Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Making Marvelous Saison in The Mystic Valley of Massachusetts (MA)

The Mystic Valley is one of the most storied places in America, It is through the mystic valley that Paul Revere rode his horse to alert the Minutemen that the British were coming to squash the nascent American rebellion.

And beneath him, tranquil and broad and deep,
Is the Mystic, meeting the ocean tides;
And under the alders that skirt its edge,
Now soft on the sand, now loud on the ledge,
Is heard the tramp of his steed as he rides.
— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The mystic valley has sparked the imagination of many. It is here that we first went “over the [Mystic] river and through the woods to grandfather's house we go.” The jingling bells of a sleigh race in the mystic valley inspired James Pierpoint to write a little Christmas jingle about jingle bells. Roller skates were invented here; Fannie Farmer wrote her cookbook. The mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, was born here as was Marshmallow Fluff®.

The future bestselling author in New England for 100 years settled here in 1654. He was Michael Wigglesworth. Michael Wigglesworth is founder Bryan Greenhagen's great (many greats) grandfather. Michael made his name with a long ranting Puritan poem called “The Day of Doom.” But one curious thing he did not rant against was beer. Back then beer was ok. 

For thousands upon thousands of years, the brewing process began with a simple porridge of cereal grains that would be strained and cooled in sacred vats exposed to the open air. Seemingly secretly touched by the divine, the liquid would come to life, bubbling and burbling and filling the air with fantastic aromas. Then came the machine age. The wild and unpredictable world came under control through the ever driving force of industry. This once lovely, living beverage was diluted, filtered, and pasteurized for nothing more than the bottom line. But now an amazing thing is happening. At the turn of the century the US looked to one of the last places still making beer the old way, Belgium. In Belgium complexity, flavor and wild fermentations continued to be practiced. Mystic Bewery takes its cue from there.

Three men drive Mystic. Founder and Fermenterer Bryan Greenhagen has been fermenting things for almost 15 years. Descended from the founders of Mystick Side, (Malden and Medford, MA), Bryan has no intention less than helping make New England one of the world’s great brewing regions. Brewer and Cellarman, Adam Threlkeld is a certified BJCP beer judge and award-wining homebrewer. He formerly worked at the Modern Homebrew Emporium in Cambridge and helped Mystic with its myriad of test batches before opening. Research and Development is the job of Alastair Hewitt has won 140 homebrewing medals and is a six time overall best of show winner in homebrewing contests. He earned New England Homebrewer of the Year in 2008 for most contest points earned in the region. He has also reached a #1 ranking homebrewer in the US as the overall winner at the 2009 Master Championship of Amateur Brewing.

So, what we’re talking about in this review is Saison. The designation 16° to the unfermented beer (wort) used in this line of beers. 16° refers to degrees plato, which is a measurement of the amount of sugars in the unfermented beer. It harkens back to a similar scale used historically in Belgium to classify beers. The beers in the Mystic Brewery session series are particularly well suited for special dinners. They end up on the stronger side for beer at 7.0% ABV and are fermented out dry by their saison yeast, Renaud. These two factors amplify food flavors by drawing them out and helping make them aromatic. 

According to their website: “Our take on the Belgian farmhouse ales, saisons were traditionally brewed for refreshment during the summer months. Light in color, effervescent with a billowy, well-retained head — it is very dry and strongly aromatic with light pepper and pear overtones. Heavier in alcohol at 7% abv, it finishes clean and bright, with a very light bitterness. Saison is far more a tradition than a style. Made with wine yeast by French speaking people in the ‘grain belt’ of Europe, saison was brewed in winter to slake thirsts of farm workers in summer.”

“We found that in many ways saison goes far beyond white wines that were in the minds of the old Wallonians. It can be as dry and crisp but far more variable. In Belgium, every farm house had its own saison, influenced by their very own farm and the grains available to them. For Mystic Saison we worked towards the essence of saison.”

I opened this beer with wine blogger Lenn Thompson. We opened a bunch of different ones to taste that night. Lots of good craft beer coming out of Massachusetts these days. It turned out to be one of our favorite beers of the night. A bright, yellow golden ale. Nice fizziness. Good sparkle. The head was huge but with fine bubbles that lasted a good long time and left a lovely, light lace. Reminded me of wine a lot, with a grapey-nose, like a white wine. A hint of forrest floor, and a hint of grassiness from the hops. This is a sourness that I found refreshing with a hint of white pepper and other spices. Like a good white wine, the finish was dry.

I liked this beer a lot! Great stuff!