So, my youngest daughter Allison—the eponymous Peanutgator—turned 21 in January. At the time of this writing, she’s a biology major in her senior year of college. Over winter break, she had a whole lot of time on her hands and it made my heart swell when she suggested we brew a beer together in honor of her upcoming birthday.
She’s been a fan of my fruit beers, particularly Lilac Tiger and Jigokudani, so we figured we’d go down that route. I pulled a few representative bottles of Lindemans from the local Bevmo and we found ourselves inspired by the strawberry. I decided we’d make it a saison: not a Lindemans sweet-bomb, but instead a dryness that would balance the strawberry fragrance, topped with some nice citrusy American hops.
This was the entire idea until we went out to dinner right around Christmas and the strawberry hazelnut gelato dessert won the evening. I’m no stranger to nuts in beer by now (see Diamond Dog and Foxfire) and this would be a nice additional layer of complexity. Now the plan felt complete.
Allison’s main observation of the brew day was that it was basically a bio lab—measuring, setting temperature, timing, setting the conditions for a chemical reaction—and of course it is, just one that is eventually delicious and intoxicating. A week after brew day we were preparing the special ingredients for secondary fermentation: sous viding strawberries and roasting hazelnuts. As it turns out, removing the papery skin from hazelnuts is almost as bad as dealing with last winter’s chestnuts: you don’t destroy your fingernails on the hard shells, but there are a whole lot more hazelnuts to deal with. We suffer for our art.
My fruit process seems to yield a consistent result that I like: there’s not a lot of strawberry flavor in the beer, but there’s a fragrant strawberry bouquet in the glass. The hazelnut adds a certain something. In the glass a nice bronze color and on the tongue a bit of a dry snap. All in all, a lovely and unique saison worthy of a lovely and unique daughter. She took a case back to school, so as to educate her friends in the finer things in life.
Allison wanted a label image that evoked Georges Seurat. We decided to go a little on the nose: a young woman sitting on a giant hazelnut on the beach, watching a giant strawberry set over the horizon. Germany’s nick_3d gave us a nice Impressionist strawberry-set.
Shuggie Otis is the son of R&B legend Johhny Otis. When he was only 16 years old, he played bass on Zappa’s immortal “Peaches en Regalia“. When he was 17 he recorded 1971’s Freedom Flight. There were some additional musicians on the date (including George Duke and Aynsley Dunbar, both from Zappa’s Mothers), but he played most of the instruments himself. And it’s just ridiculous. Otis occupies this deep pocket between psychedelia and R&B, not entirely dissimilar from what Stevie Wonder was doing at the time but entirely his own vibe.
I dare you to hate “Strawberry Letter 23”. You can’t do it—it’s just not a thing.