Back in 2009 the Craft Brewers Conference (the national industy event for the craft brewing industry in the U.S.) was in Boston. Cambridge Brewing Company (CBC) was chosen to brew the official Symposium Beer for the event, which would be distributed to all of the attendees. They now distribute this brew, called Audacity of Hops. At the time, though, they didn't have a bottling line, so they partnered with Mayflower Brewing Company for the production. Tons of Massachusetts brewers came out to join in on the act and we all had a great day. While I was over at Mayflower, though, I met an assistant brewer from CBC named Ben Howe. Ben still works at CBC as a bartender but, since then, he's gone on to recently found Enlightenment Ales, a nano-brewery focused on the Biere de Champagne style as well as other farmhouse styles.
As a frequenter of CBC, I've kept in touch with Ben over the years and, when I mentioned to Will Meyers (Brewmaster at CBC) that we were launching Drink Craft Beer Summerfest: A Celebration of Farmhouse Ale, he said I had to talk to Ben. Well, I'm not going to question a man like Will, so I called up Ben and asked what he had that would work. Ben was playing with a test batch of Farmhouse Ale at the time and thought that it would be perfect...so we signed him up without having any idea what he would bring, but knowing the beers he had brewed under Will had been great. What he poured at Summerfest was a delicious blend of spicy saison yeast and delicious hops. Not too bitter, but tons of flavor. Now, a few months later, he's bottled it and it's available all over Eastern Massachusetts. I picked up a bottle at Craft Beer Cellar, so let's check it out.
Just like the first experimental batch of this I had at Drink Craft Beer Summerfest: A Celebration of Farmhouse Ale, Illumination is a super hazy, almost milky looking straw beer. But don't let that put you off! The apparent thickness? That's flavor, and it's from the yeast. The head is huge and serves to let the whole room know that you're drinking a beer that smells like hops, saison and deliciousness.
It's tough to tell off the bat who's winning this one, the hops or the yeast. The farmhouse yeast that Englightenment uses has quite a pungeant aroma of spice and a little banana. That said, there is a wonderful, fruity hop aroma that comes off this that can't be beat. In the end, I'm going to have to say that the two play together in a synergistic (yep, I used the word "synergy") way that makes both even better. The yeast has a drying, estery effect that almost seems a little chalky. The hops are fruity and full. Together, the beer has a wonderful smell that just makes me want to drink it!
This is one of those brews that is a great blend of two styles. Too often, when a brewer combines styles, one of them is dominant and the other is an after thought. In the case of Enlightenment's Illumination, though, the hops and the yeast come together to make a style I wish had always been around...and I'm sure farmhands of yore would have drank with much enthusiasm. The hops? Fruity, tropical and light on the tongue. The saison? Spicy, dry and refreshing. The high carbonation that comes with the saison style, as well as the estery, spicy yeast help to accentuate the hops and showcase them in their best light. In the way that vanilla makes chocolate a better flavor, I firmly believe that saison makes hops take on a more interesting character, done right. And this one is done right. Bring this to your next special event, as the 750 ml format is great for looking fancy, and your host will love you. Or just enjoy it by yourself on a slow night. We won’t judge.