Wylam Brewery Lemon Balm and Rosemary Saison
You can learn a lot from talking to people in drinking establishments. Better still, you can be safe that any knowledge acquired, will be backed up with solid evidence and concrete fact. And if anyone dares to dismiss this new accumulation of insight and expertise, you can always simply reply with the retort - 'Look, a bloke in a pub told me. It must be true.'
I have done this many times whilst arguing the toss and the results are staggering. You always come out on top. You might suffer from a black eye or bloodied nose sometimes, but you will always come out on top.
The latest little dynamite of information I recently learned, or learnt, or whatever, was that 'saison' means 'season'. For a long while now, I've spied the word on bottles and pumps and have not really understood what it means. Given that the ingredients listed have often included a whole host of random pairings, I singularly thought that it was merely a made up thing. To soak up a certain market and appeal to that type of hirsute drinker. You know the one.
To paraphrase a great little book that my children got me for Father's Day, when you see such descriptions, like 'a wonderful combination of blacknock and carnip tartonne, with fresh notes of commoner's milk and dotka,' you are often left wondering if someone is having a bleedin' larf. Or summink.
Peddling back then, to a conversation I had with this chap who goes by the name of Daniel (brilliant name) and who is a regular companion at my local micro pub, he laid it out fairly straight:
'Well, it simply means 'seasonal'. There is a fine tradition of brewers turning to unusual ingredients, at various times of the year, depending on what is available locally. Harvests of hops and barley for instance, aren't always successful and sometimes gaps need to be filled. So the brewer has to use their imagination a little, and quite often, they come up with something a bit different. That's yer saison basically. It's normally quite pale though,' he sniffed, before finishing his pint.
All of which sounded perfectly reasonable, as I nodded profoundly and with furrowed brow. 'Hmm, putting lemon balm and rosemary together then, could just work,' I thought. 'Maybe it isn't all such hoary old obblocks after all.'
And it does work, this strange yet pleasantly refreshing beer from Wylam Brewery, up in Newcastle. Unexpectedly fruity and with a long finish, there is a slight medicinal taste to proceedings but not so overpowering that it suddenly feels like you are chewing on a bouquet garni. No, this beer was very impressive and delicious to drink.
It's definitely got me eyeing up the lemon balm that is running amok in the garden at the moment. With a view to dusting off my Wilko pressure barrel, that has been sitting dormant on the top of my fridge since October of last year. Saisons are all about experimentation after all.
I just need to find out where I can get hold of some beetcorn labneys.