We've had saisons. We'd had plenty of saisons. But, we can't say that we've had dark saisons, well, until recently when we tried Relic Brewing's Demiana. Then again, saisons have been brewed, traditionally, in unique ways. Made as beers that would be cold and refreshing for farm workers, they were brewed with whatever local ingredients and spices were on the farm or nearby. So, it was very well possible to have a saison at one farm, while 1 mile away you could have a very different tasting saison.
And, while most saisons that you taste nowadays have that same wheaty, spicy, and "wild" taste to them, there are definitely some breweries that like being different. Relic, based in Plainville, CT is one of those breweries that doesn't like to stick to the boring, the expected, and the norm. Case in point: their excellent Demiana.
As an added bonus before the review of this beer is some excellent background information about Demiana from none other than Mark Sigman, Headbrewer and owner of Relic (yeah, we totally beer-geeked out hearing from him):
On the origin of the name Demiana:
"Demiana was originally brewed as part of a series of beers based on relatively unknown historical women, like relics of history. This included, Hypatia, Genevieve, Demiana and Lucretzia. Each label was hand painted by Kristen Mixter of Avon, CT and follows a similar template. Having traveled so much around the world and visited most major historical sites, I have always been into interesting historical stories. For a dark saison, I wanted something from the Middle East, mysterious and dark, and then I stumbed on Saint Demiana. I visited the old Christian (Coptic) quarter of Cairo a few years back and was fascinated by the culture and imagery."
On the inspiration in creating a dark saison:
"As for dark saisons, well, we have done a lot of them at the brewery, and people are always intrigued since it's not a historical style, it's a made up style. Many people have never had one. So, for our first batch of beer up at Hooker that we decided to go brew there, we decided to do something so incredibly different than anything that had ever been done at Hooker Brewing before. I wanted there to be no mistake that although this four pack was brewed at Hooker, its 100% a Relic beer, with 100% Relic special yeasts and ingredients that make it authentic. It was really important to me to differentiate and assure my loyal customers that although we might be brewing some beers offsite, they will have their Relic flavors and usual qualities. In addition, I prefer dark beers and we make lots of them at the brewery."
Onto the tasting notes!
Appearance: on first pour, the saison poured out foamy, pushing to the top of the glass. But, after just a bit, it settled down to a thin layer. The color is dark, the same kind of color you'd expect to see in a stout.
Smell: immediately, the first aromas that come up are those classic chocolately and malty notes that you get from stouts. You can smell small hints of spice, too.
Mouthfeel: there's a good medium body to Demiana, not being too thick, but not watery. There's definitely some substance there.
Taste: at the first you get those hits of spice and that wild funkiness that you come to know and love from saisons. But, after just a bit, those raisiny, malty, and chocolately notes comes through that you recognize from stouts. And, there's just a tiny bit of tartness at the end which comes from some saisons and adds even more complexity to this brew.
Pairing: this is an interesting beer to try to match up food with because of its complex flavors. We feel like the food you pair this with needs to have some heft to it, needs some weight, needs some richness, needs some spice, and needs some bolder flavors. In terms of Christmas dinner, this would go nicely with a clove-studded ham, candied yams, and a beautiful stuffing. But, hey, make your own pairing too, there's no set rule to things.
Final Thoughts: Whenever we find any Relic out in Fairfield County, we snag it. To be honest, we didn't know what to expect with a dark saison. Would it taste like a saison and just have a darker color, or would the beautiful flavors of a saison get leeched out? Well, we're happy to say that this is one solid beer that's incredibly complex and does double duty. Despite its dark color, it's still goes down easy and you could easily throw back a few without feeling too bent. If you see this, it's a must try, must buy. This is one relic to hoard for your own personal beer stash.