Beer Review 0584: Victory Swing Session Saison

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I can’t speak for everyone, but it feels like it has been a very long winter. I’m ready for spring — the beer we’re looking at today, Swing Session Saison, is a beer that is supposed to thaw out these last few days of winter and remind you that spring is just around the corner.

The story of Victory Brewing Company (Downington, Pennsylvania) goes all the way back to 1973 — granted, the two principal founders were only in fifth grade, meeting for the first time on a school bus that would take them to a new school. Friends like that are hard to find; the two remained bonded as they went to college, on opposite sides of the coast.

Their names are Ron Barchet and Bill Covaleski, and when Bill finished college, he explored making beer using his father’s home brewing equipment. It just so happened that Ron was into beer, too, and gave Bill a home brewing kit for Christmas in 1985. A friendly rivalry ensued, but the passion for beer caused both men to quit their jobs in the corporate world and seek out brewing.

Bill did his brewing studies at Doemens Institute in Munich, Germany, while Ron also honed his beer making skills in Germany. But before Victory churned out its first drop of beer, Ron returned from Germany and became the brewmaster of Old Dominion Brewing Company, increasing yearly production there from 1,500 barrels to 15,000.

On February 15, 1996, Victory Brewing Company opened up in a former Pepperidge Farm factory. In the first year, they made 1,725 barrels; in 2011, expansion had increased that number to 82,000.

Swing Session Saison is just what the name implies — a “session” beer that is low in alcohol and meant for a session of drinking. Coming in at just 4.5% ABV (alcohol by volume), this beer is brewed with rye, oats, and wheat, and uses both German and American hops. There’s also some spices involved: peppercorns, orange peel, and lemon zest. Ferment all of that with a Belgian Saison yeast, and this is how Victory chooses to usher in springtime.

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Pouring from the bottle issued up an average size, bright white head that was soapy in texture and quickly reduced into just a thin foam over top of the beer. Color was vivid yellow, certainly helped by the clarity — this brew is exceptionally clear, featuring no particles or sediment, only carbonation bubbles that force their way to the top in a hurry. Lacing is good, leaving behind patchy yet bubbly film.

The nose is exactly what you’d expect from a session Saison — the yeast flavors are somewhat muted, but they’re here, with notes of earthy dough and bread. I was surprised by the amount of spicy peppercorn, and there’s plenty of citrus, mainly orange peel. The backing is of straw and grain, with hints of clove, bubblegum, and flowers.

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The taste starts sharp with very lively carbonation, bringing on flavors of peppercorn and orange peel. There’s a solid grain backbone that serves as the canvas; the yeast almost has a Brettanomyces-like feel and flavor going on. The finish dials up the citrus, equal parts orange and lemon peel, while there is some moderate bitterness that dries out the palate and readies it for another sip. Swing Session is light-bodied, with a thin, foamy mouthfeel.

It’s nice to see a session beer that isn’t an IPA, but this one left me wanting a full-bodied Saison. I think they’re refreshing as is…maybe not sessionable. The flavors here (while good) are just a tease. I’d like to taste this beer at full-bore — perhaps Victory could make that possible — still, it’s refreshing and easy to drink, just not the road I would have went down when making a lighter Saison.

Victory Swing Session Saison, 81 points. Price: $1.99 US for one 12 oz. bottle.

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