A thin chill lingers in the air, aided by soggy earth and roiling gray skies. But spring is on its way, foretold by longer daylight hours. Our minds now wander beyond rain and wet towards warm, lazy days. This is “mud season” in the Rockies.
Beers that capture the spirit of this time “between” are a combination of the drive to hibernate that leads many to heavy dark ales and the thirst for the freshness of summer’s grain.
There are but two ale styles that fully embrace the emerging hope of mud season: Dark Saison (Belgian Ale, class 16C, Beer Judge Certification Program) and Strong Scotch Ale (class 9E, BJCP). The light to medium mouthfeel of each separates them from winter brews, and their dark colors and full malt profiles separate them from summer beers.
A traditionally unfiltered, seasonal farmhouse Belgian-style beer, Saisons exude citrus fruits and low to medium hop aroma, offering a reprieve from the mantle of winter maltiness. Peppery phenolics, amid moderate spice and floral aromas, further awaken the senses. But one should go gently into the light, which is why a dark Saison, like Rye Saison from Finkel & Garf Brewing (Gunbarrel), is an ideal mud-season ale, with feet at both ends of the spectrum.
Rye Saison pours opaque amber in color, breathing moderate malt aromas, sweet and modestly acidic with a characteristic rye bite. Caramel flavors round off its otherwise dry finish. Though not a textbook Saison, the F&G interpretation captures the undecided sense of mud season.
For those who still used their wood fireplaces over Memorial Day weekend, and quelled their jumpiness to get out on a trail laden in deep, soft clay, the “Wee Heavy” Strong Scotch (Scottish) Ale also fits the season. No local example of the style escapes the shadow cast by Old Chub from Oskar Blues Brewery (Longmont/Lyons).
True to style, Old Chub pours a dark brown, with ruby glints, bristling with peat and earthy background aromas. Alcohol heat is apparent on the nose and tongue, but in other examples moderate yeast esters prevail. Similar to Saison, Scotch ales are not hoppy– awash in caramelized malt and dried stone fruit characters instead. Being as hops are not native to Scotland, they were rarely part of this style’s tradition. The “Wee Heavy” name arises from a tradition parodied by Monty Python: the understated manner of many Scotsman to minimize the direness of reality.
Other local examples of these styles, gently transitioning one along the color spectrum, are found at Boulder Beer Co. (Honey of a Saison), Sanitas Brewing (Winter Saison), BRU brewpub (LOCH Wee Heavy), and the Pumphouse brewery and restaurant.