Beer hasn’t always been a leisurely beverage. For centuries, it was the go-to drink in communities where water supplies were unclean. Based on necessity, farm and factory workers looking for refreshment used to reach for a brew on their lunch breaks.
In the French-speaking Wallonia region of Belgium, the saison style was long the beer of choice. Brewed in the winter, saisons were ready when farmhands took to the fields in the spring. The beers were historically low alcohol, so the workers could get back to, well, work.
Notch Brewing Co. founder Chris Lohring is trying to capture that sentiment with Notch Saison. Today’s saisons tend to hover around 6 or 7 percent alcohol by volume. Notch’s is 4.1 percent, a nod to the Ipswich brewery’s focus on session beers, but also to the beers consumed by workers on the farm. Lohring wanted to take back a style that has slowly crept into an alcohol range he finds unnecessary. “It’s a worker’s beer,” Lohring says. “This was a beer brewed by farmers to take to field hands. To me that’s just a cool story. It was functional.”
This saison is more functional because it’s in cans. First brewed as a year-round beer, in 2011, the brew took a hiatus. Last month, Notch reintroduced the saison as a seasonal beer, available from April to September. “When we were in bottles we didn’t have that much of a seasonality,” says Lohring. “As soon as we went to cans everything changed.”
Lohring intends it to be a beer you can actually drink at lunch, even if you only have 45 minutes and you’re tethered to your smartphone. Owing to the Belgian tradition of utilizing local ingredients, the beer is brewed with wheat from Valley Malt in Hadley. Lohring swapped out the yeast from the original iteration of Notch’s saison to one that, in his words, “behaves a little better, and is a little fruitier.”
Poured from a yellow-and-blue can, Notch Saison appears straw yellow in the glass. The drinker smells banana esters, wheat, and dandelions. The first sip is rich, like drinking something more substantial. Lohring’s goal is to make each of his session beers as flavorful as higher alcohol beers of the same style. In this case, it’s difficult to tell the difference between a 4.1 percent alcohol saison and something with more gravity. “The yeast is contributing so much to the beer,” says Lohring. “It makes for more depth of flavor.”
This feels like Notch’s most flavorful beer. Saison joins Session Pils and Left of the Dial IPA as Notch beers available right now. “People have realized low-alcohol saisons can have a lot of flavor,” says Lohring.
You can bring this one to your next barbecue, but you can also take it to lunch.
Notch Saison (around $16 for a 12-pack) available at Social Wines, South Boston, 617-268-2974 and Craft Beer Cellar, Belmont, 617-932-1885