Over the weekend, Drink Craft Beer’s first Summerfest drew hundreds of craft beer fans to Arts at the Armory for a celebration of all things farmhouse ale. The style — traditionally brewed during the late fall and winter months and consumed during the summer months by farmhands in Belgium several hundred years ago — is unique in that no one can really be certain what a typical saison tasted like. Generally, they tend to be dry, generously carbonated, often have a discernible fruit character, and are re-fermented in the bottle. I hit up the Saturday session to see what quaffable varieties our fair New England brewers had to share.
Mystic founder Bryan Greenhagen concocted Vinland One entirely from locally harvested yeast from a locally grown plum. The result? A dry, lightly sweet and effervescent brew reminiscent of, well, plums.
Ben Howe is the driving (and perhaps only) force of bière de champagne in New England. His eponymous flagship is a delightfully dry, bubbly beer with tannic notes of champagne grapes, while the Illumination Saison — dry hopped with Amarillo hops in his garage in Lowell — has a similar dryness with a rich, ripe sweetness.
Cambridge Brewing Company
Brewmaster Jeff Beck-Oliver made my lambic dreams come true by offering Rosé de Cambridge: a 10 percent ABV, imperial sour beer aged for more than three years and redolent with raspberries and cherries. Don’t get me wrong — their Soleil d’ete saison was a fab counterpoint: malty, earthy, lightly hoppy, and smooth, but I’ll always pucker up for a great lambic.
Pretty Things Beer & Ale Project
Somerville’s gypsy brewers had their latest release, Meadowlark IPA, on tap alongside Jack D’Or — the company’s flagship brew, which is a notably hoppy farmhouse ale. Keep an eye out for their latest collaboration with Kansas City’s Boulevard Brewing: a stingo — a tart, malty, brown blend of sour and wood-aged beer, due in early August. “It stings your palette,” says cofounder Martha Holley Paquette of the style.
Idle Hands Craft Ales
Founder and head brewer Chris Tkach (at left) had D’aison on hand — a 5.8 percent ABV dark saison with dark chocolate and coffee notes — as well as home brewer Shaun McAuliffe’s (at right) Commemoration, a saison that won this year’s Annual Boston Homebrew Competition and was brewed in the nanobrewery’s Everett digs.
John Harvard’s Brewery
Brewmaster Walker Modic’s Lacto Saison was right up my alley: tangy, naturally citrusy, and had just enough sourness to give my salivary glands a healthy squeeze. Another version with juniper and lime was the closest thing to a craft beer shandy I’ve ever tried.
This two-month old brewery, currently contract-brewing out of Watch City and founded by Alex Zielke and Alex Rabe, served up Rendition, a candy-sweet Belgian sour, and Saison Charette, with chamomile and sarsparilla. Their brews — including flagship beer Fuzzy Logic — can be found at Atwoods Tavern, Porter Square’s Tavern in the Square, Foundry on Elm, and Brighton Beer Garden.
Night Shift Brewing
The trifecta from Everett served their newest concoction, Rose Au Poivre, an 8 percent ABV saison brewed with rosemary and rose hips, aged on pink peppercorns, which had a delightfully subtle spice.
I wasn’t surprised to see this sign well before the Saturday afternoon session ended; fortunately, I was able to try all three beers from this Vermont farm and brewery: Vera Mae, a dandelion saison; Society & Solitude #4, an Imperial IPA; and What is Enlightenment, an American Pale Ale. I can also confirm that head brewer Shaun Hill is still making the magic happen — all three were outstanding.
Flower Envy, with coriander, chamomile, ginger root, and noble hops was brewed for founders Caitlin Jewell and Jeff Leiter’s wedding in 2009. The pair is pushing to open a brewery in Somerville proper in coming months.
All photos by Anne Vickman
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