Backlash is a brewery from Holyoke that I haven't yet covered on Original Gravity. They kind of came out of nowhere some time last year, as I recall, peddling bombers of Belgian-style and farmhouse ales with a rough-around-the-edges intent and aesthetic.

This is the second beer in their four part Apocalypse series; the first was named Conquest and is supposedly a white IPA. This brew is called War and is a saison style ale brewed with rye. As craft beer fans know, rye is an interesting grain to use in brewing and it's only been fairly recently that breweries have begun to liberally use it. It doesn't provide too much sugar for the yeast to consume, but it does have a characteristic dry, rustic and spicy flavor that usually hits in the middle and back of the tongue. Very lightly cloudy golden-yellow with a soapy head containing only very few tightly-packed bubbles. The lacing off the first pour is considerable and heavy but I have a feeling it will peter down as it drinks due to the tenuous way in which the lace is hanging on. Retention is solid, as I've got a half-finger of foam sticking around and no activity on the surface. This is definitely not the most attractive farmhouse-style ale I've ever seen, but it does the job.

The scent here is very intriguing. Despite the bottle's description not mentioning anything about smoked malts, I get a definite beechwood-like vibe here, very reminiscent of a rauchbier straight from Bamberg. Very smoky and lightly meaty with delicate floral and earthy notes from the hops. At 6.5%, this is about on par with most of the style as a "non-session" beer that nevertheless tiptoes the line at least somewhat to beer drinkers. The rye is only somewhat present in the nose, taking a backseat to a surprisingly-strong veneer of Belgian funk from the small amount of yeast remaining in the bottle. The taste is quenching though dry and rustic, although it should be noted it doesn't have any real "smoke" flavor, which belies what my nose was sensing. In replacement, a deep, multifaceted malt profile (likely the rye and a hefty amount of wheat alongside regular barley) carries flavors of toasted bread, black pepper and some light caramel over the palate, while a slight bitterness oversees the finish, somehow smoothing everything out in spite of the playful, spicy flair of the rye.

The scent here is very intriguing. Despite the bottle's description not mentioning anything about smoked malts, I get a definite beechwood-like vibe here, very reminiscent of a rauchbier straight from Bamberg. Very smoky and lightly meaty with delicate floral and earthy notes from the hops. At 6.5%, this is about on par with most of the style as a "non-session" beer that nevertheless tiptoes the line at least somewhat to beer drinkers. The rye is only somewhat present in the nose, taking a backseat to a surprisingly-strong veneer of Belgian funk from the small amount of yeast remaining in the bottle. The taste is quenching though dry and rustic, although it should be noted it doesn't have any real "smoke" flavor, which belies what my nose was sensing. In replacement, a deep, multifaceted malt profile (likely the rye and a hefty amount of wheat alongside regular barley) carries flavors of toasted bread, black pepper and some light caramel over the palate, while a slight bitterness oversees the finish, somehow smoothing everything out in spite of the playful, spicy flair of the rye.

This is a strange specimen because it appears to initially do everything right for the style it's attempting but seems to fall short just out of virtue of attempting an underdeveloped style. Maybe it's that bias, along with my love of a crisp, challenging saison, that makes this confusing to rate and discuss. Perhaps this recipe isn't the best for a farmhouse-style ale; what should be a crisp, hoppy punch loses out to a much stronger malt profile, while the finish is spicy but unfulfilling in a strange, hard-to-explain way. I feel like with a hoppier, earthier feel this could go further. As it stands, it's too sweet even in spite of the rye, making me presume wheat takes the forefront of the malt bill. I'm also not sure why there's such little remaining yeast in the bottle; this style does well in the long haul, when the last pour improves appreciation tenfold. That didn't quite happen here, as I only got yeast suspension at the very end, and even then it didn't seem characteristically supportive; there's a dusting of nuttiness but no real improvement of mouthfeel or flavor. Nevertheless, I'm excited to follow this series as Western Mass. is typically a hotbed of great breweries, and I feel like I should revisit Conquest as the first entry into this series. Being from the same location as High & Mighty Brewing Co. (yet to feature but they're fantastic and weird!) doesn't hurt at all, either. Cheers!

The official breakdown:

  • Style: Saison / Farmhouse Ale
  • ABV: 6.5%
  • Appearance: Mild haze on a golden yellow beer. Looks the part although clarity is a small issue; great retention and surprisingly strong lace
  • Scent: Very German; couldn't possibly be the smoky scent emanating from the surface, could it? Flowery, deeply malty with some mineral-rich earthy scents and light spicy hops/rye
  • Taste: Deep malt foreground fights with and subsumes whatever bitter hoppiness was supposed to be in the finish. Black pepper, floral hops, spicy rye, caramel
  • Mouthfeel: A bit on the prickly side with some sharp touches of carbon dioxide. Feels under-attenuated given the weird slickness/sweetness of the malt
  • Drinkability: This beer tends to shine here as it drinks easy and is fairly complex despite its flaws. Not bad at all, but kind of off and seems like it could be pushed further

From http://blogs.lowellsun.com/beer/.