by Borderstan.com April 24, 2013 at 12:00 pm 0

From Rob Fink. Follow him on Twitter @RobDFink or email him at rob[AT]borderstan.com.

"Saison"

Saison Dupont. (Rob Fink)

If one were to observe the ubiquity of saison within the American craft beer landscape, he or she would observe a style whose characteristics are anchored in tradition while defying style categorization.

Originating in the French-speaking southern region of Belgium known as Wallonia, specifically the Hainaut province, Saisons on the whole offer a wide spectrum of flavor possibilities while still remaining identifiably Belgian and identifiably saison.

Literally meaning “season” in French, saisons were traditionally brewed anywhere from late autumn until early spring, and there were several practical reasons for doing so.

Before the advent of refrigeration, you could maintain fermentation temperatures more easily during the late fall and early winter when temperatures were more moderate. Additionally, it gave farmers an opportunity to continue working between harvests and allowed enough time for beer to be brewed to last the entire year.

Although variation is widespread, modern interpretations of the saison style (whether in America, Belgium or elsewhere) have a tendency to showcase extraordinary dryness, ample hop character (by European standards, so not IPA levels) and a Belgian fermentation character redolent of musty earth, phenolic spice and ester-driven fruitiness, resulting in a distinct conglomeration of appetizing flavor.

Best Beer for the Dinner Table

In other words, saisons are arguably the best beer you can have at the dinner table. In terms of food, saisons can handle just about anything. From the most nondescript salad preparation to more involved Southeast Asian cuisine, particularly Thai food, saison reigns supreme.

The wide-ranging plethora of spice flavors, not to mention the silkiness of a coconut milk based curry, provide a beguiling number of flavor hooks for saisons to rest on. The next time you order Thai carry-out, opt for a saison instead of wine (in particular, stay clear of red wine); you’ll be glad you did.

As the summer months invariably approach, two saisons (one omniscient and one local) come to mind, either of which would amplify any warm weather gathering (preferably outdoors!) you may be having.

"Saison"

Stateside Saison. (Brian Hussein Stanton)

Saison Dupont – Brasserie Dupont, Tourpes, Leuze-en-Hainaut, Belgium, 6.5% ABV: Saison Dupont is the indisputable standard-bearer of the style. Upon first whiff, your nose is infiltrated with a barrage of herbaceous grass, musky earth, stone fruit and the slightest hint of peppery spiciness. If I were to take five beers away with me to a desert island, this would be one of them. Incredibly food-friendly and ultimately quaffable, Saison Dupont re-establishes the flavor/food paradigm for beer.

Stateside Saison – Stillwater Artisanal Ales, location “unknown,” 6.8% ABV: As a “gypsy” brewer who travels around the world to brew beer with other like-minded brewers yet retains his own brand and is based in Baltimore, Brian Strumke fully embraces the cultural manifestation of defiance. Despite being steeped in the Belgian tradition, Strumke takes a distinctly American perspective in terms of his beer. His beers often exhibit the flavorfully intense bravado associated with American craft beer. Stateside Saison bursts at the seams with notes of peppery spice but with an accompaniment of American hop character, allowing flowery citric notes to permeate the Belgian fermentation character. To be sure, Stateside Saison is a veritable stunner that just screams for a lime-heavy sea bass ceviche.

Thankfully, both of these beers are plentiful in the Borderstan area. Most liquor stores with a decent beer selection will carry Saison Dupont, and Borderstan mainstays such as the P Street Whole Foods and Connecticut Avenue Wine and Liquor will undoubtedly satiate your thirst for Saison, including a variety of Stillwater beers. If you choose to enjoy an evening on your balcony or porch in the near future, consider one of the above mentioned saisons — you certainly won’t regret it.

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by Borderstan.com October 10, 2012 at 10:00 am 1,174 0

"Hop"

Homegrown Cascade Hops. (Brian Hussein Stanton)

From Rob Fink. Follow him on Twitter @RobDFink or email him at rob[AT]borderstan.com.

No longer relegated to a niche market, the popularity of prominent hop flavor in American beer has lovingly mutated from the crisp bitterness and note of grapefruit pith found in Sierra Nevada Pale Ale to pine forest and tropical fruit practically written in the biology of Russian River Pliny the Elder.”Wet-hop” ales are perhaps the latest iteration of the insatiable hop craze let loose on the American craft beer landscape.

