Invercargill Brewery really is the unsung workhorse of the local beer scene — or insufficiently-sung, at least. I was re-struck by that thought when I was writing about their utterly-delightful ‘Pitch Black’ stout, and I’ll take the chance to just repeat myself now, if you don’t mind. If, while staying busy running contract-brews, you can produce a range that includes a stout, an easy and accessible lager, and a motherfucking saison — then you are a very clever chap, indeed.
Saison is, as a style, well within the realm of the weird — both for its inherent, peculiar, funky and contradictory flavours and for the genuine oddness of some of the devotees it attracts (though they’re not quite as peculiar, in the main, as habitual gueuze-drinkers). One of the local craft beer scene’s elder statesmen, Fraser McInnes (who may not ever forgive me for using “elder” or “statesman” to describe him) is especially fond of them and was, for a while, helping us out at the Malthouse. On a Friday, his going-home time roughly coincided with my half-way-through time, and so I picked this up to share with him when he was done and I was in need of a mid-shift treat.
The seemingly out-of-place exclamation point is, I believe, a reference to the often-forgotten fact that when D.B. registered their now-infamous (and still-standing) “Radler” trademark, they also snagged “Saison” — despite that being equally daft, for the exact same reasons. D.B. did quietly abandon the Saison mark,1 so the Bowdlerised version isn’t really necessary, but it remains a nicely-timed and well-aimed poke in the ribs — clever and funny enough that my Inner Sarcastic Bastard easily wins out over any complaining from my Inner Punctuation Nerd.
And it was delightful. The background-level of peculiarity never got in the way of the deliciousness of it all, which was a very welcome trick for it to pull. It’s gorgeously light and fruity — the label is absolutely right that there’s tangerine and passionfruit flavours kicking around in there, but the zestiness of the thing really made me think particularly of the dry, powdery sparkle you get flying off the freshly-ripped peel of a tangerine on a hot day. We were drinking this in a fairly-seriously wintery patch, but now that the weather has turned back towards the warm-and-sunny, I’ll definitely have to give it another go — the label’s text says that the beer tastes like a “bittersweet memory of summer”, and that couldn’t have been more bang on, really. And there was certainly a properly-Saisonny funk going on in here, too; they hadn’t just wimped out and sacrificed it entirely, for the sake of more mass-market appeal. It was firmly in the background, but it was artfully placed there for balance’s sake, rather than relegated to an out-of-the-way corner, in shame.
Verbatim: Invercargill ‘Sa!son’ 3/6/11 330ml $5.50 @ Reg 6.5% ÷ 2 with Fraser, since this is very much his favourite kind of thing. Nice DB-prod with the name, too. Does exactly as it says; light fruit nose (they say tangerine & passionfruit — which is right, but with the powdery peel of the former, too); zesty body that still manages to be nicely smooth under the lively bubbles. Deftly funky, not fraughtly so. Actually pretty damn lovely. Given the current weather and its suitability for their opposite, their “bittersweet memory of summer” note is perfect. The funk-level is James Brown on the stereo next door — when you were in the mood to listen to him anyway, but too lazy to get out of your chair.
1: God knows what they were planning on doing with it. I’m not sure if they intended on creating some non-saisonny “Saison” — much like their 5%, no-lemonade “Radler” — or whether they were going to try and buy some exotic, foreign-language flair for their “Summer Ale”. In any case, cooler heads prevailed. If only they had with the whole sad Radler debacle.