Sometimes a place makes you fall in love with a beer style all over again. Propolis Brewing was the 94th visit on my bucket list of Washington breweries. Known for their saison /farmhouse ales, Propolis uses local herbs and botanicals to produce their seasonally based, wild-crafted ales. I arrived at the brewery with low expectation and walked out of there a fan. My fandom even included a purchase of five 750 mL bottles of their barrel-aged ales.
Saisons were never my go-to beer style due in large part to my dislike of the overpowering clove, banana and sometimes bubblegum flavors often produced by the Belgian yeast strains. I would occasionally find a tolerable brew, but it was few and far between.
Saison means “season” is French and this style of beer originally became popular in the French-speaking part of Belgium. This ale was traditionally brewed in the winter or non-growing season and then enjoyed in the cooler summer months. Saison by nature is rather complex. The color can range from light to dark with clarity being anywhere from clear to hazy. Aroma and flavor is across the board with fruity esters, spices, earthy yeast notes, mild to moderate tartness, and perhaps dry and bitter. Saisons are truly part art and science and Propolis are masters of their craft.
The brewery and taproom is located in a yellow warehouse with a minimalist, upscale aesthetic. It’s textured plaster walls, with a high-ceiling and wood-beam accents are reminiscent of a intimate tuscan-villa setting. Reinforcing this rustic theme include the concrete floors, asymmetrical wooden tables, metal chairs, loft railing, and additional metal sconces and light fixtures. The color palette is natural with potted plants and foliage adding color and decor to the space. I loved everything about the taproom; Very welcoming with relaxed vibes.
Propolis had 11 beers on tap and a guest cider. As usual I enjoyed one of every beer. As an amateur beer taster and home brewer, I’m pleased by detailed tasting menus and Propolis did not disappoint. For such complex beers, the additional reading material is a nice touch. Their website also offers info by beer including: ingredients, tasting notes, food pairings, and awards won.
My top three favorites were the Sigrid, Achillea and Fennel. It’s worth calling out their Beltane, which won GABF gold in 2014 for American-Style Brett Beer. Propolis is not your stereotypical PNW brewery pouring multiple versions of an IPA. You are either going to love their unique beers or hate them. I’m hopeful that after you visit their brewery, you too will become a supporter.
- Litha – Saison Ale brewed with Chamomile, Lavender and Sage. Pours a clear straw yellow with a thick foamy white head. The dry floral finish was memorable. ABV: 7.5%
- Melissa – Saison Ale brewed with Lemon balm. Similar to the Litha, it also pours a golden straw in color with a thick foamy white head. Carbonation was moderate. Citrus on the nose with a slightly sweet flavor before drying out on the finish. ABV: 7.5%
- Fennel – Saison Ale brewed with fennel, clove, coriander, and Valencia Orange. Pours a clear amber with a medium white head. Orange on the nose with a tea like flavor. The complex flavors and aromas work so well together. I loved this beer which is strange because fennel is not a flavor I typically enjoy, ever. Great example of subtle complementary flavors and aromas. ABV: 6.5%
- Cedar – Imperial Golden Saison brewed with cedar and honey. This brew pours a little darker than the Melissa with a smaller white head. Little hint of Brett funk on this with a dry cedar finish. ABV: 9.5%
- Beltane – Golden Elderflower Saison brewed with Spelt & Brettanomyces. Pours a mostly clear golden yellow in color with a nice white head. Citrus and tropical on the nose. Smooth, crisp and dry with great brett funk. Easy to see why this beer won at GABF. ABV: 7.5%
- Whiskey Sour – Bourbon barrel-aged saison – brettanomyces ale. Pours a clear dark straw in color with a thin white head. Tastes just like the name implies. ABV: 7.5%
- Gardin – Tempranillo barrel-aged saison brewed with sage, hyssop and thyme. Pours a clear amber in color with a thin white head. Earthy, herbal flavors and aromas on this one. The malt is more forward on this beer with some bready flavors. ABV: 7.5%
- Sahti – Dark amber saison brewed with juniper and spices. This poured a clear dark amber in color with a small head, which is normal for this style and the low carbonation. The Sahti is hit or miss with me. I usually get banana and clove on this brew and while there was a hint of clove, there was no banana. There were some dried fruit and moderate caramel flavors. A bit of pine on the finish. Very nice. ABV: 7.5%
- Achillea – Farmhouse dubbel ale brewed with yarrow, hyssop and thyme. Pours a clear dark amber in color with a deep reddish hue. A small white foamy head leaves some lacing on the glass. I get a lot of dark fruit flavors and herbal aromas both up front and on the finish. Medium body and carbonation. Love everything about this beer. ABV: 7.5%
- Sigrid – Rustic farmhouse Belgian-style quad brewed with juniper. The appearance is similar to the Achillea with its dark ruby/brown color. Flavors and aromas are rich malts with caramel and cocoa, but not roasty. Slight cherry tartness with a dry finish. This beer was amazing! ABV: 10%
- Flemish Wyrt – Bourbon barrel-aged farmhouse stout brewed with dandelion and chicory. Pours dark, opaque almost-black in color with a small tan head. All the roasty, dry bitterness of a stout and then some. ABV: 8%