As April showers are imminent, drier brews eclipse the viscous drams of winter. Like rich, slow-cooked meat and hearty vegetables, edges caramelized, heavy beer styles with residual sweetness have established themselves as the fare of deep winter. The alcoholic warmth, deep hues, and warm glow flickering in stemmed glassware are like a reflection of scenes around a glowing hearth.
But then, especially in the age of quarantine, cozy begins to fly close to stuffy. The subconscious steers away from heavy and sweet, as tendrils of green and warm rays creep onto the horizon. The glassware elongates from snifter or goblet to a tulip, the better for framing effervescence, like the new shoots stretching and unfolding toward the spring sky. In come new styles, crisp like cool mornings, grassy and earthy like flower beds — before the luscious bloom. But drier.
“Dryness” has nothing to do with water content in beer, but rather denotes the absence of sweetness … or that relative absence. The fermentation process breaks down sugars, rendering alcohol and carbon dioxide. Try putting a sprinkle of sugar on your tongue to find that the resulting salivation inspires a sensation of wetness. On the other hand, alcohol can have a drying effect on the palate. Carbonation can clean the palate, curbing aftertastes prone to linger. “Finish” in beer refers to the perception and sense of a beer after it is swallowed. Carbonic acid also imparts “bite,” which can play a role in refreshment.
So, straining under the lingering weight of winter’s sweet and viscous brew, find relief in something drier and more refreshing.
One such option that has found a comfy spot in my spring rotation is Saison. Saison is a family of beers as diverse as one might expect in a “farmhouse” beer. Like any regional specialty — which tend to vary from stead to stead — these center on spectra of spice, effervescence and dryness. Something just seems right about sipping farmhouse ale come spring.
Middle malt character keeps things interesting in a drier beer and sets up the finish. Just pure uniform dry tends to leave one with a sort of… sucky experience. But carbonation in Saisons tends to be lively, akin to champagne in some cases. Some spice punctuates earthiness and malt in the middle.
Perhaps the most popular Saison in the state is Lift Bridge’s Farm Girl. A beer for those only dabbling toward dryness after winter, she’s moderately sweet and bubbly, with a subtle piquancy of black pepper.
Saison Dupont from Brasserie Dupont, the benchmark of the style, tends toward the effervescence of sparkling wine. It’s grassy with some citrus and perceptual sweetness. Its earthy middle is punctuated by peppercorn. It finishes dry, crisp and refreshing.
Tank 7 from Boulevard Brewing Co. offers a balanced variant. Mild citric sweetness on the nose is followed by faint tartness and a hint of apple. Sourdough, in the middle, is punctuated by cloves. Sweeter than standard, this might be for those more interested in dipping a toe than plunging headfirst into the season.