What is “Wet-Hopping?”

“Wet-hopping” as a phrase refers to the use of unprocessed, un-kilned (and therefore un-dried) hops in the brewing process. Much in the shape of a pine cone, the spine or strig of the cone is flanked on either side by bracts, the leaf-like outer covering of the hop flower. Lurking underneath the bracts are the lupulin glands — school bus yellow in color, these glands contain a multitude of acids, resins and volatile essential oils directly responsible for providing bitterness, flavor and aroma in beer.

Wet-Hops and Their Use in the Brew-house

While on the vine, hops retain roughly 80 percent of their weight in water. After harvest, hops are typically kiln-dried then compressed into bales and, finally, refrigerated. Wet-hops are harvested then almost immediately used, typically within days. By utilizing wet-hops, craft brewers attempt to capture the raw essence of the hop in its purest form, seeking to retain the aromatic compounds normally driven off during the boil.  Moreover, the use of wet-hops maximizes hop flavor, inducing an intermingling perfume of everything from herbaceous grass to peachy stone fruit to pine needles, to tangerine and other citrus fruits. It’s tantalizing just thinking about the breadth of flavor lodged in this wonderful flowering perennial.

The Most Important Part: Where to Find Wet-Hopped Beer

Luckily, you and I can gladly indulge in a proud example of a wet-hopped beer, the beauty which we’re reminded of on an annual basis as we drink the autumn harvest. Below are three favorites, all can be found at your better Borderstan beer stores such as Connecticut Avenue Wine and Liquor (1529 Connecticut Avenue NW) and the Logan Circle Whole Foods (1440 P Street NW).

  1. Founders Harvest Ale (Grand Rapids, MI)
  2. Sierra Nevada Northern Hemisphere Harvest Ale (Chico, CA)
  3. Great Divide Fresh Hop Pale Ale (Denver, CO)

If you’re already busy this weekend, I suggest ditching your current plans and heading to Snallygaster. Although a bit outside Borderstan (near Nats Park), this event will likely prove to be the preeminent celebration of craft beer in our area this autumn. Look for an in-depth review of the event in the coming weeks — cheers!

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by Borderstan.com September 26, 2012 at 10:00 am 1,195 0

"Beer"

Time for pumpkin beer! (Photo courtesy of Brian Hussein Stanton)

From Rob Fink. Follow him on Twitter @RobDFink or email him at rob[AT]borderstan.com.

As we have seen with Oktoberfest beers, Autumn swiftly ushers in sensations of harvest, and within the American craft beer paradigm, a generalized style (deemed “Pumpkin Ale”) reigns supreme.

The History of Pumpkin Ale

Unlike Oktoberfest beers, pumpkin ales are as uniquely American as a beer style can get. Indigenous to North America, pumpkins for purposes of brewing were an alternative source of nutrients compared to barley, a more expensive alternative. As a result, pumpkins made their way into the beer and wine of colonists as a result of their relative cheapness and their abundance of starch, which enzymes eventually turn into sugar for yeast to feast upon.

Fast forward several centuries and Pumpkin Ale is arguably the most ubiquitous fall seasonal in our country today. In my opinion, modern craft interpretations are not as concerned with the essence of raw pumpkin flavor so much are they are with emulating pumpkin pie in liquid form. More assertive examples of the style will infiltrate the nostrils with a potpourri of nutmeg, cinnamon, clove and ginger.

Generally speaking, beer can often be reminiscent of spices due to the individuality of the yeast strain used. In the case of Pumpkin Ales, you actually do smell some, or perhaps all, of the aforementioned spices due to their purposeful inclusion in the beer.

Best Choices for Pumpkin Ale, Where to Find Them

With fall officially upon us, there is no better time to seek out a burgeoning American classic. And while taste and perception of flavor is inherently subjective, the intensity of flavor of these beers begs to be paired with the substantial fall fare. The production of pumpkin ales has more or less kept pace with their increasing popularity, but it’s still wise to seek them out sooner rather than later.

  • Southern  Tier Pumking – 8.6% ABV
  • Elysian The Great Pumpkin – 8.1% ABV
  • Schlafly Pumpkin Ale – 8% ABV

Fortunately, all of these beers and more can be found at Borderstan watering holes such as The Big Hunt or Churchkey, and your better beer stores like Connecticut Avenue Wine and Liquor (1529 Connecticut Avenue NW) and the Logan Circle Whole Foods (1440 P Street NW). More importantly, beers across the spectrum of the harvest season can be found at P Street location of Pizzeria Paradiso during their annual Autumnfest celebration.

