fruity wheat beer at a happy hour instead of a hard lemonade, and she now stocks her fridge with lambics. Or maybe you triumphed over decades of wine supremacy by pulling off a really successful beer pairing with a dinner, to the amazement of friends and/or family. My latest such story is a variation on that theme: a 3-course dinner with beer pairings, served in my own dining room.
The day was Thanksgiving (November 22 for those reading outside the U.S.) and the objects of my proselytization were my wife Lisa’s family: my mother-in-law and father-in-law in town from New Orleans, and my sister-in-law and her husband visiting from the United Kingdom. To set the stage, let me introduce them instead as: a coffee drinker, a whiskey drinker, a Bud Light drinker, and a foodie/pub manager from the south of England.
Out of everyone in attendance, Lisa was the only person who was as convinced of the greatness of this idea as I was. She co-envisioned this event with me but couldn’t join us in the beer tasting thanks to an unfortunate medical condition called “expecting our first child” that isn’t expected to clear up for several months. This toast is for you, X.
The dinner itself was rather unorthodox. We haven’t done turkey on Thanksgiving in my house for nearly ten years, and saw no good reason to start now. We decided to build an utterly un-Thanksgiving-y menu with several commercial Central Texas beers from my cellar as inspiration, while also giving everyone in the family a chance to cook something. Here’s what we came up with.
I should disclose at this point that I don’t usually cook. Brewed beverages and the occasional steak are all I make that’s fit for human consumption, so most of the actual cooking (except for the steak) was done by Lisa and my brother-in-law. But I did choose the beer, so I’ve snatched the right to bill myself as director of the whole production.
Salad Course: Romaine with blue cheese, pecans, dried cranberries, and homemade mustard vinaigrette paired with a bomber of South Austin Brewing Company Saison D’Austin. As a longtime fan of this ubiquitous local saison, I had been dreaming about this pairing for a few days beforehand. This is a very light and refreshing saison, and everyone at the table enjoyed it (especially my sister-in-law the Bud Light drinker). But I found it lacked the backbone to stand up to the bold flavors of the blue cheese and mustard. Something with a bit more spice and/or funk would have served the dish better, so next time I’ll go with something a little more intense – a more phenolic Belgian or something with some Brett – and save the Saison D’Austin for a cheese course.
Main Course: Grilled sirloin with a coffee-chipotle rub served with a relish of tomatoes, tarragon and mustard; dill-roasted tricolor potatoes and oven-roasted asparagus paired with a bomber of Jester King / Mikkeller Weasel Rodeo Imperial Oatmeal Stout. The rub and the steak were the only food items I prepared myself, carefully trying to match the flavor profile of the beer, which features chipotle and kopi luwak coffee. Coffee and pepper were more pronounced in the steaks than the beer, if I do say so myself. But the pairing was a match made in heaven, and the in-laws enjoyed it all so much that we actually drank not just one bomber of Weasel Rodeo, but also the second bomber I had chilled just in case.
Dessert: Pecan pie from the Salt Lick paired with a 12-ounce bottle of Real Ale Sisyphus Barleywine Ale from 2011. Okay, so we didn’t actually make the pie, and I had no idea how it was going to pair with the 2011 Sisyphus, which I had never tried. As it turned out, the rest of the family were stuffed and satisified by now, so the barleywine was shared by me and my brother-in-law alone; 6 ounces for each of us was more than enough. The beer was robust and nutty with toffee overtones, and I thought quite a good match for my favorite pie in the Austin area, though I found myself wishing I had some good vanilla bean ice cream to complete the ensemble. I wasn’t disappointed for long, though, because I soon found myself satiated and … well, let’s just say “sleepy”.
So. A fantastic dinner that we had fun preparing together, and a great opportunity to demonstrate for visiting family why I’m so excited about the Central Texas beer scene. Hopefully I even got them thinking about beer in new ways. Would I do it again? Hell yes. And since there’s nothing “Thanksgiving” about this meal, I may do it again before next year’s holiday season. I hope it inspires you to try something similar.
