Beer: Arctic Saison Brewery: Grassroots Brewing Co. Style: Saison ABV: 6 percent
Until the highly sought-after Three Floyds Brewing Co. collaborated with Mikkeller, we could never get its beer in Arizona. Russian River also was never available in our state -- until the famed brewery collaborated with Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
So it is with Arctic Saison, a release from Grassroots Brewing Co., the collaborative label of Vermont's Hill Farmstead Brewery. Though relatively young (its first brew premiered in fall 2010), Hill Farmstead nonetheless is one of the country's most renowned, having earned glowing coverage in beer-focused publications as well as mainstream news outlets like the Associated Press and Vanity Fair. Hill Farmstead also was recently named Best Brewery in the World by ratebeer.com, so it's kind of a big deal. Problem is, its beers are available only in the areas near the brewery's spot in rural Vermont.
Grassroots solves this dilemma. A project thought up by Hill Farmstead founder Shaun Hill before his brewery was even in operation, Grassroots has teamed up with Mikkeller, Stillwater and Cigar City, among others. The collaborative effort allows Hill Farmstead to brew beers that would otherwise not fit into their portfolio and takes advantage of other brewers' distribution networks, making these beers more widely available.
For Arctic Saison, Hill joined forces with Gabe Fletcher, founder of Anchorage Brewing Co. At first glance, the duo may seem ill-matched, at least geographically. But it makes more sense than you think -- Fletcher has family in Vermont, and Hill's Grassroots Distribution handles the dispersion of Anchorage beers in the state. A better question might be whether the breweries were able to harmonize their vastly different approaches to brewing. While Hill Farmstead focuses on classic examples of styles solidly done, Anchorage is far more experimental -- their motto is "Where brewing is an art, and Brettanomyces is king."
The result, I'm happy to say, is more symphony than cacophony. Arctic Saison was modeled after Hill Farmstead's Arthur, a world-class bottle-conditioned saison that hits all the right style notes. In appearance, this Grassroots version is almost identical: marigold-hued, cloudy, and effervescent, with a playful layer pure, frothy white merengue continually replenished by bubbles below. Hill Farmstead's focus is apparent in both flavor and aroma, which exhibit impressive levels of peppery phenols that blend with pear, green apple, and crackers. The soft, whipped feel of the liquid, too, is superb -- the effervescent brew caresses the tongue gently and deposits impressive bitterness on the tongue between sips. It's only upon close inspection that the influence of Anchorage emerges, appearing as a hint of barnyard funk mixed with dabs of green apple and vinegar. Herbal bitterness and a pepper-grinder's worth of phenols blend with this funk before a bone-dry, pithy finish.
With time, the influence of Anchorage's brettanomyces strain will grow within Arctic Saison, making the beer ever more funky and wild with the years. But fresh, the beer harks back to the rustic hills of Vermont, which is why you should drink one now. It'll be your first best taste of Hill Farmstead.
Zach Fowle is a Certified Cicerone, an accredited guide to beer. He works at World of Beer in Tempe.