A Tale of Two Saisons, Pt. 2: Four Witches

(Originally appeared on the Tipsy Techie Website in June, 2014. I have seen this beer in stores since, but have not tasted it. Not from a lack of desire, but there is just so much other local stuff on the shelves now, and I’ve been on a bit of a hometown support kick.)

Having overcome my fear of saisons, I had a bit more pep in my step during my next visit to the craft beer store. That’s not to say I was bounding down the aisles like Jack Skellington asking the universe “What is this?” at each new farmhouse ale. But I was open to further experimentation. And an experiment is what I decided on. A bomber bottle from New Holland Brewing grabbed my attention with the description, “Black Saison”. The beer’s name was Four Witches.

I feel I need to pause here for a bit of an observation/rant. It seems every few years the craft brewing industry gets caught up in a fad. A few years back breweries were obsessed with IBUs. Then came the Imperial Reign, when brewers doubled up their malt bills and started putting the label “Imperial” on all their new beers. And now it seems we are in the Dark Ages. Brewers are adding roasted grains into the mash to create “dark” versions of traditional styles. Sometimes, such as in the case of black IPAs, this works well and a whole new style is born. Most of the time, however, what made the original great gets lost amid the coffee and smoke.

I’ve digressed, but those thoughts are what was going through my head as I purchased the beer. What sort of spell would the Four Witches cast? Were these good witches or bad?

Seeing as how the ABV of Four Witches was 8.9%, I decided to stick with the tulip glass when drinking time came around. The beer poured into the glass like fresh oil: dark, yet not thick. Once it settled, I could see that it was the color of deep umber. This darkness contrasted with the creamy white head which formed at the top of the glass. However the head quickly disolved down to nothing. Shame.

The nose of the beer was pure farmhouse funk, a yeasty mix of sweet bananna and spice. Given the beer’s dark coloring, I was expecting strong roast and caramel notes. There were none.

“Where’s the black?” I asked myself.

Confused, I took my first drink. The body lay squarely in the medium range. The beer’s initial flavor contained a mild roast with a dose of sweetness. And then the saison-ness kicked in. Spices like star anise and Grains of Paradise mixed with the flavor of currants and Belgian yeast.

There was a slight tartness within the beer’s finish, but I couldn’t discern any dominate hop flavor. There was a slight earthy bitterness, but I think that was more due to the rye in the grain bill. The typical citrus or pine flavors one expects from hops were not there. I was also surprised to realize that there was zero trace of unfiltered mouth feel.

From start to finish, Four Witches was one smooth experience. All the ingredients were balanced. No one flavor dominated. Even the yeast, which practically punched me in the nose when I first poured the beer, was subdued when drinking. It was there the whole time, but it was as if it was waiting for its time to shine instead of trampling over the other flavors.

I so enjoyed the beer that I drank it rather quickly. Given its 8.9% ABV, this made the Four Witches a wee bit dangerous. But also marks New Holland’s brew as a success in my eyes. With Four Witches, New Holland has avoided the pitfalls of the current brewing fad. They’ve added something new without losing the essential character of a saison. Even if, like me, you typically don’t like saisons, I recommend giving Four Witches a try. Just go easy. You don’t want to feel like a house is coming down on you.

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