When I ran into a couple of Tijuana brewers at the National Homebrewers Conference conference last week, they mentioned that Coronado Brewing Company has been generous and supportive of the rising ranks of brewers living in TJ and deeper Baja. This jibes with the language the island brewer used with its latest Crown Series seasonal, called Señor Saison. Timed to release around Cinco de Mayo, the brewer says it means to "celebrate the rise of craft beer south of the border with this reimagined farmhouse ale."
170 Orange Avenue, Coronado
That reimagining didn't strain too many brain muscles — it involves brewing the Belgian farmhouse ale with chili peppers and agave nectar. While playing to those ingredients might seem a little on the nariz coming from Coronado Brewing’s marketing team, the friendly nod to Mexican cohorts seems to be genuine enough, to hear these brewers tell it.
The Coronado booth at the June 13 conference was offering tasters of the 6.5% saison, and I was eager to try it. I've long assumed the style would be a good candidate for chili beer, since it's commonly spiced with something or another, often coriander. That taster gave me a nice little zip of jalapeño and a flash of Saison yeast but was gone too quickly. I decided to drink a full pour before the week was out.
3926 30th Street, North Park
Thanks to the TapHunter app, I found it on draught at Coin-Op Game Room in North Park. It never really occurs to me to visit the arcade/bar looking for beer — there are so many quality craft serving establishments in the immediate vicinity, its 20-odd taps are easy to overlook. But on a sunny afternoon I made my way over and shot hoops on the arcade basketball game on Coin-Op's patio in between sips of my pint of Señor.
The nearly opaque orange-amber pour had a tight lace of foam and smelled vaguely of the pickled jalapeño slices you get on nachos at a ballgame. The first couple of sips, that spice reveals itself to be a little cleaner than that. Whereas something like Habanero Scuplin, the chili pepper comes shining through in the aftertaste, here it appears closer to the front, riding across the tongue soon after sipping. I could have handled a little more heat, but this beer seems content to handle its spice with a delicate hand.
The moment of kick quickly dissipates, allowing a fairly prototypical saison flavor to come through – maybe a touch sweeter than usual, balanced by a hint of fruit in the finish. As I continued to drink past the first few sips, I came to notice the chilis less and the fruity malts more. I guess my tongue adapted to the heat pretty quickly, leaving me to focus on the juicy, even syrupy body, and subtlety of the agave notes.
When the days get hot like this I look for a refreshing summer beer, and this provides a good alternative to the usual whites and pilsners. The added spice may be more pleasing to casual spice fans than those who favor ghost peppers and track Scoville ratings, but there's a decent saison under it all, and a maltiness that doesn't get too heavy or cloy for a sunny afternoon of plunking quarters into vintage machines.