Fantastic Fest 2012 is now a happy week-old memory. I saw 33 films from September 20-27 and emptied more than a few pint glasses. My highlights from the festival are below:
Day 1 – My Fest started with Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie in 3D. But that wasn’t until 6pm, so before the show, I had lunch at Bangers Sausage House & Beer Garden, where I enjoyed two barrel-aged Texas beers: Bourbon Barrel Alt-eration from Hops & Grain, and Real Ale Shipwrecked (aged in Jameson barrels for extra deliciousness) with an antelope and venison merguez sausage in honor of the reanimated pooch. Once I got to the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema for the movie, I found myself in the Shiner-sponsored theater, and enjoyed a free Shiner Bock. But my favorite film that day was Antiviral from Canadian director Brandon Cronenberg – son of film legend David Cronenberg (The Fly, Videodrome), and worthy of his father’s directorial legacy.
Day 2 – Two major highlights: The Conspiracy, also from Canada, which I watched with a couple of pale ales: an Austin Beerworks Fire Eagle IPA and a Shiner Wild Hare Pale Ale. Later that night, a friend and I got to the bottom of a pitcher of Real Ale Firemans #4 while watching Dead Sushi, the latest from Japanese director Noboru Iguchi. Iguchi’s shock/splatter/gross-out horror-comedies aren’t for everyone, but I find them great fun; and Dead Sushi is one of the better ones. Before the screening was a live in-theater eating competition between Iguchi, SFX guru Yoshihiro Nishimura and four audience members eating bull penis sushi, duck fetuses and ghost pepper tuna roll. Kudos to them; I couldn’t do it.
Day 3 – A great day. I sipped a Ranger Creek Small Batch #2 saison during Holy Motors by French director Leos Carax, a dense and symbolic film that begs rewatching. Next I saw the brutal yakuza revenge sequel Outrage Beyond by Japan’s Takeshi Kitano (a.k.a. Beat Takeshi), which went well with a Brooklyn East India Pale Ale. I watched an English-language remake of Pusher (the Danish original was the directorial debut of Drive and Bronson director Nicolas Winding Refn) with a Live Oak Oaktoberfest in hand, and I enjoyed another Firemans #4 at midnight during my most anticipated movie of the festival, the kung-fu-steampunk epic Tai Chi 0. All these movies made it into my top fifteen of the fest, and I’m still thinking about that Ranger Creek saison.
Day 4 – Started with my initial pick for best of the fest, Lee’s Adventure, a Chinese sci-fi film starring Jaycee Chan (son of Jackie) as a slacker-gamer with a disease that randomly slows and speeds his perception of time. China scored again in the evening with the aptly titled Vulgaria, a crude comedy about a Hong Kong softcore porn producer that kept me laughing out loud. At midnight, I saw the awesome British action-comedy Cockneys vs. Zombies, whose title pretty much says it all. I watched that with my favorite beer of the day, a Deschutes Obsidian Stout that was perfect for a midnight show.
Day 5 – The standout film was Black Out, a Dutch crime caper that played like classic Guy Ritchie. Day 5 is usually when I start to get bleary-eyed and need rest; unsurprisingly, I have no beer notes from this day. I recall drinking one or two Fire Eagle IPAs and at least one Hops & Grain Pale Dog Pale Ale.
Day 6 – My evening film was Vanishing Waves, a sci-fi thinker from Lithuania. There’s always at least one quiet, sterile and cerebral sci-fi film at the Fest every year, and whatever it is usually ends up in my top ten. This was no exception, and it inspired me to dig up and finish an incomplete short story I drafted last year (hooray for inspiration!). I watched it with a Thirsty Planet Buckethead IPA.
Day 7 – The penultimate night of the Fest brought me Hellfjord, by far the most fun I had all week. A new series from from a team of brilliant Norwegians (including writer Tommy Wirkola, director Patrik Syversen and writer-stars Zahid Ali and Stig Frode Henriksen) whose combined resume includes the zom-com Dead Snow and the geek comedy You Said What?, Hellfjord touted itself as Twin Peaks-meets-Hot Fuzz, and that’s pretty spot on. The complete first season screened – seven episodes – and I simply could not stop laughing during the entire three and a half hours. “Brilliant” doesn’t begin to describe this series. It was my definitive Best of the Fest. I’m counting the months until it may someday be released on American DVD, and if you have any sense of humor at all, you should look for it too. I also finished off another pitcher of Firemans #4 (with help) and had a spectacular barbecue chicken pizza with jalapenos before heading to the Hellfjord Norwegian Party at the Highball, where friends and I donned Viking helmets and drank Austin Beerworks Black Thunder Schwarzbier with samples of lutefisk and other pickled Nordic delicacies. And the mighty Thor smiled down upon us.
