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Brew Day at Goose Island Clybourn: Part 3

By Chuck Sudo in Food on Jul 7, 2010 6:20PM

2010_07_sai_shan_tea.jpg In the weeks since Goose Island's Jared Rouben, Rare Tea Cellar's Rod Markus and I started fermenting our lemon tea saison wort at Goose Island Clybourn, our individual schedules were such that the three of us couldn't nail down a time to taste the beer together. Meanwhile, Rouben updated us in the weeks following the brew day with rave reviews from someone new who had sampled the beer. the anticipation was starting to gnaw at me. What I found out later only heightened the anxiousness.

A couple weeks back, at a sustainable seafood event at Columbia Yacht Club, Rod Markus was serving iced teas when he told me, "Jared's entering the beer at the Great American Beer Festival for award consideration." I asked him to repeat what he said. Markus did, then said, "Isn't that nuts?" Given what I heard second hand about how the beer was progressing, it really didn't sound that crazy. The next day I e-mailed Rouben for confirmation. He replied, "Yup. Taking the beer to GABF. This is my crown jewel." When asked for further clarification, Rouben said that everyone he let sample the beer since we brewed it has been amazed at how it turned out. "I can't brew a beer like this and not let people know how proud I am of what we created," he said.

With the holiday passed, I stopped by Goose Island Clybourn yesterday to finally taste the beer. I expressed some hesitation to doing so without Markus around. "Don't worry about that," Rouben said, "Rod already tasted it last week. He was over with Graham Elliot Bowles to talk about the beer I'm doing with him." Bowles, Rouben recounted, was floored by the beer.

A power outage at the brewpub increased the temperature of the fermentation tank, but not enough to raise the temperature of the tank to a point where it could damage the beer. By the time I arrived at the brewpub, power was restored and the beer had a light chill to it as Rouben poured a sample from the tank. To this day, I still get a rush of adrenaline tasting beer straight from a fermentation tank.

The beer had a nice, cloudy orange color and a head of large bubbles, a sign that the fermentation was still in progress. The most startling difference was in the flavor. My baseline flavor for this beer was from the wort we sampled prior to fermentation, which was excessively sweet. The saison yeast really took to the sugars pulled from the malts, and the earthy flavors associated with saison yeast were apparent but not dominant. Truth be told, it took me a while to really get a sense of what the beer was doing. The more I sipped, the more flavors came to the fore, the more I liked this beer. There was a dry finish from the yeast and tea that suggested this beer would go well with food. The tea itself spiced the beer more than the Horizon, Citra or Soriachi Ace hops, although the Horizon hops did mark their presence with some gentle bittering.

Without all that sugar, the lemon flavor was not as pronounced. Rouben thought the beer could use some dry hopping, but wanted to wait until both Markus and I had a chance to taste. Though I can taste the lemon, I thought it could use some dry hopping with more of the tea. So in a week or so, the beer will be moved to another tank that will contain a cheesecloth sack filled with another three pounds of Rare Tea Cellar's Emperor's Lemon Meritage. Rouben also said he's going to add 800 milligrams of a product called Biofine, which will help to clarify the beer's appearance.

During the planning stages for this beer, Rouben and I both expressed a desire for this beer to have some serious weight to it: we wanted it to fall somewhere between 7 and 8 percent ABV, but with all that tea Markus was bringing to the mix, I specifically wanted it to drink like a shandy. As it stands right now, it's there. we just want to add a little zing to the finished product. The only thing we didn't settle on was a name.

Throughout the brew day, we bounced ideas for a name off each other, nearly all of them dealing with a clunky, regal-sounding countenance, since Markus's tea was named "Emperor's Lemon Meritage." Rouben, the Kentucky native, finally hit upon a bit of inspiration toward the end of the day. "This is a saison, spiced with enough lemon tea to drink like a shandy," Rouben reminded us. "Why don't we call it 'Sai-Shan-Tea?'"

"Sai-Shen-Tea." Sounds good as any. And it's catchy.