Beer Tasting: Beachcomber Vertical

Beachcomber blossomed from the idea of crafting the perfect summer sipper. After a bit of research, I learned that saisons were one of the original “summer” beers from the Wallonian region of Belgium. What better beer style to introduce a summer seasonal than a saison?

About one year ago, I wrote a (somewhat) detailed blog post about saisons, so I won’t repeat much of that information here. But in short, after reading about saisons and tasting my first commercial example, I was inspired to create my own interpretation of the style. And thus, Beachcomber was born.

Beachcomber was first brewed in June 2013. Initially, the recipe was closely based off of Saison Du BUFF with a few exceptions (such as trading the herbs for fruity American hops). Over the years, the recipe has evolved, yielding inspiration from another great beer; Modern Times Fortunate Islands (not a saison, but a great summer-time beer). We’ve experimented with new Belgian yeast strains, dry hopping regimens, malt bills, and water chemistries. As always, we’re tweaking something. But often, the beers come and go so quickly, that there is little time to assess the real impact of these changes through objective means.

This past fall, I decided it was time to assess the impact of these recipe changes among various batches of Beachcomber. This beer was a good one to start with since it is our most brewed beer of all-time (seven batches to date, with an eight planned for next week!).

Beachcomber (Batch No: 14180 – Bottled 7/29/2014)

OG: 1.050 | ABV: 5.5% |  IBU: 32 | Color: Deep Gold

Appearance – Pour into tasting snifter reveals approximately ½” of frothy white head. The beer is brilliantly clear, but it is significantly darker than I remember. This batch is more in line with a Pale Ale in color (SRM of 8?).

Smell – Huge wiff of Belgian yeast aromatics; estery, spicy, and phenolic. As it warms, the familiar white wine aroma becomes prominent. I can also make out freshly picked blueberry and blackberry. There may also be a hint of pine, perhaps from the hops. Overall the aroma is somewhat subdued.

Taste – First sip is most definitely yeast forward. I taste black pepper and clove spice at first. There is mild fruitness present in this batch, with a dull bitterness present in the aftertaste.

Mouthfeel – Carbonation level is acceptable, but could be higher. The finish is slightly sweet, indicating the beer could be drier. The dull bitterness turns to a touch of astringency on the finish.

Overall – This is by far my least favorite of the bunch. One positive takeaways from this batch is the aggressive spice characteristics, likely due to higher summer fermentation temperatures. The biggest negative here is the lack of fruitiness from the yeast and hops. This would have been a nice batch to bottle condition with Brettanomyces though!

Beachcomber (Batch No: 14284 – Bottled 11/2/2014)

OG: 1.054 | ABV: 6.2% |  IBU: 32 | Color: Pale Gold

Appearance – When poured into an identical tasting snifter, this batch reveals moderate haze and a more aggressive, though fleeting, head. This color is more toward what I expect from Beachcomber, with an apparent SRM of 4.

Smell – The aroma is spicy like the earlier sample, but more toward freshly cracked black pepper. Clove is replaced by notes of overripe fruit salad. Hints of malt and herbs can also be picked out. There is even a mild cooling sensation in the nose.

Taste – The taste is predominantly citrus forward, grapefruit, lemon, and orange pith. The finish tastes slightly sweet and has an aggressive orange juice characteristic.

Mouthfeel – Carbonation is good. No astringency from hops.

Overall – This is my favorite of the bunch, but could still find room for improvement. The biggest positive is the tropical/citrus fruit flavor and aroma. Unfortunately, the spicy and phenolic characters are somewhat subdued.

Beachcomber (Batch No: 15029 – Bottled 3/7/2015)

OG: 1.050 | ABV: 5.7% |  IBU: 34 | Color: Pale Gold

Appearance – Perfect color, in line with the last batch. More haze to this batch which is due to it being brewed more recently and the yeast still being held in suspension.

Smell – Spice and yeast characteristics dominate the nose. There are even waves of potpourri, revealing more floral aromatics than previous batches.

Taste – This batch tastes peppery and clovey. There is less of a fruit influence, but the same identifiable white wine flavor breaks through on the finish. There are hints of lime and a subtle floral flavor as well.

Mouthfeel – Carbonation level is appropriate and lends to the beer appearing to finish dry. Easier to sip than the previous batches.

Overall – This sample was good, but not great. The best aspect of this batch was its complex nose; I was particularly fond of the potpourri aroma. Unfortunately, the fruit flavor could be dialed up a touch more; utilizing fresher hops is probably the solution here.

All in all, this was a good means to figure out exactly how changes in the recipe have affected Beachcomber over the past few months. For the next batch (slated for brewing on 4/11/2015), there are some minor changes that should hopefully dial the recipe into exactly the kind of beer I envision. The target for the next batch is to keep the ABV around 5.7%, dial up the fruitiness with a fresh crop of hops, and dry the beer out a touch more with a lower mash temperature (146 F) and swapping some additional sugar for base malt. We plan to brew 4-5 batches of Beachcomber this summer, so there will be plenty of opportunity to review these changes in a future blog post!

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