Barrier Brewing, the buzzy young brewer from Long Island, is hard to pin down. Rather than establish a reliable flagship or two before getting creative, a la Sixpoint, they’ve opted for a manic approach that draws on the ever-changing whims of founders Evan Klein and Craig Frymark. The brewing savants have tackled smoky rauchbiers, rye IPAs, dark saisons, even a gose, a rare and salty style from Leipzig. The approach has its drawbacks—find one you like and chances are it will be gone on your next trip to the bar. But Barrier does seem attentive to seasonal reliability and this year brought back one of the region's finest fall beers.
Double bigfoot pun! Saaz refers to the beer's hop strain, a mild, herbal variety originally cultivated in Zatec, Czechoslovakia and common to Bohemian Pilsners; and squash to the loads of cubed butternut squash Klein and Frymark toss into the brew kettle. The beer is a welcome update on the often heavy-handed pumpkin beers that invade beer shelves every fall (on which I ranted a few weeks back). And unlike most pumpkin beers, with spice trumping squash, here the butternut comes through. In place of bold cinnamon and bullying clove is dried ginger, clover honey and Szechuan peppercorns, which if you've never tried, you need to - they ping some euphoric sixth sense and make water taste like metal. The peppery tingle is definitely noticeable but subtle and plays nicely against ginger and sharp Saaz bitterness. And the sugars, honey included, are heavily fermented away if barely there at all. Think a drier, spicier and, at 7.7% ABV, more potent saison.
With the exception of a few dependables like Dogfish Head's Punkin Ale, SaazSquash is to my taste a far better autumn alternative to most pumpkin pours. Assuming it's another fleeting offering from Barrier, drink it before its gone at Beer Street, 61 Local and, for the Queens folks, Sunswick 35-35.