By Seth Daniel
It all started with the Saison Renaud.
The obscure style of beer popular in Belgium and northern France grew on Mystic Brewery founder Bryan Greenhagen while on his honeymoon, and in return it has grown on the ever-increasing customer base at Mystic, and this month the brewery is celebrating a milestone in releasing the 50th batch of its marquee product.
“Saisons are still very obscure in the market, but Saison Renaud is still our number one flagship beer at Mystic,” said Greenhagen this week. “Interestingly, younger people are into these really hoppy and crazy ales, and we make those and sell them here. But Renaud still keeps coming back and keeps coming to the top. It is a milestone. The fact it made it to 50 means it’s on tis way to becoming a classic. It probably needs another 50 batches to get it firmly in the ‘classic’ range.”
Greenhagen said that a batch is a pretty loosely defined term. When they first stared, a batch was about 60 barrels when they were contracting their brewing out. Now, in their owner brewery for the past six years, a batch is about 16 barrels.
Greenhagen said the company is growing significantly, and the fact that an obscure beer – which bucks the hop-filled IPA trends – can capture a key place in the market is worth noting.
Greenhagen said Saisons are very popular in Wallonia, a section of Belgium very much tied to France. There are two kinds of Saisons, he said, a table saison and the Renaud. Both come in 750 ml bottles with corks – and look much more like a bottle of wine than a bottle of beer.
“Both are farmhouse ales made in a very old style,” he said. “Table beer is the beer people drank when they were working in the fields. They drank it to hydrate themselves because they couldn’t drink the water. Renaud is a provincial saison. It’s more like a wine that would go with dinner. It’s not just a thing to hydrate you…but really more for the meal than the manor.
He discovered it, he said, while on his honeymoon and traveling around looking to sample Trappist brews. While eating at restaurants on the way, he kept running into this new type of beer, the Renaud Saison. Greenhagen said he already had plans to open up a brewery at the time, but instead of focusing on Trappist style beers, he decided the brewery would specialize in Saisons.
“The Renaud is our first beer, but not truly,” he said. “The first one we made was the Mystic Saison. That one was too spicy…and really peppery. Renaud is a re-visioning of that one. We no longer make the Mystic.”
Greenhagen said a very positive thing about the Renaud is that it is a flagship beer in an industry where local breweries with tap rooms are expected to always have something new. In the end, the constant newness wears customers down. Having something steady they can count on has proven to be good business.
“The real accomplishment with Renaud is that when we first got into this, everyone wanted something new all the time,” he said. “No one was making a flagship product…The fact is we have a beer that people all come back to again and again – the Saison Renaud. That’s an advantage in this market…If all you have is new, new, new, it gets exhausting.”
That steady force has also helped business.
Greenhagen said Mystic’s tap room on Williams Street has doubled in volume. In fact, the previously slow month of February actually beat the busy month of December this year.
There are many factors for that, he said.
First, beer culture has changed and more people want something that is made locally. They want to actually go to the brewery and see who makes the beer and where they make it. They want to have something very fresh.
Another reason, he said, is because they located in Chelsea and the community – in all segments – has welcomed them with such open arms.
“Chelsea has been tremendous,” he said. “We have a lot more return customers. It’s really everyone. It’s all parts of Chelsea, not just the One North. That and other things – like our partnership with Ciao! Pizza and Pastas and the restaurants like Chelsea Station – have been a boon for us here.”
For now, Mystic will continue bringing the obscure into he spotlight with their flagship Renaud.