Tag Archives: Dark Ale

A Beer for all Saisons

A couple of years back now, and many posts ago, I wrote about the history of saison beers. At the time saisons or farmhouse ales were somewhat of a novelty but like many great fads saisons appear to be enjoying a bit of a renaissance this craft beer season.

So here is a bit of my original post on the origins of the style.

Saison is French for season and it was believed saison style ales were brewed in the autumn or winter for consumption during the following summer’s harvest.

However, according to Mosher’s Tasting Beer the current story about saisons being brewed to sustain workers  during the labour season, while quaint, is not exactly historically accurate. Rather the term saison applied to the eccentric beers of Liège as well as the beers of Mons in an area now known as the Saison region.

The commonalities uniting these beers were the ingredients used, saisons being brewed with a regional yeast strains, malt, wheat, oats, spelt and even buckwheat or broad beans, and not the coalitions of thirsty farmers and their intrepid beer-brewing wives – though personally I find the farmer version much more romantic.

Mosher suggests that fast forward to the twentieth century and the modern day versions of these saison beers may or may not contain wheat, tend to be bottle conditioned and have a higher ABV. One of the defining elements of this newly named style is the yeast, a ‘slow cranky’ strain believed to be related to red wine yeast.  This yeast is quite heat tolerant and produces lots of peppery phenols.  Spices are optional but pepper, orange, malts and grains of paradise are sometimes added.

A Saison Darkly

While I don’t have much new to report on the historical origins front I have tried a saison worth blogging about, A Saison Darkly from Stillwater Artisinal Ales.

This is the first beer I have tried from this brewery but I am a long-time admirer of the incredible artwork adorning the labels of their beers and I was intrigued enough by the promise of a dark take on the saison style to bring one home.

A Saison Darkly 8% ABV (great beer name to go with a gorgeous label) pours dark brown black with lots of mocha coloured head on the initial pour. There is pretty decent head retention on this beer. Lots of sediment remains in the bottom of the bottle, most decidedly the mark of a good saison, and there is a bit of cloudiness and sediment in the glass. A funky yeasty nose but there is also a coffee chocolate dark beer element to the nose. First couple of sips and this beer speaks more to the dark beer character rather than the farmhouse. I find the saison style gets a bit overwhelmed by the roasty malty character of this beer but that does not necessarily mean this is an inequitable partnership. As you drink the yeastiness comes through now and then reminding you you are not drinking a straight-up porter. Overall I think this is a great blending of styles and I look forward to sampling more from the Stillwater line-up.


Mashing Through the Snow

On the twelfth day of Christmas my advent calendar brought to me…

Black Christmas  from Parallel 49 Brewing a 6.5% Christmas Dark Ale (CDA).

Parallel 49 Black Christmas


Black Christmas is deep coffee brown colour with a hint of red. It has good clarity and subtle cream coloured lacing with just a skim of head. There is a resiny hop forward nose on this CDA. First sip is a bit bitter and it feels kind of thin. As you drink this ale continues to be pretty light bodied but you get a nice hoppiness balanced by some roasted malt taste. The finish also echoes the hops in this ale being a bit dry and bitter. Overall I do not get a lot of seasonal tastes from this dark ale but it is quite drinkable nonetheless.

These reviews are tougher for me since as a dark ale I like Black Christmas but would I recommend this over other Christmas seasonals, probably not.


I am giving six candy canes out of a possible ten.

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The Dark Side of B.C. Beers

Still committed to my 100 mile (ish) beer diet, I am continuing to sample brews from my own backyard. This time around I tried three beers from the darker end of the spectrum, you know, the best end of the beer spectrum, sampling Dark Matter from Hoyne Brewing Co., Dark Chocolate Porter from Lighthouse Brewing Co., and the Extra Special Bitter From Salt Spring Island Ales.

Just to qualify my obvious bias for dark beers, in all fairness all the really cool flavours hang out on this end of the continuum; you never see light beers with descriptors like coffee, chocolate, molasses, dried fruit, bourbon, whisky, oatmeal, licorice, caramel, treacle etc. so in my defence I really have no choice but to embrace the dark side.

