There is something special about opening a pfriem Family Brewers beer. Maybe it’s the caged and corked bottle. Maybe it’s the black and gold color contrasts. Maybe it’s the contents of the bottle, which are consistently excellent.
Or maybe, just maybe, it rings nostalgic in my beer-soaked memory bank of the first time I landed in the world of Brewery Ommegang beers. We know Ommegang as the first American brewer to replicate the Belgian style on a large scale and the first to introduce a saison stateside. Hennepin has long been the gold standard of domestic brewed Saisons; the Alström brothers at Beer Advocate gave it a 96 out of 100 while its readers rank it tops among all beers in the style. It was also my first venture into the world of Ommegang and Belgians.
It was the summer after I graduated from college and before I started graduate school. My father and I ventured into the local bottle shop in search of something different. The guy behind the counter heard us talking and directed us towards the Ommegang rack. We liked that it was brewed a couple of hours away in Cooperstown. The old man wanted something dark and ended up with the Abbey Ale. I took home the Hennepin.
I had never smelled or tasted a beer quite like that before. I passed by the cheap Lagers of the keg parties and was a drinker of distinguished late 1990s beers by Samuel Adams and Pete’s Wicked Ale, but flavors of ginger, yeast tartness, pilsner malt, and spice.
Sure, Boulevard’s Tank 7 and Goose Island’s Sofie are great. I’ve never had a Hill Farmstead Saison, but have read good things. But, I wasn’t sure there was a better interpretation of this style made in the United States.
Until I opened my beer mail and pulled out the pFriem Saison.
pFriem’s Saison is another masterful rendition of the style worth savoring.”
Pfriem does not distribute beyond Washington, Oregon and British Columbia, so on the rare occasion that I can find one on Tavour or another beer-by-mail site, I pounce. Their Pilsner is superb, as is their Helles lager, but I was damn near giddy to try their saison, which earns a 92 rating from the Alströms.
Pour it hard into your glass and wait. Let the sediment settle and the foam subside. It will take a bit of time, as there will likely be a lot of floaters. Finish the pour hard and let it settle down again. Admire the bright yellow hue and its complementary pillowy head of foam.
Lean in and inhale deeply. It smells like summer at the farm; vegetable, not dairy. Hay, grass, earth and hints of wheat are present. Some banana esters form as it comes to temperature. Sip and let the soft carbonation tickle your palate while the flavor profile follows the nose but with subtle lemon and orange flavors. The earthy, grassy flavor dominates throughout with the telltale saison tartness hitting you at the end before finishing dry. Silky smooth and medium bodied, it is a joy to drink. Sure, it’s not much to look at but beer isn’t a beauty contest.
Don’t put a gun to my head and make me choose between pFriem Saison and Ommegang’s Hennepin. Their differences are subtle but enough where they are equally enjoyable. Though it’s not as readily available as the Hennepin, pFriem’s Saison is another masterful rendition of the style worth savoring.