Stillwater Stateside Saison

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The beer: Stateside Saison
The brewery: Stillwater Artisanal Ales
Style: Saison
ABV: 6.8 percent

Phoenix may be many things, but a beer destination it is not. Compared to, say, Portland, Denver or Philadelphia -- meccas for brewers and drinkers -- we're just not there yet. But it may be for this very reason that some of the best breweries in the world send their beers here while skipping other states. Our market isn't yet saturated -- untapped, as they might say in the beer world -- and there's plenty of opportunity for fledgling breweries to find economic success here while they might struggle in more established markets.

All the more benefit to the consumers, as a new world-class brewery seems to be entering the Arizona market every few days. This week's flavor: Stillwater Artisanal Ales, all the way from Baltimore.

Recently voted the number two top new brewer in the world by beer review website ratebeer.com, Stillwater's the creation of Brian "Stillwater" Strumke, a man dedicated to making unique ales in locations around the globe. Strumke's brewery can be described as "nomadic" -- he travels all across the land, collaborating with different brewers to put out award-winning Belgian-style brews. About half of Stillwater's beers were crafted in conjunction with another brewer.

Stateside, however, is a pure solo effort. Transfer it from the gold-topped bottle into a tulip glass and behold the stately Princeton-orange brew, hazy with still-living yeast and crowned with a large head of frothy peach-colored bubbles. Careful with the pour -- the carbonation here is hyperactive, and the gentle cascade of liquid explodes with a good two inches of foam. While the head recedes quickly, the aroma rises to fill the void -- earthy farmhouse yeast, coriander, hints of citrusy lemon, herbal hops and musky white grapes are all noticeable.

The flavor is a virtual spice rack, sparkling with hints of coriander, white pepper and clove. Malt, in the form of lightly toasted biscuits and oyster crackers, becomes ever more substantial as the beer warms up. Flashes of honey and sweet white wine keep you guessing while citrusy hops -- added at pretty major levels for a saison -- blend with the bite of lemon peel before the long, herbal finish.

Like most saisons, Stateside is musty and mildly funky, but it's not as typically palate-cleansing as the classics. The carbonation is a bit muted and residual sugars keep the finish from the tongue-swiffering dryness these beers are known for. Likewise, the body's a bit big for the style. The beer's still light, but with enough texture and heft to keep it from pure refreshment.

Stillwater has been very American in its approach to this classic Belgian style. With a big body and an even bigger hop presence, Stateside isn't the most refreshing or stylistically stringent saison out there, but it's a tasty new addition to a market always ready for newcomers.

Food Pairing Suggestions
Saisons like this one are great with peppery dishes, and you'd be amazed what it can do to sausage. Try Stateside with another American take: jambalaya. Notes of pepper and other spices in the beer will meld with the dish's piquancy, while its effervescence wipes away the rougher edges of the heat.

Zach Fowle is a Certified Cicerone, a recognized beer expert equivalent to a sommelier.

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