On this episode of the Brewer to Brewer Podcast Lindsay Barr of DraughtLab interviews Averie Swanson of Keeping Together. Obviously the conversation turns to Saison and Swanson’s approach to the most alluring of styles.
About Averie Swanson
Averie Swanson is the Founder and Beermaker of Keeping Together—a brewing endeavor started in Chicago, IL that she is currently reimagining into a brewery and taproom set to open in 2024 in the high desert of Santa Fe, NM. She is one of only twenty-two Master Cicerones® (the beer-world equivalent of wine’s Master Sommelier distinction), and is a co-owner and the former head brewer of world-renowned Jester King Brewery in Austin, TX. As a leader in American Wild and Spontaneous beer production, Averie has spoken at numerous beer and brewing conferences around the world and continues to contribute to the beer industry at large through competition judging, teaching, and consulting.
Lindsay Barr: You’ve said that you love the philosophy of Saison. What do you mean by that?
Averie Swanson: I could talk about Saison forever. I have a lot of friends in the industry that I feel have a very technical appreciation for the style. And though I also appreciate the technical parameters for the style that have been kind of laid out by various organizations like BJCP, and the BA and whatever, obviously there is like a very rich history around the style romantic ideas behind it. Those ideas might not be entirely real.
For me, Saison is a very special beer style. It’s not beholden to any school of thought, or specific location. It exists on its own. For me it is the style that most represents a kind of existentialism.
It is whatever you want to make as a beer maker. In my mind, it’s one of the more blank slate kind of beers. It’s both agricultural and industrial. Historically, it is both raw material driven, but it’s also very yeast driven. It’s traditional, but it can also be very Avant Garde. It can be very experimental. And you can throw in all kinds of different ingredients, if you want. Although the purists would say that you’re not supposed to do that.
For me the style very much exists both within and beyond all of those dichotomies and embodies balance and texture and drinkability, which are, in my opinion, the three most important attributes in beer.
It’s my favorite style. And I’ve dedicated a large part of my career to learning how to make it, understand it and experience it.
Lindsay Barr: Confining definitions and rules can in some ways be helpful, if you’re looking for some kind off touch point. But Saison opens up a really broad palate to play with and requires a decent amount of creativity to be able to make something delicious and fun.
Averie Swanson: Totally. There are plenty of people that make Saison with single strains of lab cultivated yeast. And I think that that’s great. I’ve had plenty of really amazing beers that way.
You can make just about any beer style with a mixed culture of yeast and bacteria. But I think that the style of Saison really lends itself especially well to that approach to fermentation. Not every beer style, I feel like, is as agreeable to that approach.
So for me, it is the most natural direction for when it comes to like really collaborating with a collection of microorganisms for fermentation.
In my time at Jester King, there were plenty of times where we were using the same mix culture that we’re maintaining it in house. When I first started there we did a ton of cell counts and we’re a bit more – I’m not going to use the word scientific – let’s say a degree or two, beyond scientific. We did the cell counts, but it was a very by feel kind of approach to beer making there.
We’d have some beers that would perform exactly the way that we thought they would perform. Then other times the fermentation would go in a direction that we had had no idea why. The sensory, the final product, from a fermentation perspective was completely different than what we were expecting.
That was always really intriguing to me. More recently with the beers that I’ve made under the Keeping Together label and what I’m looking forward to doing more of once we get this new brewery up and running, is to concept a final product and work backwards from there.
Obviously, being such a yeast driven style and approach, the fermentation profile would be a pretty big part of that.
I’ve used this metaphor, a time or two before but it’s like if you were to try to paint a picture with another person, and you come in and you would do one brushstroke and then that’s all you could do for the day until this other person came in and they did their brushstroke. And you may or may not have the same idea in your mind for what you want that painting would be at the end. But each stroke is an opportunity to start over completely and to go in a completely different direction with whatever that final product will be.
That’s pretty much how I feel when I am making beer with this mix culture. It’s like if the yeast decides that it wants to go a different direction, who am I to be like, “no, you need to go back that way.” I don’t want to strangle hold the thing and try to force it into my will or bend it to my will when it really is not, at that point, entirely my creation.
Hear the full conversation on the Brewer to Brewer podcast.
The above transcript was condensed and edited for clarity.
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