Friday Froth: Seasonal Spring Beer...A New Crop

James Gribbon

Dark beers and dark nights are falling away. Fresh life is shouldering its way through the crusty ground, and new batches of lively, energetic spring seasonals are seeing the light of day for the first time in brewery tasting rooms across the country. Spring time is for beer lovers. 

The season lends itself to saisons, the ancient staple of farmers and field hands in need of relief during the planting and cultivation of new life. Stillwater Artisinal Ales is celebrating the arrival of fresh, new life with the release of its Debutante American Farmhouse Ale. This saison, brewed with a combination of spelt and rye, and accented with a blend of heather, honeysuckle, and hyssop, is actually a collaboration between Stillwater and Belgian beer specialists The Brewer's Art, of Baltimore. 

This one's a bit boozy for a farmhouse ale at 6.4%, and pours fully filtered and transparent golden color in the glass, with a light head and a heavy, sour funk to the nose, to the point where if I'd never had this style of beer before I might think something had gone seriously wrong. I love it. The incredibly flowery Belgian yeast is the pervasive flavor, however, with soft notes of rich grains. Still, this one is light and clean, with a slightly sweet aftertaste from those botanicals which manages not to overstay its welcome. This is a well made ale from a talented creator I've mentioned before in Friday Froth, and not at all as challenging as the aroma would suggest. I'm going to drink this one every chance I get, and try pairing it with some charcuterie the next time.  

Author James Fennimore Cooper once found himself sitting by a pond in Cooperstown, New York near the current site of Brewery Ommegang, and the shimmering water brought a new word to his mind, "Glimmerglass." That word became the name of the pond, and of Ommegang's new spring saison. Light amber in color, this beer has a delicate aroma, like an orchard in bloom, and from the first sip it's apparent that what you're holding is a superior beer. 

The wheated malts are so subtle and bright, uplifted by citrusy notes and a dusting a hops, with a spicy finish which comes on late and adds further perk to the aftertaste. Just - wow. This saison is the beer equivalent to a perfect piece of fruit, it's so succulent. Ommegang calls this one "crisp and lingering," and I see no reason not to agree. It's an outstanding beer as we slip into spring. 

Sorry to hammer you with the purple prose of alliteration, but Victory's spring seasonal is a saison called Swing Session. It's an unusually crystal clear straw color, and you'd be hard pressed to know what styles of beer had appeared before you if a glass of it was presented in a smell-proof container. The spices and floral Belgian yeast which hang like invisible clouds around an unenclosed glass do much to give away this beers character. 

The yeast is the most distinctive component, both in aroma and taste, but the addition of peppercorn and lemon zest are balancing factors in this gentle beer. It's a session ale, in that it's just 4.5% alcohol, but it's also a very good starting point for those who are looking to dip a toe into the shallow tide pools at the edge of a sea of Belgian beer. If you already like the style, Swing Session is pleasant and harmless, if not particularly remarkable. If you have a friend who reflexively orders a Shock Top or a Blue Moon, this slightly different style is orders of magnitude better. Order it for them, and do your part in making this world a less macro-brewy place. Overall, it's a good addition to the world of spring seasonals. 

I appreciate all of you who have read this far, and I wanted to make sure you knew about several new beers which will be making their debut at Two Roads Brewing in Stratford tomorrow from noon to 9p.m. There will be a new Henry's Farm double bock which has been lagered extensively and aged in rye whiskey barrels, and Two Roads' new sour Berliner weisse-style beer, Krazy Pucker. The event itself is called "Nor'Yeaster" after the third beer, Urban Funk Wild Ale. Brewmaster Phil Markowski worked with professors from Sacred Heart University's biology department to capture and propagate a strain of wild yeast they plucked from the skies during superstorm Sandy, and used it to ferment this inventive new sour. Corked botles, only 690 of them, will go for $10 starting at noon, but I'd suggest getting to the brewery as early as possible if you'd like to get your hands on them, and maybe sample a few more in the tasting room. 

There is something new under the sun. Quite a lot of it, as it turns out. See you out there.