What happens when an English brewpub opens in Northern CA and collaborates with a beer blog? Our goal was to take something familiar (cask beer) and put a twist on it.
FreeWheel Brewing is a great micro brewery and pub in Redwood City, approx. 40 minutes south of San Francisco CA. Specializing in English beer, Free Wheel has an excellent collection of Stouts, Pale Ales, ESBs, and other traditional styles as well as occasional experiments with lagers and specialty ingredients. Although they offer their IPA and their Kolsch served on standard Co2, FWB has made their name by serving "Real Ale".
In the United Kingdom beers are traditionally unfiltered, naturally carbonated, and served at cellar temperatures. The beer is dispensed using a hand pump to force air into the cask/firkin. Although "Nitro" beers were later invented to mimic this style under more controlled conditions, the experience of drinking true a cask ale is unique and special. Once air is introduced into the cask the flavors change and you have a limited amount of time to consume the beer before it goes bad. Due to the yeast still being present and the changing flavors as it's served, cask beer gives the sensation of drinking something that is alive.
Tim from AltBrau and his wife, Tamara, worked with Alisha (Head Brewer) and Erica (Assistant Brewer) from FWB one early morning in late July. For our collaboration we wanted to take this traditional serving method and change the beer to something outside the realm of classic English offerings. When we considered which styles would work we agreed upon an equally rustic style... Saison. Saisons come from the Wallonia region of Belgium and were common amongst farmers. Often unfiltered but usually high in carbonation, we want to see how the perception of the beer will change when served on cask.
For this recipe we used a traditional saison grain bill (Pilsner malt, Pale 2 Row, and Wheat), and added some Carafoam for head retention and added an English twist by adding some Marriss Otter malt. Spice additions are normal in saisons and Alisha had the idea of using Elderflower and Chamomile. We visited the fine folks at Oaktown Spice Shop in Oakland for our dried flowers. To compliment the flavors of the Chamomile and Elderflower we also added fresh organic lemon zest, dried orange peel, and some very citrusy Centennial hops. All spices were added during flameout.
The problem with brewing a saison at an English style brewery is that they did not have an in-house Belgian yeast. Without the proper yeast we couldn't possibly expect to have the aromatic character that is expected for the style. Lucky for us the awesome people at GigaYeast Inc. were happy to hook us up with a ready-to-pitch batch of their GY018 Saison yeast.
Our brew day went off great and fermentation was set at 75 degrees Fahrenheit. This would normally be considered very warm and could cause the yeast to behave in an unexpected way. For Saisons, however, this temperature is within acceptable range and part of developing those great ester and phenol characteristics you smell in Belgian beers.
We've named this beer "The Guns of Brussels" after The Clash and their song "The Guns of Brixton". FWB has a great beer named after another of their songs ("London Calling") and we thought we should keep the name in line with the rest of their beers while adding a Belgian element. Early tastings off the fermenter are promising and big on the lemon. Crossing our fingers that the Chamomile and Elderflower will come forward. Should land right around 5% ABV. Stay tuned on our Facebook and Instagram if you'd like to join us later this month to taste this special beer. Cheers!