Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Product Review: Celia Saison Beer, Alchemist Brewery

More than two years ago, we reviewed The Alchemist, a microbrewery in Waterbury, Vermont. Here's the quick recap: two award-winning, seriously tasty, gluten-free beers on tap ... a saison and a framboise. Tragically, devastating floods from hurricane/tropical storm Irene destroyed the brewery, and The Alchemist was no more. The only thing that survived was an off-site cannery for Heady Topper, one of the brewery's traditional barley-based beers and the first beer the brewery started selling beyond the confines of its taps and pub.

Walking into our local beer distributor in the Hudson Valley recently, I did a literal double take when I spotted four-packs of a gluten-free Celia Saison beer. I knew Celia Saison, and I knew it came from only one place: The Alchemist. Without hesitation I grabbed two four-packs (at about $10 each), went to the car, and drove home to learn more.

It seems that ever since The Alchemist shut its doors, demand for brewer John Kimmich's gluten-free beers has remained high. And so he answered customer demand by preparing to release Celia Saison. But with the brewery gone, where would he do it? Answer: Mercury Brewing in Ipswich, Massachusetts, where Kimmich began brewing 70 barrels a month of his gluten-free Celia Saison.

The beer weighs in at 6.5% ABV, and is brewed from sorghum, water, Celia hops, Curacao orange peel, and Belgian yeast. It pours a nice white head of foam that slowly fades, and the beer is a beautiful hazy orange, courtesy of its unfiltered character.

The flavor surprised both Kelli and me with how reminiscent it was of our own Sisters Saison homebrew. Then again, perhaps we shouldn't have been surprised, since our Sisters Saison was in fact inspired by my first tastes of The Alchemist's Celia Saison back in 2010. We similarly brewed our Saison with water, sorghum, hops, orange peel, and Belgian yeast (plus a touch of coriander).

Celia Saison is floral and hoppy, without the super-hoppy, bitter taste of an IPA. It's subtly sweet, not too bitter, and quite distinct from other sorghum beers such as Redbridge, Bard's, and New Planet. The Celia, in our opinion, has a deeper, more complex flavor than many of the lighter, straightforward sorghum-based ales and lagers.

This is—we think—as it should be. Gluten-free beer drinkers are slowly but surely finding increasing variety in their options. More than ever before, you can find a gluten-free beer to suit your particular tastes as a beer drinker. Whether it's a lager like Bard's, a pale ale like New Planet's Off Grid, or a Belgian-style Saison like Celia from The Alchemist, once again we're happy to say, bottom's up!


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