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Style & Culture

The Hop Report: Kick winter blues with variety of new, exotic beer varieties

By now, the resolutions that you swore the morning after New Year’s Eve should be unmasked as the illusions they are. But if you’re not ready to grab a pint of your favorite brew, give yourself another week. If you are ready, or if you resolved to broaden your palate in 2013, consider trying some new styles of beer to alleviate the winter blues or to celebrate those snow-covered ski mountains.

Read on to get the low-down on Saison, a style of beer that will take you back to the easy days of August, and Stout, a style of ale that will give you the fortitude to push on through the darkest days February can throw at you.

Hailing from Belgium, a wonderful country nestled between France and Germany, Saison is a style of ale that was originally brewed by farmers to refresh seasonal summer workers; hence the name, “Saison.” Historically, each farmhouse produced a different version, but they were typically produced with higher alcohol contents and brewed with large doses of hops to prevent spoilage.

Not to be confused with other ‘Belgian White’ Ales, modern Saisons are praised for their spicy, yeasty and zesty lemon-and-orange citrus notes. Because Saison is made with a healthy portion of wheat along with pale malts and is typically bottle conditioned, meaning that it is fermented a second time in the bottle for carbonation. They often pour a slightly opaque golden color, with a fragrant and frothy head. They flutter around 7 percent alcohol content by volume, but, be warned, some versions can contain as much as 10 percent alcohol or more by volume. However, if you’re looking for a taste of summer, look no further than Saisons. Saisons are full of complex flavors, ranging from tart lemon zest and green apple, to mango and kiwi notes.

Thirsty yet? If lemon zest is your thing, consider picking up a bottle of Sorachi Ace, a Saison produced by Brooklyn Brewing Company. Its name comes from the Sorachi Ace hop, a hybrid created in Japan, popular for intense lemon and herbal flavors. Pair it with spicy Thai food for maximum effect.

Try Hennepin, from Ommegang Brewing for something less lemony — closer to an original Saison, but still brewed in the United States. For a pricey treat, and something even closer to home, consider Interlude, by Allagash Brewing. Interlude is brewed with two strains of yeast, and portions are aged separately in French Merlot and Sirah oak barrels, which are then blended back together. Finally, if you can find it, quaff a glass of the simply named Farmhouse Pale Ale, by Oxbow Brewing, a brewery that strives to recreate authentic farmhouse-style ales in Newcastle, Maine.

If talk of lemon zest and tropical fruit doesn’t strike your fancy, if you like French roast coffee without cream and sugar, or if you’re simply open minded about drinking a dark beer on a cold winter night, consider trying a stout. Once hailed as a more robust derivative of porter, stouts continue to be rich and dark. Almost equal in complexity to Saisons, but on the darker side of the beer spectrum, stouts appear in a variety of styles. But to simplify things, make believe that there are only two kinds of stout: dry stout and imperial stout. Dry stouts, like Guinness, emphasize the toasted, dark chocolate flavors of roasted barley. Double, or imperial, stouts are higher in alcohol content and have similar charred flavors, but the flavors are often softened or enhanced by infusions of cold-pressed coffee and raw chocolate, aging in old whiskey and bourbon barrels, and occasionally the addition of spices.

If that sounds like the kind of brew to have after a long day outside in the snow, snag a six-pack of Phantom Punch, an Export Stout from Baxter Brewing. Dry, roasty and full bodied, it isn’t a meal in a can, per se; it’s more like a semi-sweet hot chocolate, but cold. That may sound strange, but it’s delicious.

For something sweeter, try Sexy Chaos from Marshall Wharf Brewing. According to the brewers, Sexy Chaos is “aged on vanilla beans and toasted oak chips to give the already sultry and complex Russian Imperial Stout a sexy twist.” More often than not, it’s only available in Belfast, where the brewery is located. However, it’s worth the trip to have a pint and a meal at Three Tides Restaurant. Just remember to purchase a growler to take home.

As always, remember to take it easy: 2013 has just begun. It’s too soon to revisit New Year’s Eve, but it’s never too late to try something new.