If you've read a review or two on Sud Savant, you know I love a beer with a new and unusual ingredient! Were it not for experimentation, how would we have all the styles that we enjoy today? Today's review is for Cigar City's Cucumber Saison. Today's bit of cuke knowledge is that it is a member of the gourd family. This should suit Cigar City's talents well, as they also brew a seasonal pumpkin ale called "Good Gourd." It is the only cucumber beer that I've ever seen, and one of very few that I've seen that involves an ingredient you might find in your grandmother's summer garden. Other weird cucumber fact: they originated in India. Now you know... and knowing is half the battle. Let's pour!
This bottle rudely spit at me the moment the cap was cracked! The aroma on this is very vegetal, almost unpleasantly so, but certainly not in a flawed way. Any of the typical aromas associated with a good saison style are buried far behind that wall of cucumber. Granted, the aroma of cucumber is very authentic, it is mildly sweet and largely clean, but the closest this beer comes to a saison scent is that of a distant sour/citrus. This acidic note tends to lean more toward that of a sour fermentation than that of sour fruits. No pepper. No hops. No cloves.
I should have inferred from the spitting cap that this beer would require a gentle pour. However, I screwed that up adequately and the beer provided a very large, barely off-white head. It left almost no lacing, but the bubbles do provide a lively appearance as they dance their way skyward through a bright, golden, high clarity brew. This never truly allows the head to fade completely and gives it a long-lasting attractive appearance that nearly crackles like a fire as it dissolves.
Things start as one might expect, with a veil of cucumber's sweet, clean flavors. Other flavors are allowed to speak out from behind this veil, even loudly, but none may push it aside completely. It is pleasantly sweet, like home-made relish or like a distant, home-canned sweet pickle, but some of the flavors in the background are woody, slightly earthy hops and flashes of pepper. They do not stay in the background for long. They grow stronger not only as the beer sits in the mouth, but as it warms in the glass. This is a very dry tasting beer thanks to those aforementioned hops and a crackery malt. This dry, earthiness provides the same balance that a more bitter note would to balance the sweet cucumber. One would expect the finish to allow those dry flavors to show through more, however, it is largely comprised of the cucumber's sweetness even if it seems that sweetness is ever abruptly ended by the woodiness. The aftertaste, on the contrary allows for no cucumber sweetness and instead only presents a dry, lingering, and delicate bitter.
The brew's high carbonation is certainly its strongest characteristic in this category. It is aggressively carbonated, which is not entirely inappropriate for the style, however I have never had a saison with this much gusto. It is more like a mixer for gin than a beer on its own. By the way mixologists, this beer would be phenomenal with gin, without so much bitter than tonic water typically offers. It is moderately bodied, but only upon close inspection. Normally, such a dry sensation in the mouth and high carbonation would have the drinker believe that they are consuming a lighter-bodied beer. This illusion of a lighter body lends itself extremely well to the beer as a whole, keeping it as light and refreshing as the cucumber on which it is based.
Overall Impression 7/10
There are many strong attributes of a solid saison in this beer: its appearance that would not be out of place on a summer day, its aroma is distinct and strong, it would be unquestionably well used in beer mixology, its mouthfeel is excellent and correct for the style, and the cucumber flavor is distinct. Too often a promised rare ingredient is underutilized or undetectable all together. Cigar City has not made that error. The criticisms of this beer are a simplicity that does not allow for some of the style's finer attributes to shine. I miss the cloves and citrus, in both aroma and flavor, that can normally improve a good saison. One could argue that cucumber has been used in place of the citrus, but I imagine a harmony between those two flavors would be better than either one alone. The beer did not suffer horribly without the clove, as the pepper was still strong, but the clove is always a welcome layer of complexity.
There is a lot of good attributes about this beer, but I'm just not sure it's for me. The sour of a typical saison is not present, only the sour of a faint, sweet pickling. I also miss some of the other typical saison ingredients, but won't cover those again. Overall, it tastes like a highly-carbonated cucumber lager, but with the dry, crackery malts that are so often found in a well-crafted pale ale. Unfortunately for cukes, they often carry such a clean taste that does not lend itself to particularly bold flavors, though they may be quite discernible. I think that with a few supporting ingredients, providing they do not overpower, such as citrusy hops, cloves, and maybe some zest, this beer could truly be a knockout. As it stands, it is a refreshing change of pace that I'm glad I tried, but there are likely other beers I will seek out first this summer. Not that I have the luxury of such options, as CCB is not available in my area and this bottle was acquired in trade from my good friend Keith. Thanks Keith! And thanks to CCB for not being afraid to try new and gutsy things!