This is a great time to be drinking beer. I don’t mean right now, in the morning, I mean this year. The United States is in the midst of a beer boom, with more micro-breweries popping up every day. And unlike the last century when there were lots of small breweries making very similar lagers, the variety and quality of beers today is staggering. If the U.S. is a great place to beer for beer drinkers, California is the epicenter for craft brewing and San Diego is the capital. This city is exploding with breweries, tasting rooms, home brewers, and bottle shops. So I freely admit I get glassy-eyed when going to the store to buy beer. Our local large-scale beverage shop has rows of selection. Hundreds. If you think you can narrow it down by type, you are a delusional simpleton. Oh, you want a chocolate porter? Seventy-five varieties. Barley wine? Forty. IPA? Over three hundred. Never mind that I’m making all these numbers up, the true amount is much greater. If you don’t believe me, a bottle shop down the street has over 600 varieties. So I came home Saturday night, with the mandate to buy Bass Ale for my wife, with four kinds of beer and a long receipt.
Last night’s selection: Almanac Brewing Co.’s Honey Saison. I was drawn to Saison because it had an appealing variety of plants, grains, and spices. I know I’m in the minority here but I’m not a fan of super-hoppy beers. I mean honestly, what’s the point? Why boast about having SO MUCH HOPS in your beer? It’s like a wine-maker screaming on their label that they’ve got SO MUCH TANNINS or a baker saying their cake has SO MUCH SUGAR. Fine, but things that taste good usually have some balance and variety. Stuffing hops in a bottle and sprinkling in some water doesn’t make a great beer, and hop flavor on its own is like drinking battery acid. So for all those who just can’t get enough quadruple IPA Hopblaster, saison might not be X-TREEM enough for you. In the same way that a barbecued steak with char lines from the grill isn’t as X-TREEM as eating a charcoal briquette. But back to the beer. What’s the ale forecast? Cloudy.
Let’s talk taste. The first thing you get with this beer is layered bitterness. Yes, there’s some bite but it immediately fades into something more complex. It’s floral, it’s citrusy, it has something like a mild spice you’d get from garden herbs and pretty little white flowers that crowd the edges of an English garden. This beer tastes like it came from the earth, in only the best way. And rather than ending with cloying honey sweetness or chewy hoppy aftertaste, you’re left with something right in the middle, a happy compromise that has nothing to prove yet says so much more about beer than much of what’s out there. My wife gave this beer her stamp of approval, funnily enough, since she found other saison too bitter and generally shies away from hoppy ales. Almanac managed to make something that is neither gimmicky or one-note, but rather a complex beer that drives you to take sip after sip to try to solve the mystery of what’s in there. This is a beer for contemplation, not testosterone-fueled tastebud warfare where your gut is roiling like a stabbed snake. Put aside the X-TREEM hops and pick up a saison. You’ll thank me.