Back in the days before refrigeration when beer-makers still had real seasons, the farmhouse brewers of Alsace would make their very first ales of the year from the freshest hops and malt, then set them down to age in the January chill for a slow, lagerlike fermentation.
When they were finally ready by March, that initial crop known as "bière de Mars" would appear like a frothy beacon of spring to launch the mild weather brew-chugging season.
Long Island's stellar craft brewery, Southampton Publick House, has revived this obscure rite of beer with a delightful rendition typical of the balanced, elegant saisons that have earned brewer Phil Markowski a national reputation. This amber brew starts malty-yet-dry, turns momentarily creamy from a dose of wheat, then, with a good hop snap, kicks into a distinctly Belgian finish spiced ever-so-subtly with coriander and orange. It's flavorful without being overwhelming, intriguing but not extreme. And it's as addictive a spring quaff as any to launch the new beer-drinking season (which for my well-refrigerated existence, is gratefully all year long).
Southampton's bière de Mars is available at several of the region's better beer stores: by the case, $32.99, at Stone's Beverage (1701 Fairmount Ave.), by the six or single ($11.95; $2.50) at the Foodery (837 N. Second St.), or $5 a pint at Swift Half Pub (1001 North Second St.)