Ok, I am officially about 1/3 into the first keg of my black saison, and fairly pleasantly surprised. It did take, as always, really about 2-3 weeks for the beer to mature, under pressure, and lose some of the sharper flavors. There are some things that I may do differently, namely lose some of the de-bittered black malt. Also – I created the recipe and brewed this – not the most objective notes.
Appearance: Deep liquid black. There is no transparency at all like in a porter. Really looks a lot like a Belgian Strong Dark. Head pours a nice thick off-white. Some light lacing as the head falls and while drinking.
Smell: Sharp notes and with a head of citrus, brighter than you would expect, but not sweet or funky. I get some hops behind the citrus. No roast or smoke smells despite the black malt. A tiny bit of toffee, burnt sugar or marshmallow – I assume from the belgian candi sugar. Warming, more citrus.
Taste: First a mellow bitterness, followed with a tangy afterbite. There is some roastiness in the background, but some bitter orange, cola and hop character up front. This is not IPA level hop flavor, but a more blond muted bitterness. The first tastes are a bit confusing with the expectation of a sweet more roasty BSD. Fruitiness could be emphasized with a better balance of zest and perhaps less black malt. No real belgian yeast character, surprising as this was built on an Ommegang Hennepin yeast starter, and sweated through fermentation at 90+ F.
Mouthfeel: Characteristic of many saisons, the mouthfeel is light and crisp. Perhaps a bit watery or soda-like – effervescent. Mashed at 148F so expected good attenuation. Not much backbone – perhaps requires Vienna and some light crystal to back up the body, or a higher mash temp.
Overall: While there are few characteristic commercial examples, this is a surprisingly drinkable session saison. There are many tweaks to make to the recipe to improve flavor and mouthfeel, I am happy that there is at least another keg waiting to be consumed. I will say that this beer green is rough, some time is necessary to mellow out the sharper flavors. Dry hopping with high alpha hops added an interesting note, but be careful not to overpower this – the hops should be subtle yet support the orange citrus notes.
Changes to consider:
- Go for a slightly higher mash temperature. This feels like it should be at least medium mouth feel. It is a session saison, but a little dextrine left in the mash might be a good thing.
- Half, at least, of the de-bittered black malt. I am getting more roast than expected from such a highly processed malt. That will also open up the color a bit and I would expect a deep ruby red to black result.
- Up the spices slightly, and perhaps add something like coriander, cinnamon or even black pepper to set off the psuedo-cola tastes.
- Hit it with some funky yeast. This went way to clean, especially for a 90F fermentation. I expected some sourness, a little phenolic. This tastes like US-05!
The second keg will tap in a month or so – good chance to revisit this and see how the beer matures. If it is pretty good – will cork up 5-6 750 ml Belgian bombers to store.