There was a time, even when I was a relative newbie when it came to all things beer, that I rejected most attempts to affix a slice or wedge of fruit to my beers (the one exception being certain Latin-style Adjunct Lagers). For some reason it just didn’t make sense to add something foreign to the beer in an attempt to enhance it – the beer should stand on its own, for whatever that may be worth. Similar logic initially prevented me from even attempting to enjoy beers brewed with some kinds of fruit for a variety of hypocritical, short-sighted, and irrational reasons. It took a particularly saucy bartender at a dive joint to point out how illogical this was given that some of my go-to beers were brewed with all kinds of additivites…even orange peel. Slowly but surely I let my palate sample beers with watermelon, passion fruit, mango, peaches, and so on, as long it wasn’t a low-carb, strawberry beer. I wasn’t a fan of most, to be sure, but without sampling we’ll never adjust to changes and breakouts in styles (looking at you, sours and funky beers!) It also would’ve prevented me from tasting a beer with “lemon” in the title, which would be unforgivably shortsighted given this beer. Unlike so many of its brethren, one sip was all it took before it wound up everywhere from my beer fridge to gift packs and tailgates.
Citra Lemon Saison, 3 Stars Brewing Company (Washington, DC)
Saison, ABV 5.2%
Presentation: Tallboy pour into tulip.
Appearance: Rich golds which are quick to absorb light; I’ve had pours match the tangerine of my walls and others with only a touch of the flecked amber more typical of Saisons. A moderate amount of foam resulting from a healthy dose of fizzy bubbles with some decent lacing marking your sip lines.
Taste: It hopefully comes as no surprise that one of my favorite things about this beer is the Citra hops. What this beer does is utilize the Citra and lemon peel to counteract the stiff bitterness you’d expect from the presence of both Cascade and Centennial hops. As a result, the front of the beer (in particular the nose) blasts lemon at you the way a tea that’s been brewing with lemon in the sun for a full day would. There’s an additional herbal note in the body which is similar to – but not as emphatic as – basil. The finish is more tart than bitter, with almost no residual hop presence. The reason I think it all works is that the lemon functions mainly as an aromatic, and those earthy notes from the peel itself serve to ground the powerful hops.
Mouth Feel: What’s most amazing to me is that with three of the Cs – Citra, Cascades, and Centennial – this is an incredibly smooth beer. Very little bitterness (or tartness from the lemon peel for that matter), and the aforementioned carbonation from the can pour has little effect on the tongue as well. Most of the flavor sits forward on the tongue as a result.
Overall: A lasting memory I have of lemons came from my time in the Peace Corps, where I served in Morocco. At one of our training locations we inhabited a large Dar Chebab (or youth center), in the middle of which grew what we thought was an orange tree. After an exploratory bite revealed one of the most tart lemons imaginable, I lost the taste for them for years afterwards (even going so far as to substitute lime juice in recipes calling for lemon juice). Suffice to say, this Saison is one of the few places I actually enjoy lemon as a prominent flavor. Here, the combination of orange from the Citra with the lemon peel dilutes what could have come out as an overly tart, acidic profile more similar to a Shandy. What keeps the Citra Lemon Saison from higher marks is that the flavors are fairly shallow and at times the cans are inconsistent even within the same four pack. I’ve had far more hits than misses, though, so feel comfortable recommending this interesting little ale. Err, can tallboys be “little” beers?