Of even more profound size is arguably the cannot-miss event of the season put on by the Neighborhood Restaurant Group (which famously owns Churchkey in Borderstan) dubbed Snallygaster, which can allow you the enjoyment of nearly 100 beers via draft, cask and wood-clad gravity-fed keg. I’ll see you there.

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by Borderstan.com September 12, 2012 at 12:00 pm 1,279 0

"Oktoberfest"

Get ready for Oktoberfest. (Brian Hussein Stanton)

From Rob Fink. Email him at rob[AT]borderstan.com.

Autumn is a season teeming with multitudes of things; from steadily decreasing temperatures to foliage dressed in evolving interplays of red, orange and yellow, it conjures celebratory notions bound to harvest and holiday.  Not surprisingly, nature’s transition to winter also carries with it a varied collection of heartier food and drink designed to withstand such a change.  Naturally, beer is no exception.

One of the most widely recognized autumn beer styles in America is what is now known simply as Oktoberfest.  It is a lager beer style with considerable similarity to both Vienna lager and Märzen, which all exhibit a varying malt profile redolent of biscuit, deep, almost juicy caramel, and toffee.  Broadly speaking, Oktoberfest is not so much a beer style as it is a cultural phenomenon.

Staged on an open meadow known as the Theresienwiese in Munich beginning in the middle of each September and ending the first weekend in October, it is easily the most famous rollicking carnival of a beer festival in the entire world.  In the fall of 1810, Bavaria’s King Maximilian I. Joseph held a celebration for the wedding of his son Crown Prince Ludwig to Princess Therese of Sachsen-Hildburghausen, and there has been a similar celebration every year since except in times of war or disease.

Recreating the German Classic

American craft brewers have shown a deft hand in recreating the German classic.  Samuel Adams is the largest craft brewery to make the style, but honorable renditions come from the likes of:

Though there are other reputable examples, the above three are some of the best American iterations, with the Great Lakes version being my personal favorite.  Thankfully, all of the above can be found in Borderstan at  Whole Foods, 1440 P Street NW and Connecticut Ave Wine and Liquor Deli, 1529 Connecticut Ave NW.  Find an Oktoberfest gathering near you (don’t worry, you won’t have to travel too far outside of Borderstan) to celebrate this venerable German tradition.

Largely because of its malt complexity, Oktoberfest beers possess a plethora of food affinities.  Anything grilled will have a natural partner in an Oktoberfest, whose toasty, bready sweetness will harmoniously latch onto the caramelized crust.  Naturally, Oktoberfests are near exemplary with grilled sausages.  Add a pile of onions and a bit of sweet mustard and you have a revelatory meal.  Also, Oktoberfests are dry enough to be refreshing while it’s still warm.

I suggest you do as the Bavarians do and fire up your grill a few more times while the weather is still pleasant.  As the Germans would say, Prosit!

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by Borderstan.com May 17, 2012 at 8:00 am 0

From Rachel Nania. Check out her blog, Sear, Simmer & StirFollow Nania on Twitter@rnania, email her at rachel[AT]borderstan.com.

American Craft Beer Week started Monday and ends this Sunday, May 20. To celebrate, one nearby brewery is bringing the suds to DC during the month of May.

DuClaw Brewing Company, based in Bel Air, Maryland, is expanding its selection to the District and Northern Virginia, and is hosting a launch party at the Big Hunt on May 24. The Big Hunt bartenders will be pouring from the tap and the DuClaw crew will be on hand to answer questions and give away prizes.

beer, Borderstan

DuClaw Brewing Company is hosting a launch party at the Big Hunt on May 24. (Alejandra Owens)

Additionally, DuClaw just named the winner of their 2nd Annual H.E.R.O. Homebrew Contest. Vincent and Suzanne Powers of Nottingham, Maryland clinched the title with their Chocolate Chipotle Stout, which will be brewed and available this fall everywhere DuClaw is sold.

The brewery is now searching for the charity to receive all the proceeds from the sale of Chocolate Chipotle Stout. Anyone is free to nominate a charity or organization by June 30 by emailing hero[AT]duclaw.com.

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