Grassroots Brewing - Arctic Saison
Serving Temperature:46-54° F
Suggested Glassware:Tulip, Goblet
Arctic Saison was originally modeled after Hill Farmstead’s Arthur, a focused and absolutely dialed-in rendition that had essentially everything one hopes for from a world-class saison: a pleasantly peppery yeast character, dryness mixed with a rejuvenating citrus quality, and fine-bubbled carbonation due to bottle conditioning. So much of the Arctic Saison, at this earliest stage of its bottled life, hearkens back to that original archetype. Except here, that additional nudge from its oak aging and Brettanomyces may steer this in a different direction with time.
Poured into a tulip glass, Arctic Saison appears nicely hazed with a deep, honey-golden color to it. Finely carbonated off-white foam forms readily, with miniscule bubbles lacing the sides of the glass. Where Hill Farmstead beers tend to be hyper-focused and pristine, Anchorage’s (which include a Belgian-style double IPA and pinot-barrel-aged saison, both including Brett, as two of the brewery’s core offerings) tend be more brash and assertive. This beer decidedly sits nearest to that Hill Farmstead edge of the spectrum right now, but we anticipate further aggressiveness from this with some extra patience behind it. We’re getting ahead of ourselves again, and we’ll just note in passing that cellaring beer would be even more endearing if there were time machines involved. Just saying. In the aroma there’s a seemingly effortless dryness that allows the noble-hop character to come through flawlessly, with mineral and herbaceous notes, along with white pepper, lime-like citrus, a slight slant toward tropical fruits (from the Brett), and some doughy yeast qualities that serve to round out the aromatic approach. Here, the blended ale yeasts and Brettanomyces strains take center stage, cooperating seamlessly.
The bottle conditioning plays such a huge part in how this beer comes together, most clearly with that first sip: there’s a slight jolt of prickly acidity from the CO2 that’s immediately felt, followed by mouthwatering lime and lemony citrus; this effervescence lasts, maintaining that lightened texture and continually refreshing the palate. It’s sort of like the difference between playing air hockey with the air on versus off—that lift from the carbonation matters. But it’s also just one underlying current of an impressively well-built saison. An herbal and spicy hop accent brings along zesty bitterness to accompany the yeast-derived white pepper notes, and that mélange of yeast strains, again, does a whole lot of work. One gets notes approximating sourdough bread, almond skins, tropical fruits, and kaffir lime leaves, and beneath all of this sits a classically simple malt bill mostly composed of crackly Pilsner malt. Overall the profile is perfectly dry, endearingly rustic (with noble-hop bitterness and peppery phenolics near the perimeter), and a touch wild from that early influence of Brettanomyces. An exquisite saison.
As we started to get around to saying above, we expect nothing but good things from bottles of Arctic Saison with some age behind them: the Brettanomyces contributions will continue to grow with additional time in the bottle, building up further acidity and tartness, and we’re already pretty excited to see where this beer will head (but be sure to at least enjoy a bottle of this where it’s at right now). Personally, we’re going to have a tough time waiting. Try pairing this with saffron-imbued shellfish, stone fruit with cured meat, or funky, washed-rind cheese.
The drive from Hill Farmstead Brewery in Greensboro, Vermont to Anchorage Brewing Co. in Alaska is a modest 78-hour, 4,300-mile jaunt. Distances of this length are why we invented airplanes, and thankfully the creative and collaborative inclinations of craft brewers tend not to give much thought to geographic remoteness. But the arrangement does beg the question of just how Hill Farmstead’s Shaun E. Hill and Anchorage’s Gabe Fletcher crossed paths.
Actually, the collaborative link between Shaun and Gabe has been developing for quite some time now. Gabe has family based in Vermont, and Shaun’s Grassroots Distribution handles the Anchorage beers in that state. The two regularly exchange details about fermentation and brewing in general, and Shaun’s recent venture out to Anchorage to attend The Culmination (Gabe’s jaw-dropping invitational beer festival) gave them an opportunity to brew something together on-site. We’re pleased to offer our members first crack at the exceptional outcome.
Let’s back up a smidge. We’ve been thirstily following the work of both Shaun and Gabe for a while now, but Anchorage and Hill Farmstead aren’t yet household names, to say nothing of Shaun’s quietly meandering Grassroots. Anchorage made a relatively recent impact on the Alaskan beer scene (their first release was in the summer of 2011), but Gabe’s been brewing exceptional beer in that state for far longer—he spent the preceding 13 years making a name for himself at the highly esteemed Midnight Sun. Gabe’s latest venture lets him focus on his own interests. Anchorage’s motto? “Where brewing is an art, and Brettanomyces is king.”
Umm… Yes, please.
Hill Farmstead seems to be all over the news now, from Associated Press coverage to Vanity Fair. The independent beer-rating website RateBeer.com recently declared Shaun’s operation the Best Brewery in the World (a modest endorsement), which explains some of the fanfare. But we’ve known something special was happening in Vermont for a while now. The saisons and hop-forward releases we’ve sampled have been nothing short of superb, and we’re more than a little excited to share the result of what happens when one combines Hill Farmstead’s farmhouse focus with Anchorage’s preoccupation with Brettanomyces. Grassroots Brewing is essentially Hill Farmstead’s collaborative label, and an ideal umbrella for these two brewers to work beneath. Shaun started up the project before Hill Farmstead even existed, and in the time since it’s served as a platform for collaborative work that wouldn’t otherwise fit into the Hill Farmstead portfolio. Grassroots has previously worked with folks from Mikkeller, Cigar City, Stillwater, and elsewhere. Still… Arctic Saison with Gabe might be their best result yet.
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