Summer’s New Must-Have Saison

4 Best Lagers

There’s plenty of moonshine history out of the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, the heart of Appalachia and Dolly Parton’s childhood home. And plenty of whiskey continues to be made, much of it is still whimsically referred to as moonshine, a remnant of America’s troubled Prohibition past.

Kentucky and eastern Tennessee continue to form the heart of America’s whiskey past, present and future, though these days more than 200 craft distillers are said to be making whiskey across America, from California to New York.

Still, the fact that the world’s best-selling American whiskey—Jack Daniel’s—is centered in Lynchburg, Tennessee, a dry town, kind of sums up the dilemmas of doing something new in this part of the country.

That makes what’s happening in the tiny town of Maryville, due south of Knoxville, all the more remarkable.

It’s here where a brand new brewery is beginning to make some of the best Belgian-style Saison in America, called Blackberry Farm. Brought to life by the celebrated food-driven, farm-to-table resort by the same name, Blackberry Farm Saison is just getting going under the direction of Roy Milner, managing partner, and Daniel Heisler, head brewer.

Milner has worked in craft brewing for decades, first starting in Knoxville as a home brewer when he was attending the University of Tennessee. He later founded Eastern Rivers Brewing Company.

Heisler is another home brewer who has turned an avocation into a professional career.

“Saison speaks so credibly to our pursuit of artistry through beers that are nuanced and happy at the table,” says Milner. “We are on a working farm and this style finds its roots on the working farms of Wallonia. It’s also simple in formulation but so complex and interesting in flavor.”

The two have quietly and methodically been turning a small beer program for Blackberry Farm guests into a burgeoning cri de coeur for beer at the table, finding allies in the wider world of star chefs, such as David Chang and Michael Tusk, who sojourn to Blackberry Farm occasionally to cook.

Both Milner and Heisler’s compass points most directly to Belgium, where the two have spent time studying both the techniques and technology behind Saison-style beer, but also the culture around how these beers are enjoyed, especially with food.

“Blackberry Farm is filled with artisans and guests who truly care about history, education, and where things are headed,” adds Milner. “Chefs have had very positive feedback about this beers’ character and versatility. It blends notes of citrus, spice, delicate sweetness, and finishes dry. That works well with a variety of cuisines and elevates a pairing with added impact. A few of our closest chef friends have called it their favorite beer…that may be flattery, but we’ll take it from them.”

Meant to be light and refreshing, Saison indeed comes out of a farmhouse tradition, with the intent of capturing the character of each ingredient, be it fresh grain, spicy hops, tart yeasts or honey and fruit. Blackberry Farm’s Classic Saison is effervescent in all the right ways, bottle-conditioned and stopped with a cork, the only way to hold back its pressure.

The brewery’s Summer Saison, part of a seasonal series out now, is gorgeously golden-orange in color and wholly tropical in flavor. It possesses the style’s signature tartness in spades.

The style has been endangered, only recently showing new signs of life.

Blackberry Farm Brewery intends to further the conversation. While on the surface it exists as a lonely island of beer surrounded by a sea of whiskey, it has the advantage of operating on a larger stage through Blackberry Farm itself and the ambassadorial chefs now clamoring to carry the beer at their restaurants. Several restaurants in Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee have already begun carrying the beer.

Next up, Whole Foods on the East Coast is due to carry Blackberry Farm Saison, in 750-ml bottles, and it may one day also be ordered direct via the Blackberry Farm Web site.

For now, sign up on a brewery mailing list will keep you in the know about where to find and buy the beer, along with news on upcoming experimental ales and other specialty brews.

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Published on July 9, 2015