It’s always interesting to see a craft brewery take a few steps outside their comfort zone and take on a beer style that may not necessarily fit the aesthetic of their typical brewing philosophy. It doesn’t always work out for the best, but it at least lays the groundwork for future experimentation and may help a brewery expand its horizons.
Case in point, Firestone Walker isn’t really a name commonly associated with classic, traditional Belgian beer styles. When you think of Firestone Walker, it’s probably an in-your-face IPA such as Union Jack or Double Jack that you’re picturing, maybe a great black IPA like Wookey Jack or perhaps a barrel-aged beauty such as Parabola. But a classic, Wallonian saison? Not so much, which makes the dry hopped Opal a little bit off the beaten path for them.
It comes at an interesting time, as FW’s similarly hop-focused California neighbors Stone Brewing Co. recently released their own Stone Saison in six-packs, but if you’re choosing between the two, pick the one from Paso Robles—it’s the superior beer, comparing the two side by side.
This ale pours a surprisingly light gold-yellow, almost looking like an American light lager in the glass, although you would immediately be corrected after smelling it for the first time. Aromas are funk-forward, with fruity esters and lots of complex spice. There’s some of that “barnyard” presence and perfumed, coriander-like spice that reminds me vaguely of an Indian masala blend. Despite being dry hopped, the hop presence is fairly understated.
This saison is quite spicy in terms of flavor as well, with herbal and perhaps minty hops coming through, bringing a medium bitterness with them. It opens up significantly as it warms in the glass, becoming more complex in its spice profile—like one of those multi-colored pepper grinders, it hits a bunch of notes at once. Still, this profile is rather more “classical” than contemporary or American—just a solid version of the classically dry, rustic Franco-Belgian saison that continued to grow on me over the course of drinking it.
All in all a worthy experiment, Firestone Walker. But don’t stop making Union Jack anytime soon.
Brewery: Firestone Walker Brewing Co.
City: Paso Robles, Calif.
Availability: Year-round, 22 oz bottles