Day 8 – Somewhat anticlimactic after Day 7, but started with the poignant, entertaining Canadian drama I Declare War, about kids playing a game of war that skirts dangerously close to the real thing. After a couple of underwhelming afternoon screenings, I ended the day with a few complimentary Shiner Wild Hare Pale Ales at the Closing Night Party at the Austin American Legion hall.
So there you have it. Seven days have passed and I’m already looking forward to next year’s Fantastic Fest. There’s a reason we call it “geek Christmas” in my house. It’s a time to celebrate film, storytelling, inspiration, good friends, good food and good beer. And these are a few of my favorite things.
In hindsight, the last post I wrote before going to Mexico may have come across as snobbish – despite my protestations to the contrary – in my hard-line stance against Mexican lager. But I’m now pleased to report that during my time in Mexico, I learned that even I can enjoy a cerveza in the right circumstances. Tequila on ice proved too intense for drinking throughout the day, and soon became an exclusively after-dinner indulgence. Mojitos were a nice afternoon distraction for a few days, and I eventually found myself craving (of all things) white wine during the brunch-to-dinner stretch. Oh, but the afternoons of room service nachos on our poolside patio, of brick oven chorizo pizzas overlooking the beach … on those occasions, I gave in and popped a few Coronas, and man were they tasty.
So it seems that there’s a time and a place for Mexican beer: hot summer afternoons on the beach in Mexico, with spicy foods that don’t require forks. So viva regional traditions, and si, quiero un limón con esa.
(NOTE: That’s about as good as my Spanish gets. Unimpressive, certainly, but all self-taught based on four years of high-school French, three years of college Latin, and twelve years puzzling over Spanish billboards in California and Texas. Several of our servers in Mexico applauded my pronunciation, while laughing at my attempts to place orders for things like “Don Julio in the rock, and water that has been carbonated” or to break the ice with Hugo the bartender by observing that “Sunday is a crazy man, yes?”)
Last night, several days home and still nursing a George Romero-esque horror of a peeling sunburn, I relaxed with two saisons and a Blu-ray viewing of John Carter, an unfairly maligned film that I’ve seen twice now. It was a fine epilogue to the Mexico trip, because Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars – the novel from which the film was adapted – was the first book I read on vacation.
Beer #1 was Saison du BUFF 2012, the feted three-way collaboration between Dogfish Head, Victory, and Stone breweries. This was one of two bottles I bought Saturday – I’m cellaring the other. It poured tawny golden and surprisingly clear, even with the dregs roused. The initial herbal aroma blast from the parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme passed quickly to apple and pear aromas. The flavor was powerfully herbal, with a resiny character I’d attribute to middle/late high-alpha hops if I didn’t know better … and finishing quickly leaving a brie-like aftertaste. My only complaint was that this enticing flavor experience didn’t stay on the palate long enough. It was fleeting, and left me wanting more (of the same). But it went very well with popcorn and a kosher dill spear, and Captain John Carter’s sudden appearance on the red planet.
Beer #2 was Lift Bridge Brewery’s Farm Girl Saison, a personal favorite and one of a dwindling number of bottles I brought back from a recent trip to Minneapolis. I can’t get it in Texas, and that’s a shame. It faced some competition in the Saison du BUFF, but held its own despite its underdog status. It poured a pale burnished straw, cloudy with respectable head retention. Fruit aromas took the lead, with apricot and pear overlaying a familiar funkiness. The flavor was simple, delivering on the promise of the aroma: apricot and pear with some funk. Sweet, and maybe a little cloying. I preferred its mouthfeel, as it lingered on my palate longer.
