The beer and rock combo isn’t exactly a new thing. Robinsons brewery has been making Iron Maiden beers for yonks and there’s a string of Motorhead beers made by Camerons, the latest of which is an APA following on from the imaginatively titled B*stards lager.
These beers are commercial tie-ins triggered by the bands themselves and, as large outfits with big followings, a market opens up with just the mention of their name on the label. Today’s beer, however, is slightly different.
Unibroue Saison 13 is a beer and rock mashup created through an apparent friendship. Unibroue brewmaster Jerry Vietz and Dave Mustaine, lead singer of Megadeth, have made a beer inspired by the Megadeth song “A Toute le Monde” and the iconic Megadeth talisman, Vic Rattlehead, is emblazoned on the front of the can.
It’s an odd image with which to promote a saison, you might think, but in the experimental world that is craft brewing, it fits nicely with a beer that is an extreme offering of a style with a modern identity issue. A quick history lesson shows what I mean.
Bière de saison is first mentioned as a style in the early 19th century, associated with the industrial town of Liege in Belgium and brewed from predominantly malted spelt and unmalted wheat at a low abv.
It didn’t become the farmhouse ale we often think of today until Brasserie Dupont's saison was imported into the USA in the 1980s and restyled as such. The modern saison is now higher abv, and made with a cocktail of grains and sometimes spices too but with a mash bill that is typically driven by malted barley. Somehow, the rustic flavours fit perfectly with the notion of farmhouse, even if beer history tells us that the two were separate entities and rather different offerings.
Sounds very much like an example of beer style appropriation if such a thing exists! As our Saison 13 proves, anything goes these days and, well, why not if the end result works. But, does it work?
It pours a lovely deep orange in the glass which points to the use of some darker malts other than your typical pale and pilsner malts. The nose is spicy, floral and complex with some confected orange peels and stone fruits thrown into the mix. On the palate everything is clean, linear and highly attenuated (the sugars have been converted to alcohol). The result is dry, tart even, and beautifully refreshing, allowing the hops to create a real blast of bitterness on the finish.
The name Saison 13 refers to a collection of 13 ingredients that go into the beer (presumably it’s also a nod to the Megadeth song Hangar 18?) and this is reflected beautifully in a complex, layered beer.
So, an (arguably) unfashionable beer style, pumped to the full, inspired by a Megadeth song with a French title and branded into the world of death metal. It’s all quite superbly odd but, somehow, like a lot of today's brewing - it somehow works.