Collaborations in craft beer have become increasingly popular, and when three of the most colorful characters in the craft beer world get together to brew a beer you expect something memorable. Saison du BUFF, from the minds behind Stone, Dogfish Head, and Victory, is a way-out take on a Belgian Saison that does not disappoint.
First brewed in 2010, Saison du BUFF is a beer that fuses the imagination and brewing skills of Greg Koch from Stone, Sam Calagione from Dogfish Head, and Bill Covaleski of Victory Brewing into a single, herb-packed, beer. The beer returned in 2012, with all three breweries producing and distributing a batch using the same recipe but still reflecting each brewery’s unique characteristics.
We’ve been collecting the beers since the Dogfish Head bottles first showed up in April, and we were finally able to sit down in the garden with all three for a horizontal tasting.
BUFF, The Brewers Unified for Freedom of Flavor, was formed in 2003 by the three craft beer pioneers with a mission of protest and resistance against “fizzy yellow beer.” It turns out that the marketplace was heading in that direction without the efforts of BUFF, and in 2010 they reconvened for their first collaboration beer.
The 2010 vintage was well-regarded, and when the 2012 Craft Beer Conference brought the three brewers together again in San Diego they decided to brew-up another batch.
Saison du Buff Times Three
Saison du BUFF is a pale-golden Saison that marries a bouquet of herbs with the intense hop-character you would expect from Stone, Dogfish Head, and Victory. The same recipe was brewed at all three breweries, though differences, some subtle and some more obvious, are present due to a variety of factors. We sat down on a balmy Sunday evening with three bottles of BUFF and a block of Dutch Gouda to see if we could suss out the differences between each version.
All three versions of the farmhouse ale are nearly identical in appearance. They pour a pale honey-blond with a thin but persistent white head. Our first surprise was just how distinct the aroma of each beer was. Though they were all strongly herbal in scent, with thyme and sage being the most prominent, each beer carried a distinct note in its nose.
Stone was the most thyme-forward of the beers, and it had a distinct funky note from the yeast strain used. Victory’s version had a light and crisp aroma that balanced the herb-notes with hops, and the Dogfish Head beer had an intense honey-sweet aroma that was laden with herb notes. We had yet to sample any of the brews, and already each brewery’s identity was prevalent. These distinguishing characteristics were even more obvious once we’d tasted the three saisons.
The first of the trio to be brewed and released, the DFH Saison du BUFF was the most herbal of the three, and it had the most prominent malt backbone. As the beer warmed up the caramel, toffee, and honey notes became even more pronounced and the rosemary crept from the background.
As the oldest of the three versions it is possible that age played a part in the sweet maltiness of the flavor. Regardless, the beer was extremely pleasant and carried the Dogfish Head signature characteristics of “I’m not sure what this is, but I like it” that we find in so many of their imaginative brews. Apart from the intense maltiness in such a pale beer, the aspect we found most notable was the massive shift in flavors that the beer experienced as it warmed. This is a beer you want to leisurely savor, preferably in a snifter.
Next-up Philadelphia’s version of the beer, and the difference in flavor and body was instantly evident. Victory’s version had a much lighter body and a much stronger hop-character. The spicy-hop flavor and finish were reminiscent of a pilsner, and the herbal hit on the palate was balanced between the four herbs.
Identical in alcohol content to Dogfish Head’s Saison du BUFF at 6.8%AB, the Victory Saison had an additional hop-presence and lighter body that made it the most drinkable of the three. The flavors in this glass didn’t show the extreme changes as it warmed that we saw in the Dogfish Head sample, and it remained hop-forward with a pleasantly light body and lively carbonation. This is the version to seek-out if you’re more interested in hops than in herbs.
Stone Brewing Co.
This brings us to the final beer to be brewed by the boys from BUFF. This version was actually brewed with all three brewers present while in San Diego for the 2012 Craft Beer Conference, and it is the most distinctive of the three.
Where the Dogfish Head and Victory versions used dried herbs, like all three brewers used in the 2010 version , (Stone and Dogfish Head got in touch with us to say that all three brewers sourced fresh herbs for the 2012 batch! Thanks for the clairificaiton guys!) the Stone-brewed Saison du BUFF used fresh herbs picked from Stone’s organic farm just miles from the brewhouse.
In addition to the freshness of the herbs, Stone also used their proprietary Belgian yeast strain from their Cali-Belgique IPA. This yeast was “a little hungrier than [they] expected” and resulted in a better attenuation and an ABV of 7.7%! The yeast also made Stone’s beer the most fruity and yeast-forward of the three. The spicy and funky yeast notes bring a whole extra dimension to the beer and actually balanced the beer.
As the third brewing of the beer in 2012, and with all three minds behind the recipe present, The Stone brewing can be seen as the culmination of Saison du BUFF. We were unable to get confirmation on if Victory and Dogfish Head used their own yeast or if they shared the same strain, but Stone’s addition of their Belgo Yeast was inspired and really brought all the different flavors together to make a rounded and full experience.
Beyond being a fun and interesting experience academically, our Saison du BUFF tasting was delicious. This is a seriously good beer with a versatility in how it is served, and near limitless possibilities for food pairings.
The herb notes beg to be served alongside a simple roast chicken, and you would be hard pressed to find a grilled dish that the Saison du BUFF wouldn’t work with. From fish tacos to a simple salad of peppery greens to any number of cheeses both firm and soft, you can’t go wrong with matching this beer to food.
Getting to experience the unique characteristics that each brewer achieved when making their versions on the beer was eye-opening and edifying. The degree to which the “house character” of each brewery was present in the final beer was very surprising and we really geeked-out during our tasting!
At $3 per 12oz. bottle the beer might not be a great candidate for a session ale, but its unique flavors and anything-goes food-pairing possibilities easily make this a beer that you shouldn’t miss.
Unfortunately there is a very limited supply because this should be a spring and summer staple beer. So grab a bottle or three if you see it and enjoy the results of a collaboration from three of the craft beer industry’s most colorful characters.