So if Saison du BUFF is the princess of Mars, mysterious and seductive like the alluring (and buff) red-skinned warrior-maiden Dejah Thoris; Farm Girl Saison is, well, a farm girl. Not as exotic, not as well-pedigreed and certainly not as complex; but sweet, pretty, and a delightful comfort. I’d gladly be alone with either on a dark autumn night … on Earth or Barsoom.
In other news, I’m getting excited for eight genre-bending days at Fantastic Fest 2012, starting next Thursday. It’s my fourth time attending the biggest horror/sci-fi/fantasy/action/Asian/cult film festival in the United States. This is my favorite week of every year, and I’m sure once again it’ll be a blast. Great food, great movies, and great beer! What could be better?
The closet under the stairs – affectionately referred to as the Harry Potter closet – is the coolest, darkest part of the house. It’s where I keep all my fermenting beers and where I “cellar” store-bought beers in bombers. I seem to collect them faster than I can drink them, taking them out mainly for special occasions: a Chateau Jiahu on my birthday, a Brooklyn Sorachi Ace to celebrate the purchase of a new Japanese film on Criterion Blu-Ray, that sort of thing. But once in a while, we open one just for the hell of it.
Saturday night was one such time. Thirsty from the effort of arranging our new outdoor furniture into Tetris-style configurations on our limited square of backyard patio, my wife Lisa and I decided to open a bottle of Boulevard Saison-Brett that we’d been eying predatorily for months since we’d bought it.
The words “farmhouse” and “sour” are bandied about so much in the craft brew community lately, it’s easy to forget that just a few short years ago, the word “rustic” was a euphemism for “needs time,” and Brettanomyces (the aggressive wild yeast responsible for the funky flavor in many wild fermentations and notoriously hard to clean out of one’s brewhouse once it’s been introduced) was spoken of in hushed tones like Jack the Ripper was in the back alleys of Whitechapel in the 1880’s. Now many craft beer lovers are on a first name basis with “Brett” and we like a little funk to shake our glasses. But there are no doubt still some brew aficionados out there who haven’t jumped on the funk train just yet. To them I say: this beer’s for you.
The first word that comes to mind when I think of this beer is “accessible”. It’s the same word people use to describe Frank Zappa’s Apostrophe(‘) album, or the Lars von Trier film Melancholia. Boulevard Saison-Brett is as good an entry point for the newbie down the rabbit hole of “sour” beer as those works are into the intimidating corpora of those artists’ careers.
The beer pours a cloudy orange-straw color. The color reminded me of photos from Belgian breweries that I’ve spent hours gazing at online with longing, like a lonely teen with an Internet girlfriend. The head is pure white and rocky, with big bubbles you want to dive right into. There’s a respectable amount of sediment in the bottle, but not too much. To call the aroma “floral” is an understatement. It’s perfumey, with citrus notes and just the tiniest hint of barnyard aromatics from the Brett.
The flavor starts out much the same: perfume on the front end, with a tart and citrusy middle. But this is where it gets interesting. Once the citrus leaves the palate, astringency and sherry-like oxidation notes scrub it right away, leaving the finish very dry. It’s almost like champagne and just as refreshing. There’s not a hint of boozy flavor in this brew, which boasts a not-too-shabby 8.5% ABV.
I paired mine with some crumbled blue cheese, fig spread, and sesame crackers. I had to remind myself to take bites of my snack between sips, as the dry finish left me wanting to wet my whistle again and again.
As for the funk, it was present, but in the background – not the star of the show. Think George Clinton backup singer, not Bootsy Collins standing radiant in all his platform-booted, star-shaped-spectacled glory. There was very little of the barnyard, musty flavor typically associated with Brett beers, but that could very well be because we drank it so soon. Brett character tends to evolve over time, and I just couldn’t wait to try this one; but with a few more months in the cellar, the funky character may have come more to the foreground.
All in all it was a fantastic beer, and I wish I had bought a second bottle to hold onto and see how it ages. Once I get through a few more of the bombers in the Harry Potter closet, I will make sure to save some room for another couple of Saison-Brett bottles if and when Boulevard decides to release another.