Phillips – Sax in the Dark Sour

Today I’m going to take a stab at another beer that has recently arrived here in Manitoba. Phillips Sax in the Night Dark Brown Sour Ale.

This beer has quite the lengthy name. While we’ve been getting beers from Phillips for quite some time now (Their Double IPA Amnesiac seems to be a staple at the Liquor Marts) it is only recently we’ve started to get some of their seasonal releases.  It’s also only recently we’ve started to see more and more sour beers making their way onto the shelves of the liquor marts here in Manitoba.

About the Brewery

Phillips opened in Esquimalt BC in 2001. The brewmaster Matt Phillips, formerly the brew master at Spinnakers Brewpub and Wild Horse Brewing, had always been passionate about beer and dreamed one day he would be able to make beers he wanted to drink. In 2008 they moved the brewery across the bridge to downtown Victoria. This gave them space to grow and to produce new and interesting beers.

Sadly, there isn’t much information on their website about their brewing capacity.  A friend of mine from BC told me they are his “Picaroons”. Picaroons was the craft brewery I grew up with on the East Coast. I loved the beer they made; they were my first introduction to craft beer. So, if Phillips is that for British Colombians, then I say good work.

The beer I am trying today is a new release from Phillips. Released on March 14 from the brewery, we’ve just received it here in Manitoba. Be sure to check Liquor Marts’ listing page to see where you can find it. This is the second beer in their “Sour Notes” series, but the first we’ve gotten here.

This beer is a sour beer and it’s important to understand what that means. All clean beers are brewed using a genus of yeast called Saccharomyces. While there are a variety of different strains of this yeast, the Genus is the same. It is responsible for all clean brewed beers and has a big role to play in brewing sour beers as well. It is a fast-acting high IBU resistant yeast that is responsible for most of the alcohol production in beer, even in sours.

About the Style

What makes a sour beer? Well, that depends. There are two different ways a sour beer can be produced. The most common is controlled. This is where a brewer will specifically choose what he is going to do the beer to make it sour. The second way is to leave the fermenter open to the air and allow bacteria or wild strains of yeast access to your beer. This particular beer was produced using the controlled method, so that’s the one we will focus on.

In the controlled method, the brewer does something to the beer to lower its pH. This can be done by adding other strains of yeast or bacteria (Typically Lactobacillus or Brettanomyces or Pediococcus), by using an Acidulated Malt (this meets German purity laws) or by adding Lactic Acid (an acid produced by Pedioccous or Lactobacillus) or Acetobacter, a less common bacteria. Check out this blog from the American Home Brewers Association. It goes into detail about all these different strains.

This beer used Lactobacillus, a bacteria that acts similarly to a yeast by eating up the sugars in the wort (unfermented beer). Rather than converting the sugars to alcohol like our beer yeast, it turns them into lactic acid. The lactic acid lowers the pH of the beer rather quickly and gives the beer a sour but clean taste. It is most commonly used in sour German styles of beer Berliner Weisse or Gose.

While this style of beer is not a specifically recognized BJCP style, it falls under the Mixed-Fermentation Sour style, which is a variation of any base style of beer that has been soured. This particular beer is a Dark Ale that has been soured with Lactobacillus and aged on Grape Musts.



ABV – 5.0%

Appearance – Clear dark amber colour with a quickly dissipating head.

Smell – Smells musty, some red-wine notes, as well as some caramel and dark fruit notes. Some light yeast funkiness is present on the nose as well.

Taste – Nice tartness on the tongue with a subtle malty sweetness, toffee and caramelized malt.  It tastes almost like a lightly fouled red wine, but not necessarily in a bad way. There is almost no hoppiness to this beer at all.

Mouth Feel – Really forward carbonation with the bubbles almost frothing on your tongue as you drink. Good medium body and nice off-dry finish.

Overall Thoughts – The sourness is there, but not really. It’s not hard to drink. It is a decent offering in the style, but there are certainly better ones out there.

Do I like it? – After trying other sours that we’ve had in town recently, I had hoped for a good sour offering from Phillips as well. This one was underwhelming. While it isn’t bad and I enjoyed drinking it, I think I had my expectations high and this didn’t live up to them. Like always, I recommend people give it a try, but for me this one was just ok.



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