Sunday, August 24, 2014

Side by Side Black Saison Tasting - #41 and #41B

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.

Appearance(both)- The white pepper version appeared to have a little more dregs in the bottom but both beers appear identical in the glass, with a very dark mahogany color with garnet highlights and an off white one finger head that fades slowly leaving patchy lacing. So far so good.

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.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

#40 - Nelson Saison Tasting

While the Brett version of this beer is still in secondary and nearing its bottling date, the straight version of this beer is running down to its last few bottles just about a month after bottling and less than two months since the brew day.  I'm hoping there will be some of this version left once the Brett version is ready, so that I can compare the two side by side, but it's hard to guarantee that with a beer that goes down this well in the summer.

A- Hazy light gold with a very small but very stable half finger head that leaves a little lace.  I likely poured a bit too much of this one out of the bottle as others I've had have had quite a bit less haze and sediment.

S- Up front is definite melon, pine, white wine, French Saison yeast funk, and just a touch of onion.  The hops are definitely the centerpiece, though the yeast seems to add to the overall spiciness and funkiness.

T- The taste is much more subdued than the nose, while still being very flavorful. Smooth kiwi/Sauvignon Blanc and moderate pine lead the way with a touch of melon, some earthiness, and light fruitiness mixing in. The onion and melon from the nose don't seem to have as much presence in the taste, making the flavor much less "dank" than the aroma.  The finish is very dry and leaves a piney bitterness that seems to hang around on the back of the throat and build in presence moments after the finish.
M- The carbonation is fairly low, but, surprisingly, this doesn't hurt the beer at all in my opinion with the flavors still fully shining through and hitting all parts of the mouth and nothing about the beer coming off as watery or weak (though it doesn't seem as strong as it's 7+% abv).  The body is nicely dry and smooth, exactly what I would expect from this yeast strain.  It's hard to tell how much the water chemistry (moderate additions of gypsum and phosphoric acid in the mash) plays in but it seems to have helped accentuate the moderate bitterness and hop character. 

O- For a recipe so simple, this beer has a ton of complexity and character.  The combination of the hops and yeast, with the malt tame enough to completely stand out of the way, this beer is a really easy drinker that has me trying to figure out what the flavors are and where they come from.  The bitterness in the finish draws me back for refreshing sip after refreshing sip.  Definitely a good beer that I could see myself brewing again or using as a basis for other beers in the future with additional hops/spices/fermentables in the mix.