The thing about living through historical periods of transition is that we rarely realize the changes around us until enough time has passed that we look back and see the stark differences between "now" and "then."
I am old enough to remember the importance of things like pay phones, Blockbuster Video, and other things left in the dustbin of history. I bring this up to describe what it has been like to live through the craft beer revolution in America.
In my youth I remember walking through convenience stores and grocery aisles, seeing row after row of mass produced light adjunct lagers, and I just assumed that was pretty much all there was to beer. Today you can go to your local grocer or gas station and still find plenty of macro-lagers, but you can also find some pretty exotic stuff, like Super Fancy Apple Saison by Anthem Brewing.
So, what on earth is an apple saison? Well first I think we should tackle what exactly is a saison.
This style of beer has kind of a wide range, and is open to a lot of interpretation, but there are a few defining characteristics. Commonly these beers are pale in color (though dark ones exist), high attenuation making them fairly crisp, highly carbonated, and they have a peppery phenolic character that is derived from yeast which is very specific to saisons.
I will be honest and let you know that I love this style, but it is also a style that brewers will use very loosely. Alcohol content in saisons can range from very low (3.5-5 percent ABV for a table saison) to very high (7-9.5 percent for a super saison).
Yes, it is referred to as a super saison. Yes, I love that!
Hop bitterness in a saison also varies quite a bit. Super Fancy comes in at a scant .001 IBUs (International Bitterness Units), while Tank 7 by Boulevard Brewing clocks in at 38 IBUs, which is even above what the BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) lists as acceptable for the style. Also exotic ingredients have always been considered okay for this style, and you will commonly see brewers using all sorts of spices: grains of paradise, licorice root, or whatever suits the head brewer’s fancy. Saisons can be made with things like smoked malt, honey, different grains like spelt or rye, and saison has become a sort of breeding ground for experimentation. And really, we should talk about Super Fancy coming in at .001 IBUs. Did someone trip near the brew kettle and accidentally drop a few hop pellets in the boil?
Now, what makes Super Fancy an “apple” saison? Well, that is simple...apple juice. Now fruit beers are not exactly a new thing. Beers like the raspberry Fromboise to cherry Kriek have existed for a long time, and people have fermented the juice of apples and pears for things like hard apple ciders and Perrys (like a cider, but with pears) as well.
What makes apple juice a good addition to a saison is the fact that it will help the beer have a very high attenuation, which is a characteristic that is true to style. You may be asking yourself, what is attenuation? Well without getting too technical, attenuation is the percentage of sugars that yeast turns into alcohol vs. the amount of sugars remaining.
On average, brewer’s yeast converts 65-85 percent of maltose (malt sugar) to alcohol. Apple juice is not made of maltose—it’s made of fructose (fruit sugar) and attenuates almost completely. The mixture of fructose and maltose drives up the overall attenuation of this beer and give it that crisp dryness that should always be present in the wide world of saisons.
Super Fancy Apple Saison comes in at 7.7 percent ABV which lands it right in the super saison category. Like I have mentioned before, the IBUs are measured to be .001 (really?) so there should be almost no bitterness in this thing at all. The BJCP guidelines call for IBUs in the range of 20-35, but really with this style you can toss whatever you want out there and it’s fine.
Aroma and Appearance
The aroma on this beer says APPLES and it says it loud! You can smell the tartness as well, but the nose also has a little of that funk that contributes to a saison being known as a “farmhouse” style of beer.
SFAS has great clarity and it is light yellow to straw in color. The head on this beer dissipates very quickly. But, considering how much apple juice probably went into this thing, you should expect low head retention due to there being less protein (caused by the use of less grain) in the malt bill. One thing to note is that the beer is very effervescent, and it seems as if the bubble stream from the bottom of the glass to the top will never end.
Flavor and Mouthfeel
Despite having such a strong aroma of apples, the flavor itself is not overwhelmed with a cloyingly sweet apple taste. Instead, the beer has a tartness that you can first detect in the aroma, but now jumps to the front of the line in the taste.
The mouthfeel is very dry and the beer almost feels like drinking a less sweet spumante or sparkling riesling. Hiding in there is a little bit of that phenolic character from the yeast that reminds you that this is a saison, and I can't detect any hops in this thing at all.
Well Anthem certainly named this beer correctly, whereas I would normally drink a saison in a goblet, Super Fancy feels as though I should be drinking it from a champagne flute. This beer is very apple forward and the flavors are layered and complex.
To me, what is wild is that this beer even exists as a commercial product. Super Fancy feels like something that would be bandied about in online homebrew recipe forums and not something that I could just walk into my local grocer and pick up off the shelf. We have come a long way in our beer culture in this country and state, and now we have easy access to things that were completely unknown just a few years ago. For people who love new experiences and flavors, that is a good thing. So the next time you are hosting a swanky soirée, go out and grab a few Super Fancy apple saisons. This thing would pair perfectly with your charcuterie board, almost guaranteeing your party will be super fancy.