An ale for all saisons in Edwardstone
PUBLISHED: 12:28 03 June 2014
Beer sommelier Ross Turner samples saison ale at Mill Green Brewery matched with a fish rarely seen on modern menus
After recently hosting Hog & Ale’s first beer festival in 2014 dedicated to all Suffolk’s breweries, I thought it only right to tell you about a brewery that everyone seemed to like – their beer sold out first – Mill Green.
Mill Green is based at Edwardstone, near Sudbury, next door to the White Horse pub, where I am matching my chosen beer with a dish off the menu.
The beer that got all the attention was Golden Fleece, but when I went to return the cask to head brewer Tom Norton, he mentioned he was brewing the first Suffolk Saison, which got my full attention.
In 2008, Tom and his father, John, a keen cider maker, set up what is believed to be one of the most eco-friendly breweries in the country. They harvest their own barley, grow their own hops and water comes from a borehole they created.
The brewery building was built with reclaimed bricks and timber, solar panels and they have their own wind turbine. You can find out more about Mill Green – including beer festivals, the range of beers and cider, plus links to their pubs, The Fleece at Boxford and the White Horse at Edwardstone – at www.millgreenbrewery.co.uk
Saison is old farmhouse ale that originates from south Belgium in the region of Wallonia. Saison means season – back in the day, farmers brewed the beer between October and March so it was ready for summer right through to the harvest. Back then saison ales would have been 3.5% abv (alcohol by volume). Nowadays they are normally around 6% abv.
Saison was intended as refreshment for farmworkers, who also saw it as nutrition for those long hard harvest days. It’s a style of beer I thoroughly enjoy for many reasons, among them its complexity and how refreshing it can be.
You can picture the farmworkers taking a break to enjoy bread and cheese with their saison. They work well together as the beer’s fruity flavours engage with the cheese and the tartness works nicely with a pickled onion or gherkin.
Natasha Long, the landlady of the White Horse, has a ploughman’s lunch on the menu and it’s a popular choice. When I visited on a busy Wednesday lunchtime I heard several orders being taken.
But my attention was drawn to the fresh water pike straight from the River Stour, served with sautéed potatoes, Savoy cabbage, ruby chard and smoked pancetta with a crayfish sauce.
Saison is a style of beer that can work well with many types of food, particularly fish, and each one I have tried is slightly different. They all share common flavours, aromas of spice and fruit, followed by more fruit, hops, earthiness, bitterness and sourness, and nearly all offer a long, dry, tart finish. It’s an irresistible ale and possibly one of the most complex styles on offer.
Tom had his work cut out, but after trying his version I must say I was impressed. So impressed I went back for more when I was in the area a week later.
Chef brought the pike to the table and the presentation was top class, equal to any top restaurant. The beer sitting alongside was pale in colour and a little hazy, which is not uncommon in certain saisons. At 6% abv, it had a typical fruity ester on the aroma side.
I drizzled the crayfish sauce over the pike before I tucked in and, as expected, tasted earthy flavours from the fish and a meaty texture. I tasted the beer and . . . lift off. Fruity and hoppy on the first sip with some acidity that worked so well as an introduction. I tried the sautéed potatoes and the carbonation and bitterness help cut through the oil and salt.
I drove the fork in and tasted a delicious combination of cabbage and ruby chard with pancetta – again the carbonation helps cut through the salty pancetta. Fruity notes from the beer bring the whole experience together as pike and the saison share an marvelous earthiness.
Wonderful dining at the White Horse and well done to Tom for helping me introduce saison to Suffolk. Brewers like him deserve a medal.