With the constantly increasing competition in the beer market, each individual brewery needs something to set it apart from all of the other options available to consumers. In my opinion the best way to achieve this is to do one thing extremely well, become known as the master of a particular style or set of styles. Many breweries have thrived starting with this model, but eventually every brewer wants to branch out and try their hand at the other styles of beer. This can be difficult from a marketing perspective, if your customers have equated your brand to hop-forward beers then they might be taken aback when you release a Berliner Weisse. Stillwater Artisanal Ales recently ran into this conundrum, they were well known for their line of delicious saisons but wanted to branch out to include more American styles in their portfolio. The solution was brilliantly simple, as demonstrated by the Stillwater modern works series of beers. The Stillwater name is still present but the artwork is distinctly different, at first glance it would look like a completely different brand of beer. One of the releases in this series is Yacht, a tribute to canned beer. Not long ago pretty much the only beer packaged in cans were macro-brewed light lagers, so Stillwater decided to brew their own interpretation of the light lager style (hint, unlike most macro lagers they added a bunch of hops to this interpretation). Stillwater Yacht is currently available on draft and in tallboy cans.
Stillwater Yacht pours a clear straw yellow with a moderate white head. The scent is a subtle mixture of floral and citrusy hops. The taste is hop-forward, notes of lemon, resin, grass and grapefruit along with a crisp bitterness. This isn’t like an IPA that clubs you over the head with hoppiness, but the flavor is vibrant and complex. The hoppiness is balanced by a light malt flavor, just a touch of crackers and grain. The beer is super light and easy to drink, at 4.2% ABV it is a session beer by any definition. Stillwater Yacht is a perfect summer beer, clean and refreshing but tons of flavor, perfect for the outdoors and the warm weather. I am not sure if this was a one-off or a new regular release, but I hope it’s the latter as this is amongst the best lagers I’ve ever tried. Hoppy Boston score 4.75/5.
Previous Stillwater Reviews:
Stillwater Lower Dens Remastered with Brett, Stillwater Classique
I am a scientist in the real world, and today I am going to get a little science-nerdy here, so bear with me (or skip straight to the next paragraph to find out how I liked the beer). Most current beers are brewed with yeast strains from the genus Saccharomyces. Even before brewers understood microbiology they would cultivate strains of yeast from batches of beer that had minimal off-flavors, and re-use these yeasts for further batches. Other beers, especially some Belgian styles, are wild-fermented, where the natural yeasts present in the atmosphere are used to ferment the beer. One of the main types of yeast present in these beers (other than Saccharomyces) is Brettanomyces, nicknamed “Brett” by most brewers and beer geeks. While the funky/barnyard flavors produced by fermentation by Brett are considered off-flavors in most British and German beer styles, they add desireable complexity to saisons and other Belgian (and now American) beer varieties. Now many brewers intentionally “infect” their beers with Brett, either in combination with another yeast strain or as the sole microbe for fermentation. While there is occasionally some confusion, Brett beers are not sours, they don’t have the acidic compounds that give sour beers their tart flavor. If you like Belgian styles but are a little nervous about taking the plunge into the more exotic sour beers, Brett-fermented beers can be a good jumping off point. Many American craft brewers are now using Brett, often they will brew the same beer with and without Brett, allowing for an interesting comparison.
One Brett beer I tried recently is Lower Dens Re-Mastered with Brett, brewed by Stillwater Brewery. Lower Dens is part of Stillwater’s Sensory Series, where each beer is a tribute to a musical act. The first batch of this hibiscus infused ale was brewed with a more traditional Belgian yeast, while the second batch included Brett. Stillwater Lower Dens Re-Mastered with Brett pours a light orange with a massive white head and significant carbonation. The smell is funky and estery, lots of obvious yeast character. The yeast comes through clearly in the flavor too, with notes of barnyard, sour apple, clove and pepper. There are also some light malts here, crackers and whole grain bread. I don’t get a strong hibiscus flavor, it blends in pretty well with the expressive yeast character. The beer is light bodied, very easy to drink and not overly strong at 6.0% ABV. If you like saisons and other Belgian styles and want to start exploring some more exotically fermented styles this is a good place to start. Hoppy Boston score: 4.25/5.
Previous Stillwater Reviews:
Starting a brewery is a major investment. Beyond great recipes and ingredients you need a place to brew, ferment, bottle/can/keg and store your beer. The costs associated with this process has led to an increase in contract brewing, where the brewery exists as a brand, but they pay to brew at an existing location. This means less investment for the contract brewer and the shared equipment is an extra source of income for the physical brewery. While most contract brewers make all of their beer at a single location, a few are “gypsy breweries”, that travel the country/world brewing beer. One popular gypsy brewery is Stillwater Artisinal Ales, based in Baltimore, MD. Stillwater brews many of their flagship beers in the US, but they also have a series of beers brewed in Belgium and a number of collaboration beers. One of Stillwater’s recent releases is Classique, a light and sessionable Belgian-style saison. Classique is available throughout the East Coast in 12 oz cans.
Stillwater Classique pours a pale gold, slightly cloudy with a massive white head. The smell is mostly Belgian yeast, fruity esters, spice and a little must. You get some mild hop scents mixed in as well. The taste also starts with the yeast, notes of apple, pear, clove and orange. The hops are noticeable, with some lemon and earthy flavors. There isn’t a ton of malt flavor, but you get a little spiciness that suggests some wheat and/or rye was added to the malt bill. The beer is light bodied and very easy to drink. At 4.5% ABV it is low in alcohol for a saison, nice and sessionable. The finish is clean with just a hint of fruit on the tongue. Overall Stillwater Classique is a no nonsense, easy to drink and flavorful saison, perfect for warm Spring and Summer days. Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5.