I’d like to (very unofficially) declare this summer the Summer of the New England Saison, and to kick it off I talked to Everett’s Idle Hands Craft Ales and local homebrewer Shaun McAuliffe about their new Saison, Commemoration.
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It started with a homebrewing contest, the 17th Annual Boston Homebrew Competition held by The Boston Wort Processors in February. Idle Hands brewer Christopher Tkach, who has long been active in the regional homebrew circuit, put together an award, the Belgian Brewmasters Award, that homebrewers dream of: the chance to brew their beer at a brewery and share it with the masses.
Tkach could choose between the winners of two categories: a Tripel from the Strong Belgian Ale category or Shaun’s Saison from the French and Belgian Ale category.
“I sat down and tasted through beers and I just found that Shaun’s Saison was interesting. It had a variety of ingredients but not one of them was very pronounced,” said Tkach. “Everything melded together in a very nice flavor.”
That kind of understated style is right up Idle Hands’ alley. Like their Pandora, a Belgian Pale Ale, or Triplication, their new Tripel, Idle Hands excels at brewing elegant interpretations of Belgian styles, and Shaun’s Saison was an obvious choice.
“I never want spices to overpower the beer itself,” said Tkach. And with this Saison, you “get a little bit of pepper and coriander, some of citrus zest, but it’s not really masking anything, it’s complementing the beer very well.”
McAuliffe, who has been homebrewing on and off since the early ’90s, brewed three or four different variations of the beer before settling on the final recipe. Instead of focusing on the grassy flavors, he wanted to accent the peppery and citrus notes with different yeast strains. The beer he submitted to the contest actually sat in his kitchen for almost a year and a half, McAuliffe said, but it held up well.
They brewed the beer in April at Idle Hands. Scaling it up wasn’t too difficult, Tkach said, as the recipe was scaled in a linear fashion, but they did make a few adjustments like using less peppercorn and a different yeast.
“The only difference I’ve noticed is it’s not as peppery. It has that subtleness that goes nicely with food and it’d be a great summer beer and a beer that will complement the Wit beer (Blanche de Grâce) that Chris is debuting,” said McAuliffe.
The beer is named Commemoration because all proceeds from sales of the beer will benefit pediatric brain cancer research, in memory of two of McAuliffe’s close friends’ children who died from pediatric brain cancer.
The whole experience, McAuliffe said, has been a bit surreal.
“It’s just amazing. To think that something that I’ve been sharing with friends at parties is going to be available to tens of thousands of people.”
Working with a professional brewer has also inspired him to push his homebrewing setup to the next level.
“Chris has given me the confidence to brew with all grain at home. He’s just a really great instructor and convinced me to do it.”
He’s also planning on brewing more varieties of Saisons this summer. “The last few months I’ve experimented with the sweetness and spiciness of the beer. In June, I hope to brew a Saison, similar to Commemoration, with New England grown malts and hops.”
Tkach is also using the yeast from Shaun’s Saison in a new Dark Saison, that will be at Drink Craft Beer’s Summerfest. Instead of using dark malt in the mash Tkach says he cold steeped all the copper and dark malts, which will reduce any harsh astringency and bitterness from the dark malts.
This being the Summer of the New England Saison and all, I asked Tkach why he thought so many New England breweries were making Saisons.
“New England is more connected to Europe than other beer regions and with the advent of locavorism and malting stuff that’s been happening in Massachusetts and New England, there’s been a gravitation to farmhouse styles.”
You can try Commemoration at the American Craft Beer Fest this weekend, at Deep Ellum (who was lucky enough to receive a log of it), and (fingers crossed, if there’s any leftover) at Drink Craft Beer’s Summerfest: A Celebration of Farmhouse Ale. All proceeds from Commemoration will benefit the Pan-Mass Challenge, in loving memory of Lauren Maziarz and Charlotte O’Shea.
Welcome to the Summer of the New England Saison!