I headed over to Bristol Brewing on Saturday to check out the new beers offered by Bristol and Black Fox at the tap room. If you don’t already know, Black Fox is brewed contractually on Bristol’s by John Schneider who actually also works for Bristol. The Black Fox beer I received for free, which is something I think I need to tell you first. I will say that when I get free beer and I review, I’ll tell you in advance that it’s free. It won’t change my review, but you should know.
Black Fox Shyela Saison is described on the website as having been brewed with sage and red willow bark. I’ve had a few sage beers, but never one with red willow bark, and I’m a huge fan of herb/spice beers so, needless to say, I was really pumped about this beer. I got a growler and took it to a friends house, we paired it with a thick carrot and clove soup, not sure if it would pair, but it was a good combo. The beer pours a mostly brown color with some orangish red highlights. The beer is cloudy, you can’t see through it, and there is a short
tan head, with possibly too many bubbles, that disappears after a couple sips. The lacing from the head looks good. There is a really intensely strong sage smell. It turns out they left the finishing hops out of the beer, which would give the beer a hoppy fragrance, and added sage instead. So, you know the beer is going to be pretty herbal and earthy from the aroma. I thought the smell was wonderful. Starting to drink it, the taste is subtle at first and then hits you pretty hard with what I can describe as a sweet freshness not unlike mint. I’m trying to identify the red willow bark, but have never had it, my best guess is that it’s what’s giving off the eucalyptus flavors…yes eucalyptus. I dig it. There is a lingering bitterness and I’m not sure that it’s from the hops, it’s likely the sage, in fact, I couldn’t quite taste a hop presence. It does have hops, but it tasted like a hopless beer to me. It’s good approaching this beer without any expectations: It’s the complete opposite of the dark, smooth, and balanced flavors of the Diablo Saison from last month. But, where that beer was clean and symmetrical, this beer is exciting in its experimentalness, there is a rawness to it that’s very fun. It feels and looks like what I would expect of an herbal medicinal beer, which is something that many beer geeks might have a hard time dealing with, but that is the nature of farmhouse beers. I’m very happy with this one, in a very different way than the Diablo beer. I think it should come in a Belgian looking 750ml bottle.
After the Shyela Saison ran out we opened the growler of Bristol Christmas Ale around dessert time. I had also tried three, count em, three pints of this beer in the Bristol tap room on Friday, so obviously I think this beer is a very drinkable Christmas/Holiday beer. This year the beer is a different recipe than in years past. One of the Bristol employees makes homebrews and helped develop this years’ recipe with the brewers. The beer pours a blackish brown, much like a porter, with a great looking tan head. There is a heavy spice in the nose with some slight burnt or toasted breaded notes. The spice is also the first thing that hits you when you drink it. It seemed like a ginger spice to me, but I knew it wasn’t ginger because it was more complex than that. I thought it could be cinnamon and clove. Turns out that’s correct, but there’s also some cardimom in there. There is a really nice breaded and toasted malt warmness as well that also contributes to a smooth texture. The spice finishes by bouncing around your tongue a bit and then it lingers a good 10-20 seconds after you’ve swallowed. The beer reminds me of an Anchor Christmas beer from two years ago, although that recipe changes every year. The Bristol version is more balanced though. It may not be the most complex Christmas Ale you can find if that’s what you’re looking for, but it was made for easy drinking, and easy drinking it is.