Recently Block Three Brewing opened up in St. Jacobs next to/behind Benjamin’s. We’ve welcomed them heartily into the community, running them dry a few times already. Good problem to have, in a way, and a good statement on the quality of their beer. Couldn’t happen to nicer guys. (Though so far I’ve only laid eyes on two of the four. I’ll find you, Polkaroo brewers!) Derek informs me they’ve added new tanks and are brewing with all of them now, so lots more beer to come!
Block Three has gotten some great coverage already, so no need to re-hash the basics. Learn more about them and where to get their brews on their site or here and here, or some other spots listed on their site. Or just head down there and say hi.
The gents started out with King St. Saison, soon adding Sugar Bush Brown, a brown ale brewed with some local maple syrup. As much as they can they use local ingredients in all their beers. Soon to come will be their “Blocktoberfest” (beer names are the only puns I embrace), their take on a traditional Oktoberfest style Märzen, though Block Three’s offering will be an ale rather than a pale lager. Also coming soon is an English Style Pale Ale, which really needs a pithy name.
I’ve had the good fortune to sample the first two beers, and quite enjoyed both. So what are these beers about? I’ll cover the King St. Saison in this post (and a bit about brewing and its constituent elements, though not in great detail), and the Sugar Bush Brown in the next post.
The King St. Saison is a Belgian pale ale, which a fair bit different in appearance and flavour from the upcoming English Style one. Once you’ve tasted Belgian style beers, you’ll notice some distinct and consistent characteristics, which many wheat beers also share.
There is a certain fruitiness to the taste, though not in the same way as a lambic or fruit beer. Many saisons also have a spiciness to them, though King St. is reasonably mild that way. Saison is also a more crisp-tasting and milder beer than you get with Belgian dubbels or tripels (Belgian style strong pale ales). “Strong” in beer usually refers to alcohol content.
Back in the day, this was a style of beer commonly brewed by farmers and the like, rather than commercially. A great way to refresh your hot and tired farm workers that was safer than chugging water in those times. It could be brewed in the summer or fall and stored over the winter to be available the following spring and summer.
Block Three keeps their ABV (alcohol by volume) fairly low, which tends to be how the English do things in brewing. It’s about beers with good flavour and body, but not too heavy or too hot (high alcohol), enabling you to enjoy a few pints and still remember where you live to get home. There has been a trend the last few years among American style ales toward much higher ABV, from 6-8% and more. The higher the alcohol, however, the harder it is to balance the flavours so you can actually taste something other than “booze”.
Saison has fairly good carbonation, which gives it a crispness, though you’re not talking something on par with a Coke or champagne, and the finish is very smooth, not biting on the tongue. The lightness and crispness of these beers is also why they’ve been popular in the summer. The yeasts traditionally used to ferment them tend to work better at warmer temperatures, too.
Saison beers used to be fairly strongly hopped because of hops’ ability to act as a preservative before the advent of refrigeration. The seed cones of the hops plant are used in brewing, and also impart flavour, aroma, and bitterness. Saison doesn’t require that degree of hopping anymore, so this beer is quite mildly hopped. That means it’s not really bitter, or doesn’t taste like grapefruit, which many strongly hopped beers, like Imperial Pale Ale, or IPA, do. Will have to see if the Block Three guys will share their hops varieties…
In fact, with saison, you want the flavours from the yeast to be more prominent, so you need a hops variety more noticeable for aroma than flavour. Noble hops are commonly used in saison, which are types that tend to be more common in European beers. Did you know that hop plants are perennial vines that can grow to 50 feet?
King St. Saison is a fairly light, golden colour, which tells us that it was brewed with a pale malt. The darker the malt, the darker the colour (and flavour) of the beer, and malts get darker by being toasted. The darkest malts result in nearly black beers like stouts or porters. Malts are the germinated grains, typically barley, used in brewing. Pilsner malts are commonly used for saisons (though I am not sure which malt Block Three uses). “Adjuncts” like candi sugar or honey are sometimes added to complement the malt as well. The sugars are what the yeast eats in fermentation, whether they come from the grain or are added.
To what meal would King St. Saison be a tasty accompaniment? Barbeque, certainly, particularly seasoned meats like sausages. Richly seasoned or spicy dishes like curries would be delicious as well.
To try the beers for yourself, aside from the various pubs and restaurants, you can sample from the taps at the brewery, buy litre bottles, or refillable growlers (64 oz. or 1.9L). Or if you’re having a party, splash out and get a keg.
Next up: what’s in a Brown Ale? And what happens when you add maple syrup?