Since we’re always lamenting the lack of quality saisons in Japan whenever we see one we try to review it. That also gives an excuse to drink a foreign saison along with it, so today we’ve got the Baird Saison Sayuri together with the Lervig Saison.
Baird Saison Sayuri (ベアードビール・セゾンさゆり)
Package: 330mL bottle
Misc: IBU – 22; hops – NZ Motueka, NZ Wakatu, NZ Cascade
Pour – Pale cloudy orange gold, lots of sediment, very foamy
Aroma – Tart citrus, lemon, some yeast as well
Flavor – Initially soft hops, followed by a slight metallic bitterness, finish is dry and bitter with the faintest flash of citrus
Baird isn’t the first brewery that comes to mind when you think of saisons, but according to this old blog post by the head brewer here (complete with vintage photo) they’re big fans of Belgian saisons! The brief backstory here is that Bryan Baird brewed it first in 2007 (which makes it one of the earlier saisons in Japan) as a birthday present for his wife Sayuri (hence the name of the beer), and they’ve been brewing it annually and releasing it around her birthday ever since.
The older versions of this beer used to contain Aoshima mikan from a local orchard, but this year’s product page doesn’t mention anything like that. The brewing notes, however, state that they’ve used four other local citrus fruit – tachibana (a kind of mikan), kabosu (a yuzu-like citrus), lemon, and kinkan (which is cumquat). Of course, the brewing notes explicitly make clear that the another key ingredient is love, so let’s see how it call comes together.
The Baird Saison Sayuri doesn’t quite have the Belgian floral yeast and/or citrus chops that you might expect given the ingredients. While the citrus is definitely there in the aroma, the fruit effects are fairly mild in the actual flavor, although to its credit the citrus does increase its presence as it warms up a bit. For those who like their Belgian saisons yeasty (I do) you might also be a bit disappointed, as it’s fairly subdued. The soft hops are pleasant enough, but there’s also a hint of soapy/metallic bitterness to it that isn’t quite so nice, before you get into the long and dry finish.
Ultimately this beer falls a little short of expectations, and personally I would have enjoyed something that either took the Belgian saison-ness or the tart citrus by the horns and really expanded on that theme. Instead, this beer has some of those elements but in insufficient quantities, which leads to a certain flatness. In some ways, this may be just a labeling problem – this would make a pretty solid witbier (and really, I guess that’s what this is, with the citrus and the Belgian witbier yeast). However, with the word “saison” in the label and all over the product description, it has trouble living up to what I would want to see in a saison.
Verdict? Pretty good as a witbier, pretty middling as a saison. If you’re curious about it you may still be able to find it, although it’s nearing the end of this year’s sales run. I found mine at Shinanoya, and I’ve also seen it at Liquors Hasegawa. Tanakaya and Deguchiya might also be good bets to stock it, and as it’s reasonably priced (as most Baird beers are) it won’t cost you much to see if you agree with my assessment of it.
Package: 330mL bottle
Misc: IBU – 60; hops – Aurora, Aramis, Triskel
Pour – Cloudy, yellow gold, the color of apple juice, lots of carbonation
Aroma – Lots and lots of yeast, slight hint of apple
Flavor – Fizzy texture, quite tart, floral yeast in the middle, spicy and dry finish that goes on
This is the first time I’ve seen Lervig-labeled beers for sale in Japan, but Lervig-brewed beers have been here before. Of course I’m referring to the fact that Lervig are much more well-known as the contract brewer for a couple of Mikkeller’s most highly-rated and revered series – the Beer Geek Breakfast series of oatmeal stouts and the George! imperial stout and its barrel-aged brethren. Curiously, original Lervig (they’re based in Norway, by the way, although the head brewer is American) beers don’t fare too well on RateBeer, and this is our first time trying one at RateBeer.
The Saison is labeled as being part of the Brewers Reserve series, but I can’t seem to find any information on what this series actually is. As far as I can tell they aren’t necessarily seasonals, but I don’t really know. Since there isn’t a lot to go on with the brewing notes other than that it is 6.6% ABV and 60 IBU, let’s put in a couple of other random tidbits. First, they made a beer out of pizza and money for Vice (I know lots of people hate Vice, but I admit to watching some of their YouTube videos). The other tidbit is that one of the main functions of the brewery is to brew up lots and lots of their pilsner, to supplant the lost lager from when Carlsberg shut down the brewery in their hometown.
OK, so enough already – the Lervig Saison is fizzy, refreshing, and actually also somewhat like a witbier! It’s definitely got a lot more of the saison character and yeast than we saw with the Baird offering, but it’s also tart and a bit spicy as you might expect with a witbier. Even though its stated IBU is 60 there aren’t a whole lot of hops or bitterness transmitted for much of the beer, although you do get a dry bitter finish. Overall this isn’t the greatest saison in the world, but certainly drinkable.
Directly comparing today’s two Belgian saisons, I’d give the nod to the Lervig Saison, even though I don’t think it’s a great beer. It at least had more prominent saison yeast, which I like, and it didn’t have the soapiness that doomed the Baird Saison Sayuri. In terms of general approach, though, I found these two beers to be quite similar – lots of fruits and spices, refreshing, closer to a witbier than a saison style-wise. The Lervig was more successful given that approach, but overall I’d prefer a saison that was more saison than witbier, I suppose.
So next time let’s see what local (and foreign) saisons we can dig up that will give us more of what we’re looking for in a saison. Daisen G should be releasing their excellent Grand Saison sometime soon, so hopefully we can find a bottle of it this time around (I had it on tap but was not able to procure a bottle last year). In the meantime, the Lervig Saison you can find at Tokyo Liquor Land at a somewhat pricey (and evil?) 666 yen, and the Baird purchasing we discussed above – happy saison tasting!