Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Stillwater Artisanal Autumnal

Brewery: Stillwater Artisanal Ales
Location: Baltimore, MD
Style: Farmhouse Saison
ABV: 7.2%
Price: $12.99 750ml

Before I sampled this beer, I did some research to learn the origins of farmhouse ales and to gain an understanding of what is the desired outcome of brewing this style. A simple search on the World Wide Web led me to discover plenty of articles about farmhouse ales. One article in particular was pretty straight forward and gave me some of the historical context that's behind this type of beer.

To synthesize my learning, a farmhouse ale is historically a style of beer that uses whatever is "around the farm." Unlike many other craft beer styles, farmhouse ales (also called "saisons") are imperfect. They're a bit messy and unclean. Farmhouse ales do not have the same well-groomed hygiene as their craft counterparts. The yeasts are often wild and erratic. The grains may be a hodgepodge of leftovers.

Basically, farmhouse ales represent a time when farmers used whatever resources they had to produce something that closely resembled the type of beer they could drink at the local saloon. Note: I don't actually know that for sure; this is my archetype of a 19th Century farmer. Hard-working alcoholics. All of them.

Now that we know how cool farmhouse ales are, let's talk about Stillwater's Autumnal.This beer is a dark amber in color. The carbonation is evident in the pour as it left about three-fingers worth of head. Lots of lacing on the glass. Fortunately, the head dissipates quickly.

Lots of spice, yeast, and sweet fruits on the nose. As the beer warmed, I could pick up some caramel in the aroma as well.

The taste is a Belgian bomb of sugar, spices, and dark fruits. Slightly sour. Grape, ginger, and figs are the dominant flavors up front before the Belgian funk shows up. This beer has a creamy caramel finish that took my by surprise. With all the carbonation that hits the tongue up front, I wasn't expecting such a creamy finish. The carbonation fades in the mouth and allows this beer to end with a smooth coating on the tongue.

At first, I wanted to write about how this is a decent beer, but sort of forgettable, and then I remembered what I learned about farmhouse ales. These are brewed to "get by" on the farm. They aren't meant to blow your socks off with a bag of tricks. They come from a time of simplicity and hard work. They're rustic. And when I think about that, I think Autumnal successfully embodies this style. It's not the best beer I've tasted, but it's satisfying. I think that's all it needs to be.

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