Thursday, May 31

Boulevard Saison Brett: The Interview

In case you missed it, tonight Central States used its Facebook and Twitter pages to announce that, "Boulevard Saison Brett will START hitting store shelves on Tuesday the 4th! Zon will START hitting shelves on the 12th! Yes - We are excited as well. Right now as it relates to the release date of Love Child TBD but looking at the 19th...ISH."

I'll have a post up soon with more info on Love Child #2, but I thought now would be a good time to share my recent interview with Boulevard's Jeremy Danner about Saison Brett:

Saison Brett is one of my favorite beers, combining my obsession with Saisons and my fascination with wild yeast.  For this year's release of Saison Brett, I interviewed Boulevard Brewer Jeremy Danner to learn a little more about this remarkable beer.  I want to thank Jeremy for taking the time to work with me on this, I think you will enjoy his insights.  Cheers!


As a style, Saisons can vary widely and yet, I feel like I still seem to know a Saison when I taste one.  What characteristics do you look for in a Saison?

You're right. Saisons are all over the board. The major thing that I look for in a Saison is a crisp dryness. I think a lot of Saisons out there can be under attenuated and sweet, bordering more on a lighter colored Bier de Garde. As far as acidity goes, I've had some really great Saisons that had a really pleasant touch of sourness to them. Both Free State in Lawrence and Upstream in Omaha have made some really nice slightly tart Saisons recently. But I think the main thing I keep looking for in a Saison is something that's crisp and refreshing. If you go back to the origin of the Saison, it was really a beer for the farmhands to drink. The whole idea was that it was strong enough to be stored during the time of year that you couldn't brew, but still drinkable and (usually) low enough alcohol that the farmhands could drink some and still go back to work. I think our Saison resides in the upper end as far as ABV goes. We're at 8% which is pretty high to be considered sessionable, but because it's so dry and crisp, I can drink it like it's a 5% beer. Scary stuff.

Tank 7 is labeled as a Farmhouse Ale while Saison Brett is obviously called a Saison.  I think the Saison/Farmhouse Ale terminology confuses people sometimes.  Do you view those words as synonyms or is Boulevard trying to make a distinction between them?

I don't know. We're not the best at labeling our beers for style guidelines. We think in flavor and then try to affix a label to the beer after we've brewed it. I think style guidelines are great when it comes to judging beers for competitions and homebrewing, but I think a lot of folks get way too caught up. It's kind of like all squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares.  I've read reviews for some of our beers where folks say that Tank 7 is the perfect example of a Saison and some where they think it's way out of style and rate it poorly for that reason.  We have to put something on the label so the drinker knows what they're purchasing though. Saison fits in the Farmhouse family along with Wit and Bier de Garde. We used to produce a Saison in the Smokestack Series that was simply called "Saison" so I think we wanted to make a distinction between Tank 7 and that beer. I'm really happy that I work in the brewhouse and have nothing to do with coming up with labels. It's tricky stuff.

Saison Brett is currently ranked the #2 Saison in the world by both Beer Advocate and Rate Beer.  Why do you think Boulevard has had so much success brewing Saisons?

We feel really lucky to be so highly rated on both those lists.  We're just .03 points behind Anchorage Love Buzz Saison. That's a damn good beer. I'm really excited by the beers Gabe is making up there. I think we excel in Saisons, and Belgian styles for that matter, because we have Steven Pauwels. He's the man. I really hope he reads this. I'll be sure to send him a link. Seriously though, he's a great source of information for traditional brewing methods for a lot of the Belgian style stuff we do, but at the same time he's turned into this quasi-American brewer that wants to play around and push the envelope. Certainly the yeast strain we use for our Belgian beers plays a huge part. We've really taken the time to learn what it's going to do under certain conditions and in different wort compositions so we're able to coax a wide range of flavors out of this one strain. We use the same yeast for Tank 7, Long Strange Tripel, the Sixth Glass, Harvest Dance, and Dark Truth. I think we're also great when it comes to Saisons because we really believe in brewing balanced, drinkable beer.


Saison Brett was one of the first Limited Releases to come out of the Smokestack Series.  Can you talk a little bit about how that beer was conceived?

Saison-Brett was inspired by a desire to add an earthy character to the Saison we had released as part of the original Smokestack Series lineup.  Brettanomyces is known to add a certain earthy, sometimes funky quality to beers and Steven Pauwels was looking for just that in our Saison. There were several test kegs and hand bottlings that were produced and tasted around the brewery and at a few festivals. When it came time to make Saison-Brett a "real" beer, we realized we wanted it to be different than just the original Saison with brett added at packaging. We brewed a bigger, more dry version of the beer that was also dry hopped with Amarillo.  Perhaps fatefully, the first batch of Saison-Brett we released to the public was also my first solo brew after I finished my training. Pauwels approached me as I was about to mash in to make sure I was "cool" and "knew what was going on". He also added, "...we want to sell this beer for, like, 14 dollars a bottle so don't mess it up." This was my first introduction to the deadpan sarcasm I've grown to appreciate from Steven. I went home that night and told my wife I didn't know if Steven was funny because he was genuinely funny or if he was funny because he had an accent. I've since decided it's a combination of the two. 

