I think it’s about time to do another beer and class pairing. Once again I’m talking to licensed cicerone Jessica Clare.
We’ve worked our way to the druid. These mysterious mystics channel primal forces to cast spells and transform in wild beasts. They have an aversion to metal, so they’re known to use weapons made of bone. They pretty much won’t ever shut up about nature. So, I suppose they’re the type who would care if you used corn syrup to make your beer.
Me: What do you think they’d be drinking?
Jess: Given their ties to nature, I think druids would be ALL about saisons. Saisons are about as rustic as you can get—they were brewed on Belgian farms using whatever the farmers had handy or traded with their neighbors, so what a “saison” is varied wildly from farm to farm. Even the style name is ambiguous: it’s French for season, because these beers were brewed with…well, whatever was available during that particular season. The idea was to use grains, fruit, and herbs that would have spoiled otherwise, and to have beer to give to farm hands as part of their payment.
Also, saison yeast in particular is super interesting. The yeast is what really defines the style, and as labs have been getting to the business of sequencing brewing yeast genes in the past few years, we’re starting to learn that saison yeast isn’t descended from Brewer’s yeast at all—it’s more closely related to the red wine yeast strains, adapting over generations by farmers who didn’t even realize that yeast existed.
Me: So, magic confirmed. How did they conduct this amazing spell?
Jess: The idea of cultivating yeast without even knowing it’s there feels like some druid-brand magic to me.
Farmers would do things like toss a stick into the fermenting vessels (in Belgium, likely open wood tanks or barrels) out of superstition, and re-use sticks when they noticed the beer tasted particularly good. Little did they know they were actually cultivating yeast. Same goes for wooden barrels and tanks—yeast lives in all the nooks, and some barrels end up producing better tasting beer. You use those barrels more, and SURPRISE! You’ve started selecting for a specific yeast strain.
Me: Note to self: create a druid specific magic item ‘The Yeasty Stick.’
The Players Handbook lists the following plants as especially sacred to druids: alder, ash, birch, elder, hazel, holly, juniper, mistletoe, oak, rowan, willow, and yew. Do any of those have any interesting relation to beer?
Jess: Juniper immediately stands out in that list. Juniper is a big deal in Scandinavian brewing—namely in making sahtis. Traditionally, a sahti is filtered through a hollowed out juniper log lined with juniper boughs.
Oak is also an interesting one. Smoked malts have been used a long time (go far enough back in beer history and just about all malts were smoked) and, just like in smoking foods, the type of wood used in the smoking process affects the flavor. Oak smoked malt is actually my personal favorite when it comes to smoked malts—it’s a little softer than the traditional beech, a little smoother.
Me: One of the druid’s signature features is their reincarnation spell. Since their earliest appearances they’ve always had the ability to bring players back as a different, randomly chosen fantasy race. I’m sort of stretching here, but can you talk for a second about booze reincarnation- that is to say, bourbon being reborn as barrel aged beers?
Jess: Funny that you mention bourbon, because there’s a very symbiotic relationship between beer and whiskey. To make whiskey, you actually have to make beer first. Vodka is made from potatoes, whiskey is made from barley (and sometimes there’s corn in the mix, too). Whiskey is distilled from beer and then aged in barrels, and those barrels can end up back at breweries for aging beer.
Another interesting process that could be considered something of a rebirth is making a small beer. Small beers are low alcohol, and they’re made by brewing with grains used to make a high alcohol beer. There’s some sugar left over but not a lot, so you typically end up with something in the 1-3% alcohol range. We used to do this at Anchor. We’d brew our barleywine, then do a second running and make a small beer. Small beers were literally beers that children would drink in the days when water wasn’t safe. Kid’s beer. But also a way to pull a little more life out of grains that would otherwise just have been pig or cow food.
Me: Lastly, what should our druid players be looking for in the stores?
Jess: Saison DuPont is the classic Belgian saison choice. Saison Bernice by Sante Adairius in Santa Cruz is a killer beer.
Me: Well, there you have it. Beer is nature.
If you want to catch up on our previous entries: