Guys. (And I use the term “guys” androgynously, like “dude”, so don’t feel left out ladies)
I found another session ale. If you remember my review of Smuttynose Star Island Single, you’ll also remember that I’m a big fan of these session ales. I love that they possess a certain drinkability due to their low alcohol, but simultaneously pack a lot of taste, unlike their domestic, “carbonated piss”, brethren.
They’re pretty awesome beers.
While the Smuttynose version was hoppy and a tad sweet, the Sam Adams Belgian Session is wheaty, sour, and yeasty. It sits at 5% ABV, putting it very slightly higher than what others might consider a session ale, but it tastes light and refreshing.
I’ve gotten so used to bitter and hoppy (from drinking so much IPA) that yeasty and sour took me quite by surprise. This beer smells very strong and hearty, reminiscent of Chimay White, Leffe, or Hoegaarden.
If you don’t like yeast, you certainly won’t like this. If you do like yeast, and a beer that is refreshing and quenching, you will like this. As I sipped this yellowish ale from my glass, I started wondering why Belgian beer is so yeasty and sour. To the Internets!
Here comes the science: Brewer’s Yeast, or any yeast in the family Saccharomyces cerevisiae (literally, sugar fungus of beer), is used to make beer. There are 2 main sub-types within this family, the top-fermenting “ale yeast” and the bottom-fermenting “lager yeast.” There are hundreds of strains of yeast out there, all of which offer slightly different character, flavors, and aromas.
There is also a way to brew beer (or wine) using wild yeast by simply leaving the wort (or must) exposed to the open air called “spontaneous fermentation.” This method allows naturally occurring yeast to process the sugars into alcohol, resulting in a much more sour, unfiltered, cloudy beer. This is the way beer and wine was made pre-1836 (when French scientist and lush Cagniard de Latour discovered that yeast was alive and made alcohol as a by-product of eating sugar); a period in history when people assumed tiny, invisible fairies swam around in their beer, creating magical happy-juice in the process. This method is highly volatile, often resulting in gross, possibly dangerous, undrinkable beer.
While there are dozens of varieties of Belgian beer their brewmasters are fond of a particular strain of yeast that results in sulfur-like smells and leaves a substantial amount of yeast flavor in the beer. This may have something to do with the 15th century Trappist Abbey beer, which was originally brewed by selfish monks who wouldn’t share their delicious brown ales. Or weren’t allowed to share it because of Catholic doctrine. I can’t remember. Either way, their work set the bar for how Belgian ales should be produced and how they should taste.
As a result, contemporary nods to Belgian ale are packed to the brim with certain strains of yeast that make them – unsurprisingly enough – iconically Belgian. Belgian Pale Ale sits at an almost perfect juxtaposition to the England-born India Pale Ale.
It’s a battle of hops versus yeast.
The winner? My tongue.
8.75 out of 10.
Next up: Flying Dog Road Dog Porter!