Finally getting around to tasting my second iteration of black Saisons. A few weeks in the bottle seem to have settled these down to the point where much of the flavors I noticed at bottling- earthy funk, orange, grassy hops - have become much more subdued. The white pepper however is still bracingly strong and I would cut the amount used by half were I to do this again.
Smell- orange, cocoa, apple, light nuttiness, black pepper, grass/hay earthiness
Taste- surprisingly light in flavor, lightly fruity (raspberry), some earthiness, a very small appearance from the dark malts with touch of coffee when I search for it. Finishes with a bit of piney bitterness that just beats out some slight caramel/sugar sweetness and flavors on the end.
Mouthfeel- feels higher in body than would be expected for the low FG and yeast strain. Carbonation is moderate. Pretty good mouthfeel all around.
Overall- a bit lacking. The orange character seems subdued and calling this "hoppy" is a misnomer...the hops really have to be searched for. Maybe the most surprising element of the beer is the subtlety of the roasted malts, with only the occasional glimpse of ash, cocoa, coffee, etc. I had feared this beer might be dominated by these characteristics but the even moderate amounts seem underwhelming. All of that said, the beer goes down smooth with nothing too off putting, I could see those who dislike "dark beers", "hoppy beers", "Belgian beers" or "craft beers in general" finding this one fairly drinkable.
#41B White Pepper Version (with a touch of clove and ginger)
Smell- huge white pepper (somewhat herbal and very peppery) with only a touch of clove able to compete at all. As it warms some of the fruity berry character makes its way into the mix.
Taste- like the nose the pepper dominates. While only lightly spicy on the palate the flavor dominates most of the subtle characters present in the base beer with only the burnt sugar presence in the finish seeming to off a complementary element.
Mouthfeel- again, surprisingly moderate in body and carbonation. Doesn't overemphasize the pepper, in a beer where pepper is already overdone.
Overall- with the base beer coming out a little underwhelming in the flavor profile this beer is easily dominated by the high level of pepper. While white pepper may not have been a bad addition to the overall character, it should have been much more restrained to keep this from being a purely pepper flavored beer. The ginger and clove also seem lost in the mix, though they were never intended to be major components. Fans of white pepper like myself can find some enjoyment and novelty in this, and it certainly isn't undrinkable, but it really does miss the mark.