There is no doubt about it, becoming a brewer puts you in the spotlight. People are paying good money for your creations, and you have to deliver, so it is vital to receive good feedback from customers. Positive, critical feedback helps you make better beer. Not everyone's palate is the same, so you can't simply please yourself all the time (well, most of the time you do) so when people do come back with comments - good or bad - it is really helpful and certainly influences what I do in the future.
So when one of my best customers came back to the brewery and told me how much he enjoyed the saison it was a real confidence booster. But I wasn't ready for what came next. 'We have a wedding coming up next year and I wondered if I could buy some beer to give to our guests at the reception. Maybe you could brew one for us'. I had only brewed a few relatively few times, so the pressure was on. 'Yes, I can brew you a beer' I said confidently, 'what would you like?' We decided on a saison, packaged in half champagne bottles, corked and caged and I would design a label. He ordered a hundred bottles.
In the ensuing months I brewed in other breweries and borrowed a Russian Doll brew kit from Brendan but when that suffered a catastrophic failure I was without the means to brew at Poppyland. As spring approached I was worried that I needed to get started if the saison was going to be at its best for the August wedding. At last Brendan delivered a mash tun and a kettle and lent me a fermenter and the necessary pumps and pipes. I was in business again. So the first brew on the 14th of May was the saison. I was thinking that it should be possible to re-visit one of my earlier saisons, Out of the Blue and its brethren from the same gyle, Seafood Lovers' Ale and Flowers of the Field. In late June and early July the elderflowers would be out and that would make a nice addition to the saison and there was just enough time to have it matured and conditioned by the date of the mid August wedding. The beer was brewed and racked and I went on holiday to Italy, where the elderflowers were already in bloom. The groom's parents had asked if they could accompany me in the field to gather the elderflowers, so they could feel that they had a hand in the making of the beer, so on my return we had a lovely afternoon mooching through the lanes on North Norfolk, seeking out the very first of the elderflowers, for the season was late after a dreadful long winter and a terrible spring. We gathered the last heads just as the sunny afternoon deteriorated into spots of rain and gathering cloud. But it was a very pleasant way to spent an afternoon.
The saison which had been maturing in two kilderkins was dosed with Soraci Ace hops and the elderflowers. The flowers were picked from their heads (which takes ages) and steamed for a few minutes in the kilderkins and the hops were added before the beer was run in and left to stew to absorb the flavours for 17 days. The beer was bottled on 10 July, just over a month to drop clear and condition in the bottle. If left longer it would continue to improve.
The design of the label also proved to be a collaborative effort. A friend of the happy couple had done a lovely caricature of Alice and Ben and I was asked to incorporate it into the design. Then came a line drawing of Voewood, the striking venue near Holt that would be used for the reception, and a monogram incorporating their names and the date of the wedding. I amalgamated the caricature of the couple and the drawing of the house into the front of the label and overlaid 'Wedding Saison' in a suitably carefree font. I was pleased with the design and so were Ben and Alice and Ben's parents.
Next came the collection of the order and the feedback on the beer. I hoped they liked it and that it was well-behaved and frankly I had my heart in my mouth as I awaited the verdict. It was a great relief then when Paul sent this message:
'We thought we would wait until we had time to
properly enjoy a taste, so we tried a bottle last night, and we were not
disappointed. It fits the bill as a perfectly balanced ale. We particularly
enjoyed the elderflower notes which came through, and think that it is an ale
which will be enjoyed by all the guests whether they be beer drinkers or not. We met the happy couple for lunch today as well
Alice's parents, and we have given them a bottle each to try before the day, so
hopefully we will have some feedback from them too. They were all certainly very
impressed with the presentation, and thought the design of the label was
perfect. We will be more than happy so serve it to the
guests and are sure it will add to the day. Thanks for all your efforts on our behalf, and
there will be more feedback to follow.
And Ben added:
'My Dad showed me the beers at the weekend; they look absolutely
fantastic! Thank you so much for all the work you've put in. I'll make
sure we get some good publicity shots for you!
Good luck and best wishes to Ben and Alice, what a lovely couple: