Drinking on a Monday is a short column where I share that one bottle that I open after the most dreadful of all weekdays.
I was originally going to focus on a different beer this week but I finally grabbed a bottle of Firestone Walker’s Opal this weekend and figured it would make a really good comparison to last week’s Stone Saison. This is pretty relevant to the current SoCal beer industry for a couple of reasons right now. First of all, there’s a clear trend going toward saisons and farmhouse ales. Its been building slowly over the last few years, but the release of Stone’s Saison, FW’s Opal and Anchor Saison shows just how much this style is going to play into the next stage of the North American craft beer culture. Secondly, its quite clear that both Stone and Firestone Walker are pushing hard into the Los Angeles market, with both brewers opening locations here (FW in Venice, Stone in DTLA). Its really interesting to see how these two giants play off eachother and its always exciting to have two world class breweries compete for your local market. We’re going to see (more) great beer in Los Angeles because of it, and I couldn’t be happier. Its no surprise that both breweries announced a seasonal saison this year, but whats interesting is how completely different Opal is from the offering from Stone.
Opal pours a very clear, exceptionally bright yellow straw color; my brain immediately thought ‘neon’ although that’s probably not a good descriptor. But its almost unnatural how vibrant the color on this beer is and I mean that as a compliment – it looks like it should belong to some ancient gods or something. There’s lot of frothy white head here that tells of very active yeast. It dissipates quickly to about 3mm of film on the top of glass. The aroma is a big punch of grassy hops, followed a lot of lemon zest. The yeast aroma is a lot less rustic or bready than you would expect for a saison, but there’s a nice hint of white wine grapes that adds a lot of character. The sip is a lot like the aroma – lots of lemon, grassy hops and oak. There’s a quality to this that reminds me of a chardonnay, but the sweetness of it overall is a bit much for me. Its quite light bodied and goes down fairly smooth with a slightly soapy aftertaste. Those wine grape notes linger on the tongue along with that dry hop.
Immediately I’m struck with how totally different this is from Stone Saison, and how different they both are from classic farmhouse styles. I wouldn’t really consider either of them particularly rustic, but its fascinating to see two totally different takes on the style from big names in California. While the Stone saison was incredibly botanical, this one is so bright and full and reminiscent of a white wine. Its almost impossible to compare the two at this point. They both go into territories that are interesting for the style, but not necessarily what I’m looking for in a light springtime farmhouse and neither might make it on my ‘regular purchase’ list. Neither is bad, but neither is pulling me back either.
Over the next few weeks I’m going to focus on a few more farmhouse/saison styles and hopefully pinpoint exactly what I want in the style. Opal is a great beer and a great bottle for a special occasion, but maybe not for every day drinking.