Long before I started focusing on brewing saisons and similar beers, I was frequently seeking out any and all new saisons, sours, and similar beers. While my focus now is more on homebrew, I still try to seek out great commercial examples of these beers. As much as I homebrew, there are still so many commercial examples with unique ingredients, processes, yeast/bacteria combinations, etc., and trying them out is a great way to get a feel for something unique without having to brew a different batch. This is great, of course, since I'm frequently coming up with way more ideas than I can possibly execute.
I've been trying to get better about taking actual notes (meaning more than the 140 characters allowed by Untappd) when I try beers, and while I'm on my (hopefully) short brewing hiatus (twin boys born in November 2014!), I thought a good way to keep up the blog would be to have my thoughts on some commercial breweries and beer. I'll start things off here with a beer review, and plan to include more commercial reviews, and also have brewery profiles where I will give background on a brewery, its equipment and production volume, special beers, and the person or people behind that brewery. Brewery background is something I've really been focused on as I start very preliminary planning for eventually opening up my own small place. Of course, to the extent possible, I focus on breweries specializing in saisons and mixed fermentation beers. I closely followed/am following the development of places like Casey Brewing & Blending, Haw River Farmhouse Ales, and Wolves & People.
With that background behind us, below are some thoughts on Crooked Stave's Surette Reserva (Dry Hopped), which is a dry-hopped version of their standard Surette, which itself is a mixed fermentation saison that is part of their year-round lineup. Per a response from Crooked Stave's Twitter account, the dry hops were a mixture of Pacifica, Motueka, and Wakatu.
Appearance: Pours hazy with a light peach color. There's an initial two-finger white head that quickly dissipates down into a collar around the edges of the glass, leaving a bit of lacing behind. No apparent rising carbonation.
Nose: The first whiff does not bring forward as much New Zealand hop goodness as I was expecting. It doesn't quite explode with hop character like some other dry-hopped Crooked Stave beers have, e.g., Dry-Hopped L'Brett d'Or. Instead, the nose is more muted, with faint hints of gooseberry and green grape. As it warms, there's just a hint of oak. It could use a little more oomph, but overall it's nice enough.
Flavor: Here's where the beer really shines. While the hop character is still pretty subdued, the light Brett fruitiness and light-to-moderate acidity fit together quite well. The mouthfeel is fantastic. It could use a bit more carbonation, but the body is light without being too thin, and the acidity is slightly puckering, but certainly not to the point where it detracts at all from drinkability. As with the nose, hints of barrel come through toward the back end.
Overall: A really nice beer that I would happily consume on a regular basis if given the chance. It's fairly similar to the regular Surette, but with a bit more tartness and less oak and funk. Although they don't stand out too much, the hops have to be contributing a decent dose of fruitiness, as this beer tends more toward the gooseberry, white-wine-type character you get from New Zealand hops, as opposed to a more stone-fruit character in the regular Surette.
Homebrew Thoughts: This is the sort of beer that I would really love to be able emulate on the homebrew scale. I'm planning on getting some smaller barrels in the coming years, and would love to make sure that all of my saisons (or at least most of them, keeping a clean petit saison as a crushable, everyday brew) take a pass through. The dry-hopping is something I love, and Crooked Stave has done a great job with. Using tropical and citrus-heavy hops as dry hops in a wild and/or sour beer is a great idea, as they play off of the fruity character that many Brett strains create.