Beer: Saison Brewery: Funkwerks Style: Saison ABV: 6.8 percent
Phoenix, it must be said, is a pretty odd place -- made up primarily of people exported from other regions. With our climate and the variety of drinkers making their homes in the Valley, it's difficult to dial in on what beers will be successful here. In the grand story that is the beer scene in Phoenix, what works? Four Peaks has proved resoundingly (and against all logic) that Scottish ale works. Hops and fruit work, if the success of SanTan's Devil's Ale and Mr. Pineapple are any judge. But what about funk? Does funk work?
A few weeks ago, Hensley Beverage Co., a liquor distributor in Phoenix, posted the picture you see below on its Facebook page. The logo flew over most heads, but a small group of craft beer drinkers immediately started buzzing. They knew what those green letters stood for: Funkwerks. Though young in craft beer terms (founders Brad Lincoln and Gordon Schuck met in September 2009 while studying brewing science at Chicago's Siebel Institute and incorporated Funkwerks soon after, but the brewery didn't officially open its doors until early 2011), the Fort Collins, Colo.-based brewery has nonetheless become a leader of the new craft beer revolution. At the 2011 Great American Beer Festival, Funkwerks' Saison earned a silver medal; the next year it won gold, while the brewery itself was named Small Brewing Company of the year. Funk obviously works for GABF judges.
But again, Phoenix is weird. Our brewers, for reasons that defy my tiny mind, have never fully accepted Belgian brews and funky yeast strains, and so our drinkers have never fully appreciated one of the styles that is most suited to the Arizona summer: saison. These beers were first developed in the southern region of Belgium as a potable drink for farm workers on hot summer days. The trademarks of the style -- light, effervescent body, low alcohol, dry finish -- make it especially thirst-quenching. Saison works in the Arizona heat.
In a tulip glass, Funkwerks saison exhibits all the attributes of a well-designed farmhouse ale: slightly cloudy, pale-gold color; dense, billowing head of pure white; lace that grips the glass like spiderwebs. The nose, too, is solid, as rustic, earthy malt provides a backbone for soft swirls of banana, apple, and lemon zest. Yeast adds sharp, peppery notes and grassy funk.
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The flavor can be described as "controlled" -- unlike many traditional saison brewers who ferment their beers in aseptic environments with multiple varieties of yeast and bacteria, Funkwerks seems to have penned in its fermenting organisms. This adds to the beer's solidity -- there's no doubt it's a fine example of a saison -- but it also lacks some of the wildness you might find in a true Belgian saison like Fantome or Saison Dupont. Which might be just fine for some -- the flavors of orange juice, white grape, cidery apples, hay bales, coriander, just-uprooted ginger, honeydew, and white pepper dried are all the more clearly without the wild guys bounding around. Add in a smooth yet subtle hop bitterness and an almost-dry finish, and you've got a brew that should be a staple in every Phoenician's fridge.
Funkwerks works for Phoenix. Get it here August 12.
Zach Fowle is a Certified Cicerone, an accredited guide to beer. He works at World of Beer in Tempe.