Was Saison Brett Boulevard's first beer brewed with brettanomyces?  Deciding to introduce brett into a brewhouse can be a big decision for a brewery.  Was there much of a debate about it at Boulevard?

Yes, Saison-Brett was our first venture into using wild yeast in our beers. Brett does, and should, scare a lot of brewers. The old comparison is that saccharomyces is like a dog. We have a good idea of what's going to happen and it sits when we tell it to, but Brettanomyces is like a cat. It does whatever it wants and if you try to control it, it's going to bite you.  We aren't as daring as some breweries that play with brett in their stainless fermenters, instead we introduce it at bottling. All of our Smokestack Series 750ml bottles are packaged at an off site location a few blocks away from the brewery in a space that used to be our old warehouse. We tote bright beer down the road and push it into a bottling tank and that's where we add the brett. I don't know if there was so much a debate about using wild yeast but we've definitely taken a lot of precautions including some heavy duty break down and clean up of our bottling equipment after a Saison-Brett run.

What about the cross-contamination issues brett has caused?  Any regrets?

Since we don't introduce the Brett into the beer until packaging at an offsite location, cross contamination is not an issue. Sometimes, however, barrels just pick up wild yeast or bacteria or sometimes they come in that way. We've taken a closer look at the way we evaluate barrel aged beer before blending and we're also taking micro samples for each barrel to make sure they're free of anything we didn't intentionally put in the beer.

Other than the addition of brett, how does brewing Saison Brett differ from brewing Tank 7?

It's cool, in the beginning there was no Tank 7, only a beer that we brewed to become Saison-Brett. We fell in love with the way the beer tasted from the fermenter it was cellaring in before packaging, FV 7, and Tank 7 was born. Since then, we've modified the recipe just a tiny bit when we brew Saison-Brett.  All the hopping remains the same, but we mash just a bit longer when we're brewing Saison-Brett. We really want the beer to dry out quite a bit before we add the brett. Since brett continues to chew away at sugars, we want to make sure we have a beer with a very low final gravity before we introduce the brett. We're definitely concerned about over carbonation when we play with wild yeast. Ensuring that we have a super dry before at the end of fermentation definitely helps with this.


After you add the brett, how do you know when Saison Brett is ready to drink? What characteristics are you looking for?


After we bottle Saison-Brett it's trucked up to our warehouse where it sits in the temperature controlled bottle conditioning area. We pull several bottles at various times during the bottling run for quality assurance testing. In the first few weeks we're monitoring CO2 levels making sure that the beer bottle conditions. Once it gets past a few weeks we taste bottles every couple weeks to wait for brett character to develop. Since the beer is called Saison-Brett we want a noticeable brettanomyces influence to be present at the date of release. We believe in releasing beer that is ready to drink the day you buy it, but obviously Saison-Brett is a beer that continues to develop and blossom with age.

Speaking of blossoming with age, what are your thoughts on aging Saison Brett?  What sort of changes does the beer go through? 

Normally, I'm very against aging beer, but this is one that I do cellar. I think a lot of beer dorks, and I include myself in that group, kill a lot of good beer by leaving it in their basements too long. I've done it myself and I'll probably do it again. I love Saison-Brett when it's first released but it's fun to age a few bottles and open one every couple of months to see how they're progressing. Fresh Saison-Brett has a nice tropical fruit, pineapple flavor from the brett that blends nicely with the citrus tones from the hops. As the beer ages, the hops fall off a bit and the brett becomes more "funky". Lauren Salazar talks about brett like it's a fortune cookie. Whenever you read a fortune cookie out loud you add "...in bed!", but with brett you say, "...in a good way." So you get flavors that are new shower curtain, barnyard, earthy, and funky "in a good way". 

7 comments:

  1. I recently broke down and cracked open my 2008 Saison w/Brett. I'm not sure if anyone else has had one that old, but you definitely need to let it breath a minute, as first impressions are like you awoke some ancient evil.

    Once that clears it's amazing.

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  2. I recently checked my stock of Smokestack beers and I do still have an '08 Saison-Brett. How much longer would you recommend letting that one age? Is it to the point where I should find an occasion to drink it or can it continue to be aged?

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  3. 5 years? Drink it!

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  4. Great interview, I'm looking forward to snagging a few bottles of this.

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  5. Very nice interview. Loved the technical commentary about the cross contamination risks, given the history of the strain in brewing.

    Of particular interest was the comment about a low final OG to avoid blowing bottles up.

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  6. Oh, just FYI, if you have trouble finding it, the price chopper at 152 and Flintlock still has about a dozen bottles available for $12.29 ea. I searched far and wide to find some here. Most places have long sold out.

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