Beer: Seven Brewery: Upright Brewing Co. Style: Saison ABV: 8 percent
Not sure if you guys have noticed, but craft beer is going all Manifest Destiny right now. With the likes of New Belgium, Oskar Blues, and Green Flash breaking ground on East Coast facilities, big brands are going nationwide. Even the small guys are seeing enough growth that they can expand into new markets -- Grand Canyon just became the first Arizona Brewery to break into the Nevada market (congrats, guys!) and Portland's Upright Brewing Co. has finally made its way into ours.
Upright is a peculiar beer-maker, for though it's common for a brewery to focus on ales from a particular region (Belgian beers or English-style ales, for example), it's rare that brewers specialize in one particular style. But that's just what Upright does, focusing on spicy, refreshing saisons with a Pacific Northwest twist. The name is a reference to Charles Mingus, a musician and composer who played the upright double bass and focused on collective improvisation -- a hybrid style Upright says matches its own.
Upright's four year-round brands -- Four, Five, Six, and Seven -- all incorporate regionally grown and malted grains, hops from the Annen Brothers farm in Mt. Angel, Oregon, and a special saison yeast trained to operate in the brewery's open fermentation vessels. The names may seem dull by today's flamboyant branding standards, but that's the point -- in a time long past, breweries distributed only to their surrounding neighborhoods with just a number on the cap to distinguish between different beers. Usually, these numbers signified the starting gravity, or pre-fermentation sugar content, of each brew. So it is with Upright, making Seven its highest-gravity -- and thus, highest alcohol content -- year-round brew.
Find the closest teddy bear, cut it open, and bunch its fluffy guts together -- that's what Seven's head looks like when poured into a tulip. The beer -- made with pale, pilsner, and Munich malts -- has impressive malt character that contributes to this dense crust of eggshell-white foam that caps the beer for what seems like hours. Below, the liquid is burnt orange and mostly clear.
The nose is highly aromatic. Magnum, Mt. Rainier, Hallertauer Mittelfrüh, and Liberty hops mix with the malts and spicy saison yeast to lend notes of pumpkin, anise, and mulling spice to some bread crust, honey, and musty cereal. Red apples mix with the other spices to give this an almost cider-y quality.
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The flavor, however, is packed with malts from biscuity start to bitter, toasty finish. Throughout, there's not a hint of the 8 percent alcohol (impressive, that), though carbonation is quite high, with bubble daggers poking the tongue through the medium-bodied brew to the point that it's almost uncomfortable. Flashes of red apple, toasted wheat, pepper and sawdust can be detected before a finish as dry as a crusty loaf of bread.
Seven -- and its counterparts Four, Five and Six -- can be found on shelves throughout the Valley. Get some, and enjoy the fruits of craft beer's national sprawl.
Zach Fowle is a Certified Cicerone, an accredited guide to beer. He works at World of Beer in Tempe.