Fair Isle's Salons
Standing in front of an unmarked, electric blue door, I usher guests off the street and into an old industrial building. My targets are easy to spot. A tall lanky fellow in a Heater Allen tee, a bespectacled young woman in a Holy Mountain shirt, a goatee’d gentleman sporting a Russian River workshirt. I follow the last guest inside, up the extra long flight of stairs into the meeting room. Fifteen folding chairs are positioned in a circle, two tasting glasses sit on the ground next to each. The room is uncomfortably hot and dimly lit. I start sweating as I walk in, as do the rest of the guests, but no one seems to mind. Why? These beer enthusiasts are here to taste Andrew and Geoffrey’s mixed culture beers, a rare taste of what’s in store for Fair Isle Brewing.
Fair Isle’s summer has been busy. We’ve toured potential spaces, traveled through Belgium and France to connect with other brewers, met with maltsters and brewhouse manufacturers, and continued to refine recipes. Amid this whirlwind of a summer, it would have been easy to lose sight of what brought us into this industry in the first place -- the joy of sharing our beer with other people. With this in mind, we hosted a tasting on August 9th to connect with our supporters over a couple glasses of beer.
The tasting began with two saisons C1 and C2. They’re both quite young compared to our usual offerings and represent our attempt to brew an everyday beer that can be turned around in a month or two. Guests knew the two beers were somehow related, but not specifically how. One person said they were getting more hop character on C1’s nose, as well as a tire-y phenolic. Another said C1 had superior complexity and depth, while C2 was cleaner. What was the difference? More late addition hops on C1? A more complex malt bill? Smiles broke out when we revealed the only difference was mash process. They’re identical beers, except that C1 was brewed with a protein rest, while C2 was just a straightforward single infusion mash. Geoffrey explained how the beers use an undermodified malt from Skagit Valley Malting (SVM) called Alba Pilsner. The maltsters at SVM believe beers utilizing this malt could benefit from the protein rest in order to break down gums and long chain proteins to improve head retention as well as contribute to complexity, but, according to them, few breweries that are using the malt are performing this step (which requires additional equipment on the commercial scale). C1 tends to score higher at our tastings which means we may need to set aside some space for another brewing vessel!
Next was a beer code named Obsidian, named after an SVM malt of the same name. Formerly called Purple Egyptian, this malt is unique in that it’s bran layer is purple (no it doesn’t produce purple beer!). Guests found this beer to be more well rounded than the previous beers. They also found it more accessible, and appreciated the fruit character from the Brett in our mixed culture. One guest stated that it was overly tannic, citing a drying bitterness which lingered on the back palate. Interestingly, I’ve noticed this character as well but have seen it ebb and flow depending on the age of the beer. Because our beers are all mixed ferment, they evolve with age. The tastings have been a great way for us to see how our beers drink at different points in time.
Following Obsidian was one of my favorite beers, Andrew and Geoffrey’s take on a Berliner Weisse. In my opinion, this is the perfect summer beer: tart but not sour, refreshing, lemony. If we could put this in tallboy cans I’d be taking four packs to the beach weekly! The guests agreed with me, calling it a “hot weather beer” and sharing notes like “citrus,” “black pepper,” “unripe peach” and “fresh grass clippings.” Another reason why I love this beer so much is because it takes a little more love to produce than most Berliners on the market. We start with a 24-hour sour mash, but unlike other quick Berliners, the wort then ferments on our mixed culture for 6-8 months before being bottled. This may seem like a lot of work for a beer that can be crushed like macro lager at a frat party, but it’s 100% worth it in my opinion.
Transitioning into more malt-forward beers, we poured our dark farmhouse beer. As Andrew explained, his aim was to make a beer that tasted like autumn. This beer pours deep amber, presenting aromas of plum, raisin, and toffee. Someone suggested that this would be a great beer to blend with coffee and the group excitedly agreed.
The tasting ended with a Flanders Red-inspired beer more than two years old. Because it was late in the night, there was little formal discussion of flavors, aromas, appearance and mouthfeel (you’ll have to trust my word that it’s a delicious beer).
As guests turned to their neighbors and fell into individual conversations, I took a second to sit back and observe the circle. Individuals that had never met before were now exchanging information and making plans to meet up for drinks later in the week. We could have reigned in the conversation and tried to solicit feedback on our recipes, but, in certain contexts, beer need be nothing more than a vehicle for facilitating human connection.
- Sam Lehman
Sam was our heroic intern for the summer. Now he is back in the northeast, attending his senior year at Brown University and drinking juicy east coast IPAs and of course, the occasional Hill Farmstead.