Vintage Brewing has recently released several new beers for this summer season. One of these has quickly become an early favorite, a crisp, refreshing and effervescent brew named Hibiscus Saison. It's a beer with a bright fruity aroma and an eye-catching cherry blossom-pink foamy head.
What is it? Hibiscus Saison from Vintage Brewing Company of Madison.
Style: Saison is the French word for "season," and these beers were originally brewed in farmhouses in the French-speaking region of Belgium to refresh farm workers. The saison is golden to deep amber in color, and is generally considered light-bodied. Its malt aroma is low to medium in strength, with a hoppy bitterness that is assertive but not overwhelming. They may have a spicy and fruity character with a balanced amount of sour or acidic flavors. One might even find some earthy, cellar-like aromas. Saisons are commonly around 5% ABV.
Background: Vintage brewmaster Scott Manning makes this beer with hibiscus flower petals. The brew gets two additions of hibiscus: the first during the boiling of the wort, and the second in the fermentation tank. At that later stage, Manning prepares the petals by placing them in a large bag to steep them like tea, and then suspends it in the fermenter with the maturing beer. He says that given the blood-red color of the hibiscus petals, fellow Vintage staff were shocked the first time they saw him pull his red-stained arms from the fermenter after handling the bag.
The recipe for this beer is the co-creation of Vintage employee Robyn Klinge, who is often found tending bar at the brewpub, and Ale Asylum brewer Joe Walts. The pair first made the hibiscus-infused brew about a year ago in their homebrewing experiments. The original batch was based on actual hibiscus flowers that Klinge brought back from a trip to Africa. Manning scaled up the recipe for the size of his brewing system, and acquired hibiscus from a supplier in San Francisco. The only big change in the recipe was that he used a Belgian farmhouse yeast strain, which is better suited to give the beer more carbonation, and a crisp tart-dryness to the finish.
Hibiscus Saison for $4.50/glass or $10/growler (refill). It finishes at about 6.1% ABV.
Also new on tap at Vintage for early summer is a bold hoppy imperial IPA named Black Mirror. It's made with four types of American hops, among them is the assertive Simcoe variety that gives the beer a sharp flavor and piney aroma. There's also a firm coffee type of bitterness from Belgian malt that adds roastedness to profile. It's big in flavor and alcohol at 8.2 % ABV.Tasting notes:
- Aroma: Light sweet floral fruitiness. The floral nose is evident, but not easily attributed to hibiscus. The more identifiable qualities of hibiscus come later in the flavor.
- Appearance: Clear with vivid reddish-amber to bronze color. A thick, bubbly cherry-pink head.
- Texture: Light to medium bodied and very bubbly, even crisp.
A smooth floral sweetness of the hibiscus comes through, with a hint of hoppiness that helps accentuate the tart and dryness.
- Finish/Aftertaste: Crisp, bubbly and lightly dry.
Glassware: With its deep reddish hues and effervescence, this beer is ideal for a flute or Champagne glass.
Pairs well with: Hibiscus Saison is a great pre-meal beer, almost like an appetizer itself. It's also nice for sipping in the sunshine and relaxing with friends on the patio.
Rating: Four Bottle Openers (out of four).
The Verdict: Hibiscus Saison is well-suited for hot and humid days with its bubbly and fruity sweetness that's crisp and perhaps slightly tart. It's not a brew I'd want in the dead of winter, but for summer, it's light and refreshing, even thirst-quenching. At the heart of the beer is the light malty backbone from Belgian pilsner malt and a small amount of wheat. However, it's the farmhouse yeast and hibiscus that make this a brew that recalls Champagne and sparkling wines with its effervescence and dryness. Too bad the slogan's already trademarked, or Vintage just might have right to claim the title "Champagne of Beers!"