Fair warning: these first few paragraphs are going to be a little weird. It can’t be helped.
Created under the aegis of the Griffin Gastropub and the Session Toronto Craft Beer Festival, designed by seven Toronto craft beer bars (The Only Café, C’est What?, BarHop, BarVolo, The Auld Spot, WVRST, and Bryden’s), and brought to life by brewmaster Sam Corbeil with Sweetgrass Brewing Co, Session Saison is a beer with confusing pedigree. Why are seven restaurants designing a beer? Isn’t Sweetgrass Brewing Co. an imprint owned by the Auld Spot and not an actual brewery? Doesn’t Sam Corbeil work at Sawdust City anyway? How do multiple organizations of many people settle on a single beer? And doesn’t this whole thing seem like a odd PR misadventure?
In short: why does this beer exist?
Before I get to that question, I should say that this beer is delicious, more notes to follow. Delicious or not, though, it is a strange beast. Session Saison exists, mainly, to promote the Session Toronto Craft Beer Festival. Never been? Buy tickets quickly. This is a real craft beer festival—no big boys allowed. Instead, you get Granite Brewery, Broadhead, Nickel Brook, and a bunch more. They’re offering unique beers that you just aren’t going to find anywhere else.
And so why the seven restaurants? Well, the Local 7, as they’ve dubbed themselves, love craft beer and have made paring it with food a big part of their business. In case you were wondering, they’re also the only ones carrying Session Saison on tap—otherwise, pick up a bottle at the LCBO, who are also involved in promoting the product. Which makes them a supportive aunt, I guess.
In short, Session Saison exists, and has such a plethora of parentage, because craft beer needs all the help it can get. It’s true that craft beer is growing—there are hundreds of microbreweries in Canada that didn’t exist even a decade ago. However, it’s also true that, despite banking on taste instead of volume, craft beer only makes up 5% of the beer market share in Ontario as of 2010. Big enough to be celebrated, but also big enough to be a threat. That’s why big breweries have launched their own faux-craft imprints designed to trick customers (you can beat them with an app called Craft Check). That’s also why if, say, a men’s website writes a small article about the growth of craft beer, a jerk from a big brewery will get so offended that he’ll write in demanding changes to said article. Probably. And let’s not forget, the majority of beer in Ontario is sold by a foreign-owned cartel. See what I mean about craft brewers needing all the help they can get?
Anyway, if you can’t get out to the Session Toronto Craft Beer Festival, give Session Saison a try. It weighs in at 6.5% ABV and is made with lemon verbena and raspberry puree. It’s everything you’d expect from a saison (light, highly carbonated, perfect for the summer), albeit with raspberry and lemon verbena flourishes. I’ve mentioned before that the mark of a great fruit beer is for the beer not to be dominated by the fruit—and that’s exactly what the many hands designing Session Saison have done. It has a faint raspberry aroma and mild floral notes. The palate is bright, with a hint of raspberry tartness (no berry sweetness at all), followed by an herbal note from the lemon verbena. The mouthfeel is nice and vibrant, and the finish is dry.
So here’s to craft beer, even if supporting it can be a little strange sometimes. Session Saison is perfect for the summer patio—and though it’s available for a short time only, that just means we ought to enjoy it more.
Dave Robson is the editor of DailyXY. He spends his time reading books, drinking Scotch, and smoking cigars.