France is known as a world leader in fine wines, but it’s the country’s lemons that were the inspiration for a collaboration between New Jersey’s Montclair Brewery and Maine’s Allagash Brewing Company.
Montclair Brewery co-owners Denise Ford Sawadogo and her husband Leo Sawadogo traveled to southern France early this year when an idea came to mind.
“I’m really interested in working with unique and unexpected ingredients, and lemons were growing wild all throughout the south of France,” Leo Sawadago says. “This definitely caught my attention. I had the opportunity to learn more about Menton lemon and lemon verbena from local growers, and it really stuck with me.”
Lemon verbena became the key ingredient in Verb, a citrusy 4.5% ABV saison that Allagash and Montclair Brewery jointly brewed. It was first poured Aug. 12 in Pittsburgh at the annual Barrel & Flow Fest, the nation’s first Black arts and craft beer festival. Verb is also on tap at the Montclair Brewery and for sale, while the supply lasts, at some Whole Foods market locations in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
“This is our second Barrel & Flow collaborative beer,” Denise Ford Sawadogo says. “The first time we collaborated with a Black-owned brewery. This time, we wanted to get the experience of collaborating with a brewery that has been around longer than us and to have the opportunity to mutually share our experiences and knowledge.”
Allagash also was keen about the knowledge sharing.
“First and foremost, we wanted to make a delicious beer,” says Jeff Pillet-Shore, Allagash’s marketing director. “And, on top of that, there’s this pervasive enthusiasm for working together and personal connection at our brewery. It was a pleasure to get together with Denise and Leo and share brewing knowledge, help out where we could and see how our approach to brewing could cross-pollinate from Maine to New Jersey.”
Why did the cross-pollination result in a saison?
“First, we love the style,” Pillet-Shore responds. “And we thought that the citrusy and floral aromas you find in lemon verbena would be a perfect complement to the more fruit-forward and spicy flavors that define the saison style.”
Montclair Brewery prides itself “on going out of the box and exploring and offering less popular styles,” Denise Ford Sawadogo says. “Our size and taproom allow us to do that. We can focus on styles like saisons, golden ales, brown ales and similar styles that may not be in the top percentage of styles of craft beer sales or come with the cache of IPAs and pastry stouts. However, there are many people who enjoy drinking saisons, once they try them. It is a very easy-drinking style. We purposely made sure that it had the right balance of hops as well, so it would complement and not overpower the lemon verbena notes.”
The saison beer style is easy to enjoy, but beer drinkers often opt for more common styles, Pillet-Shore says.
“We suspect it starts with the name,” he says. “People are unsure whether it’s pronounced say-zahn, sigh-son or anything else, and that puts them off from the start. The style is also hard to describe. It has tropical and spice aromas from the yeast, while also being crisp and dry. Because no singular flavor or part of its profile stands out, it’s the sort of beer that requires you to simply try it to understand it. And with so many other more familiar and more available styles out there — pilsner, IPA, stout and others — it can be a harder sell. But we find that, once people try a saison, they develop a love for them.”