Into the darkness
A Review of a Saison Darkly by Stillwater Artisanal Ales
Posted on 3/28/2013 by Chops
The concept of gypsy brewing is generally foreign to most beer drinkers. At a high level, gypsy brewing can be defined as a brewery without a brewery. It is typically associated with talented individual brewers who prefer to utilize established breweries all around the world, usually for one-off creations. Many beer fans enjoy gypsy nectar and don't even know it. Perhaps the most recognized name in gypsy brewing is Mikkeller out of Denmark. Here in the states, we also house a well known name in gypsy brewing. His name is Brian Strumke, better known as Stillwater Artisan Ales. Anyone familiar with the Stillwater name knows that Brian is quite fond of a particular beer style: the Belgian saison. He has been turning a lot of heads with artful interpretations of this complex style. So it is always a treat whenever I get to sample a new Stillwater creation, the next of which is A Saison Darkly.

Dark saisons are rare in the beer world, so it really helps to get your bearings beforehand. Stillwater describes this beer as such:

Brewed at Huisbrouwerij Sint Canarus in Deinze-Gottem, Belgium with Dr. Canarus. This black saison carries qualities similar to a stout with light roast and burnt sugar flavors, spiced with Rose Hips, Hibiscus, & Schisandra berries.

In the glass, this beer had a thick blackened coloration and came with a great deal of yeasty sediment. Resting on top was a fluffy tan head that had very nice retention. On the nose, I found a sweet candied malty aroma with dark fruits, herbs, a nip of alcohol, a slight smokiness, and that signature bready Belgian yeast. At this point I couldn't help but smile because I found myself brain locked with Stillwater. I just nodded and mumbled, ''well played sir.'' Saisons are generally fruity and spicy with lighter profiles, so crafting a dark version takes a delicate touch. In other words, Brian knows exactly what he's doing.

Even with the complex introduction, I was woefully unprepared for that first sip. Wow is this beer gratifying. Imagine if a quad and a saison had a baby and taught it to be polite and restrained. There is a lot going on here, but it's all soft and accessible. The array of flavors include mocha-like chocolate, roasted malt, dark fruits like plums and raisins, molasses, black pepper, savory brown bread, herbs, spices, berries, and a campfire smokiness. The alcohol presence is very well hidden and only appears on the finish as a light spicy burn. This beer is a fascinating mix of sweet, sour and savory. The mouthfeel consists of a medium body that is quite smooth to start. The middle ground is a tad gritty with a crisp hop sting. The beer finishes a little sticky and exits with a malty sweet aftertaste that is complimented by a spicy nip of alcohol.

Overall, A Saison Darkly by Stillwater Artisan Ales is a delightful brew with savory complexity. I greatly enjoyed this beer and wish there was an established ''dark saison'' style that I could score it perfectly under. Needless to say, I can recommend this brew to any and all beer fans. I'm sure many Belgian purists will scoff at the interpretation, but I imagine most seasoned drinkers will be quite impressed. Novices can even get in on the action since this beer offers big flavor in an approachable package. I tip my drinking hat to Stillwater for a fine creation and I look forward to the next unique experience.

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A Saison Darkly by Stillwater Artisanal Ales
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