Most of my workdays are spent alone at home, poring over a hot computer as I wait for the muse to alight and the hangover to depart. From time to time, however, I am called upon to venture out into the general population to address the inmates of a local prison or communications class on the topic of New Media Superstardom. (Not to brag, but: I’ve been on a beer podcast).
I mostly just tell them my own personal story, because life is really nothing more than one big beer review, you know? But I take care to focus on the times when I’ve triumphed over adversity, because although I’ve won a few lotteries along the way (my left-handedness proved mighty anecdotally useful when I was a baseball-liking tween; also, my parents provided a loving and stable home, and it’s not the world’s biggest stretch to think that at some point at least one person regarded the gap between my front teeth as winsome), it’s generally more helpful to trick the less fortunate into thinking we all start from something resembling the same scratch.
This is why my inspirationally disingenuous struggle narrative tends to focus on my time as a farm-laboring teen, by which I mean a high school dirtbag working with all my friends at the ramshackle amusement park a couple hundred yards from my nice suburban house. It retrospect, we probably did work what amounted to criminally long days, but we didn’t really mind at the time, and all our money went to Nintendo games and Colt .45 tallboys, so while the arrangement was exploitative, it wasn’t really coercive. None of us were working Whalom Park concessions stands to feed ourselves or our families. Does that mean we didn’t regularly steal chicken sandwiches to barter with the girl who ran the mini-golf booth? No, it does not mean that. We crimed that, for sure; lotta leftover beer went walking out of the cooler after the annual Gillette company picnic, too.
But despite those perks (or depending on the audience, those necessities of life in the fields), it was still kinda shit work. We’d get there at about 7 a.m. to set up the day’s worth of picnic tables and barbecue grills for the private outings, then spend a couple hours doing whatever it is you do to a soft-serve ice-cream machine to get it ready for duty. Then we’d sling shitty fair food at people all day. Again, we weren’t mining coal, but these elbows have seen a lot of cotton candy, man. The park closed at 9 or 10 p.m., at which point we’d all scramble off to wherever we figured we stood the best chance of drinking a 12-pack in peace without getting hassled by The Man.
I tell my students and budding young criminals this by way of inspiring them, letting them know that if you put in the hard work, you can eventually rise to the very pinnacle of success. (Fine, full disclosure: I talked about beer on live radio once, too.) I realize this level of New Media Superstardom isn’t a realistic goal for everyone, which is why I try to focus my presentations on hard work’s more immediate, accessible rewards: the after-work brewski.
As I said, my carnie buddies and I used to drink mostly Colt .45, along with the odd case of Meister Brau, but sometimes in the retelling I’ll claim we drank saison, the traditional thirst-quencher of the Wallonian field-working classes. These rich days, I only have one friend with anything resembling an honest job: My buddy Crowley runs a catering kitchen at one of the big local colleges. He’s not around as much as the rest of my beer’ing buddies due to the aforementioned realness of his job, so I was happy to run into him last Friday. I enjoyed his company, and furthermore I enjoyed that he inadvertently kept the saison dream alive by downing a quick three-quarter-dozen Lost Abbey Red Barn Ales with me.
Saison as a working-person’s brew is a tough sell these days. For one thing, it tastes funny, and people with real jobs don’t always have a ton of time to waste on palate development and beer experimentation. Saisons are made with special Belgian yeast that imparts a spicy, peppery kick uncommon to the most popular American beer styles, from crappy macro lagers to honest pale ales to high-end double India pales to barrel-aged stouts and so on.
And saisons may have been originally brewed to sustain the seasonal farm workers on the Belgian countryside (les saisonnieres agricoles), but most modern interpretations tend to be higher than their forebears in both price and alcohol. Crowley can hold his liquor, though, and I guess he’s been in the catering game long enough to be making some fair coin, so we got lost in the Red Barn the other day, and it was spectacular.
A 25.4-ounce bottle of 6.7-percent alcohol-by-volume Red Barn will run you about $8 or $9; I don’t blame anyone who stops reading right there (but you’re dead to me if you glossed over the part about my cotton-candy elbow). I think it’s well worth it, but I respect anyone with an upper price limit that requires a little buzz within the first $10 of at-home beer.
Lost Abbey, from San Marcos, Calif., brews Red Barn with orange peels, ginger, black pepper, and grains of paradise, all of which compound the already assertive kick of the yeast to make this one of the more flavorful and aggressive saisons I’ve had. The flavors are all complementary, so it doesn’t taste like the big, messy riot the above description might suggest, as the gentler banana and clove notes from the yeast esters and phenols eventually kick in to keep things straight. A lot of people detect a tartness on Red Barn’s finish, though I have to confess to missing out on that one; this one stayed spicy, fruity, and floral throughout my chugging.
There’s a big of a saison revivial underfoot in American brewing, and Lost Abbey Red Barn is one of the finest I’ve tried. It’s boozier, more complex, and more expensive than your average bottle of beer, but it’s also a hell of a lot better. So go ahead, you’ve earned it (maybe).
This is Drunkspin Daily, the Concourse’s adequate source for booze news, reviews, and bullshit. We’ll be highlighting a beer a day in this space; please leave suggestions below.
Will Gordon loves life and tolerates dissent. He lives in Cambridge, Mass., and some of his closest friends have met Certified Cicerones. Find him on Twitter @willgordonagain. Image by Jim Cooke.