Dark Matter: Pours clear, deep reddish black and with a quickly diminishing caramel coloured head. Sweet caramel notes and roast coffee on the nose. Quite bitter in the mouthfeel, light to medium in body and a ton of roasted malt. The finish is slightly reminiscent of burnt coffee. Great interplay of sweet and bitter elements, which makes the beer highly drinkable. Love the label and reference to the Hadron Collider. Overall a 4/5


Dark Chocolate Porter: Deep brown/black in colour with ton of stiff ivory head and good clarity. Really nice roasted elements and chocolate on the nose. Chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate at first taste but this beer mellows a bit too much as it warms losing the bitter edge that played so well off the sweet flavours. Label is a bit wanting in creativity. Overall 3.5/5



Extra Special Bitter: Pours a partly hazy amber with monumental white head. Floral hops on the nose with a bit of resin. Very hoppy for a bitter but sadly also a little off-flavour with an out-of-place medicinal taste. I can’t properly review this bottle but be assured it happens to the best of us. One of the hazards of drinking craft beer; however, I wouldn’t have it any other way  …doesn’t get any more “real”  ale than this.

An Open Love Letter to Russian River Brewing Co.

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways… Okay so perhaps this is a touch melodramatic but I have developed a rather one-sided infatuation with Russian River Brewing Co.  Reflecting back to an earlier review of Supplication, which I then proclaimed in earnest to be the best beer ever, I now must revisit this rather bold proclamation in light of the fact I have had the exquisite pleasure of sampling even more of Russian River’s line-up.  At a local Whole Foods I found a bottle of Temptation (rather fitting for the tone of this review me thinks) blonde ale aged in French oak chardonnay barrels. Noticing my exuberant death grip on a bottle the nice beer guy let me in on a well-kept store secret, bottles of Pliny the Elder were tucked away in the back for VIP’s and beer connoisseurs.  I had no idea what this beer was but I said I would take it; turns out Pliny the Elder is a double IPA.  Finally, I picked myself up a bottle of Consecration, ale aged in oak barrels with currants added, to accompany me home to Canada.

Now down to the good stuff.  I will start with Pliny since he stood out a little from the rest.  This is the most unique beer I have had in a long time; it looked like an IPA and smelled like an IPA but wow it tasted like a pine tree or possibly a pine tree air freshener for your car – albeit I have never actually distilled and drank one.  Anyway, I was not sure I loved this ale but it really grew on me.  The hop flavour is so distinctive that it makes the drinking experience memorable.  It is somewhat strong but overall quite crisp and clean to drink.  Pliny pours a nice golden colour with a fair amount of carbonation.  There was also something appealing about being allowed to try this highly coveted ale –the cashier gave me the third degree on how I was actually able to secure a bottle.  I tried the Temptation next and it was fantastic, wonderful, orgasmic… my vocab fails me here for I cannot find the words to say how much I loved this Belgian.  This ale is crisp and dry like a chardonnay, it has a hint of sourness that does not overwhelm the beer, it is very bubbly and the ale literally tingles as you drink.  I bought a second bottle to ensure I was not delirious and guess what the repeat experience did not disappoint (contented sigh).  Finally, I tried my much anticipated bottle of Consecration the other evening.  This ale is quite sour with a pronounced currant and red wine elements.  It pours a rich dark red colour and has a fruity nose.  Sour beers are a somewhat acquired taste, personally I really enjoy them, they can be tricky to pair with food and you have to judge them for the type of beer they are…they probably won’t be serving this at your local hockey game.  To be fair I am not a big fan of currant or cassis so this was not my favourite sour ale, I prefer the cherry tinged Supplication, but it was still great.  Based on my samplings I would never hesitate to pick up anything from this brewery’s line-up.  I have no other but a woman’s reason…

FYI – Pliny the Elder was a Roman author, naturalist and philosopher.

Out of a possible five I would give Pliny the Elder a 4.5, Temptation a permanent place in my home I mean a 5, and Consecration a 4.

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