The Brewery: Arizona Wilderness Brewing Company
The Stats: 5.9% ABV
Since opening about three years ago, Arizona Wilderness Brewery has established itself as one of the best, most interesting breweries in the state. Often known for using nontraditional and locally grown ingredients, the Gilbert brewery has been called the "World's Best New Brewery" and has worked with everyone from top local chefs to a world-renowned gypsy brewer.
All of which is to say, it should come as little surprise that the innovative brewhouse has now produced an entirely "Arizona-born" ale. Called Connection Saison, this beer features both malt and hops grown right here in the Grand Canyon State. The Belgian-style beer was made with a malt grown in the Verde Valley and hops harvested in Elgin, which have been brought to create a Farmhouse Saison ale.
The Nature Conservancy, a nonprofit environmental agency, led the charge to find a way to grow malt in Arizona that would require less water than a traditional crop. The classic Harrington varietal of malt was picked for production in the Verde Valley, and according to Nature Conservancy Transactions Director Kimberly Schonek, the malt didn't need to be irrigated at all in the month of June, "which was extremely beneficial to the Verde River." Schonek tells us a similar corn crop may require at least a foot of water during the same time period, so growing this crop was not only beneficial to the brewers, but also to the Verde River, where preserving the water is vitally important.
The hops, meanwhile, were grown in southern Arizona at the Copper Hop Ranch in Elgin. Four different hops were used in the Connection Saison including traditional varieties such as Cascade, Columbus, and Nugget, as well as a nontraditional varietal known as Arizona Neomexicanus.
At the kick-off event for the beer, we were able to smell and taste the grain and hops used in the beer. The malt had a very pronounced and pleasant aromatic quality, and when tasted, it provided a level of sweetness that was more intense than traditional brewing malts. More flavors in the malt means more flavors in the resulting beer and that was definitely the case with Connection Saison.
Lemon citrus fruit with hints of tangerine and light black pepper were all present in the beer's flavor, though all flavors were subtle and balanced and nothing stood out as dominant. A traditional saison tends to be very highly carbonated, containing a "bite," but this beer does not possess that quality.
Zero hops were used for bittering, with all of the bitterness instead being extracted from the hops used in the whirlpool, which happens at the end of the brewing process. This provided a subtle, soft bitterness and allowed the malt flavors to shine and be in the forefront. And since the hops were added only at the end of the brewing process, traditional methods of measuring international bitterness units don't apply and the actual IBUs for this beer are unknown. It's not a bitter beer by any means, instead possessing a pleasant sweetness from the malt and, at the same time, a slight tartness from the yeast.
The beer was well-attenuated, though less so than some traditional farmhouse saisons, which created a more rounded mouthfeel and flavor profile due to the malt's pleasant sugars. The body was medium-light, typical for a saison, and the mouthfeel was creamy. Saisons are known for producing a lot of yeast-derived flavors and aromas, and this beer was no exception. Connection provided citrus, black pepper, and other spicy yeast phenolics and esters of pear and apricot to go along with the flavorful bread-y malt flavors.
In a sentence, Connection is a subtle, elegant, and fresh beer with flowing flavors that work harmoniously together. The fact that it was made with ingredients grown and harvested in Arizona, using environmentally conscious methods, is an added bonus.
For more information, check the Arizona Wilderness Brewing Company website.