What I Drank Last Weekend: Great Lakes 25th Anniversary Belgian Saison

This summer, it has been hard not to run into a couple of different variations of saisons or farmhouse ales at bars. Have a couple and you’ll see that there is a wide variation of what exactly defines a saison. Some are spiced, some have wheat or rye, they may use different yeasts or ferment at different temperatures. No way is really correct, just as there is no standard for the malts or hops used in pale ales. Black Oak, Nickel Brook, Amsterdam and Bellwoods are just some of the breweries that have made saisons recently, plus the fine people at Great Lakes who have been making so many versions lately you’d think they had forgotten to make any of their other beers. As the second part of the four part anniversary series they have released the 25th Anniversary Belgian Saison to the LCBO (750mL, 6.5% ABV, $9.95 – now available) and to craft beer loving bars. As far as I can recall, this is the first Ontario-made saison to grace our liquor stores.

Great Lakes have decided to go with a spiced version of a saison, using coriander, pepper and grains of paradise. The Anniversary Saison pours an orange coloured body with about an inch of head that doesn’t last long, but leaves lacing down the glass. Strong aromas of coriander, clove, lemon, pepper and yeast, which should be present in any well made saison. The first flavours that hit the tongue are a lemony fruitiness and some light malts, lifted by a wheat character that creates a nice balance. Then the beer suddenly dries out in the middle with a big pepper flavour. That leads to a long, spicy finish that highlights the coriander and grains of paradise. Not a lot of definite yeast character in the flavour, but it was obvious through the dryness and heavy carbonation that the yeast had its time to work away at this beer. At first the finish was a bit too much for me, but either my palate adjusted to the flavours or they mellowed as the beer warmed.

The beer slowly evolved as it warmed, giving off more of the malt profile and citrus that was at the beginning. For that reason, I could easily see it being pleasant to someone at a certain temperature, then transforming to a different beer five minutes later that may not be as enjoyable. While I really enjoyed seeing that evolution in the glass, other people may not find that appealing and may wish for a consistent flavour profile. The other reason I’m giving a tepid endorsement is the $9.95 it costs for a bottle. For me, the Anniversary Belgian Saison is worth that much, but some people will disagree. You might want to try and find it on tap before deciding whether or not to pick up a bottle or two. That’s your choice, but just know that smart drinkers around the province may have nabbed all the bottles by then. I can’t wait to see what Great Lakes has planned for the last two anniversary releases.

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