First Draught: the 25th Anniversary Belgian Saison from Great Lakes Brewery
Great Lakes bills itself as Toronto’s original craft brewery, and this year it’s doubling down on the nostalgia by selling a commemorative 25th anniversary beer every season. The second beer in the series is a Belgian saison, which was released this week.
Once a month, Great Lakes holds a special event called Project X, where the brewery puts out a one-off beer on its pilot brewing system. Some of these recipes have graduated to become seasonal releases, and a few, like the Crazy Canuck, have cracked the year-round roster. Brewer David Bieman calls the special release program a way to “step it up a little, and do something to honour and commemorate” the anniversary.
The 25th anniversary saison refines head brewer Mike Lackey’s No Chance With Miranda recipe that won gold at the Canadian Brewing Awards in 2011. (Lackey saves some of his cheekiest names for the saison category; No Pants With Miranda and Heavy Petting Saison are two other examples.) As a style, the Belgian saison was traditionally low-strength; brewed in the fall and winter, it was aged and then dispensed to farmhands during the warm summer months.
Despite the style’s popularity in the US with craft beer drinkers — some would say it’s on pace to dethrone IPAs as the style that brewmasters drink when they get together — this is the only saison at the LCBO, and there are only a handful of other examples on tap in Ontario.
The hazy, orange-tinted colour foreshadows the crisp-sweet citrus flavour that is driven by the Belgian Dupont yeast. By adding coriander, peppercorns and grains of paradise, Great Lakes’ brewers have neatly underlined the pungent, peppery flavour that characterizes the style. It lingers for ages.
It’s a refreshing beer, brewed for summer drinking, but at $10 a shot, no one will be stocking the garage beer fridge with it or offering one to the guy who cuts the lawn. The wine-sized bottle naturally suggests two courses of action: Bieman thinks a year of cellaring will reward those who are patient; he also says that as the beer warms, its yeasty complexity changes, so open a bottle and drink it slowly by the glass.
For now, the Saison is available in the brewery retail store in Etobicoke and on the shelves at about 50 LCBOs. The previous anniversary offering, the Robust Porter, sold out so quickly that Great Lakes made more this time around, but I’d still act quickly.
Great Lakes 25th Anniversary Belgian Saison, $9.95 for a 750 ml bottle. LCBO #302687
When David isn't busy drinking beer for his articles here, he writes about food and drink for Toronto's online publications including his own site, Food With Legs. For more of his thoughts on beer and life in general follow him on Twitter.