The Craft Beer Cellar Style of the Month for April 2015 is Saison!
So…what is a saison?
Staff Beer Geek Mark from Belmont breaks it down for us.
It’s one of the more difficult questions our staff beer geeks answer on a regular basis, as saison is arguably the most complex of beer styles and defies easy classification.
The history behind the style is simple enough. Saison – French for “season” – was a beer made as refreshment for farm workers during the warm summer months. With its origins in the French-speaking Belgian region of Wallonia, saisons were brewed in the winter, with cooler temperatures more desirable for fermentation.
Back then, brewers would use whatever was on hand at the farm to make the beer, meaning the beer often varied widely from one farm to the next. While brewing methods have obviously changed – and brewers will make saisons year-round now – the great variety from one to the next still largely holds true.
Generally speaking, saisons showcase a dry, rustic finish, relatively high carbonation, with citrus and spice notes and a moderate hop profile. The degree to which these traits come through can vary greatly from one saison to the next.
Perhaps more than any other style, you can try 10 different saisons and come away with 10 completely different impressions.
“Those who like their beer styles neatly arranged in narrow categories will find attempting to pigeonhole Saisons an exercise in frustration,” writes Phil Markowski in The Oxford Companion to Beer.
Not surprisingly, many American breweries (and some Belgian ones, such as Fantome) have pushed the boundaries of the style. Session, barrel-aged, dark – and, of course, hoppy – saisons are not hard to find.
Saison Dupont Vieille Provision, brewed by Brasserie Dupont in Tourpes, Belgium, is widely regarded as the benchmark of the style. Citrus, spice, and even a little bit of earthy funk are present in the nose. Peppery notes and a little bit of spice give way to a super-clean, dry finish. A slightly resinous hop flavor lingers after each sip.
Another beautiful aspect of saison is its ability to pair well with just about any food. Just about all saisons have enough body to stand up to the heartiest of dishes but, thanks to its dry and effervescent properties, won’t overpower lighter fare.
Not sure what saison to try next (or first)? Ask a staff beer geek next time you’re in one of our stores. If you ask me, I’ll recommend my personal favorite, Great Divide Colette, or others like North Coast Le Merle and Allagash Saison.
Ask someone else, and you’ll likely get a completely different answer. That’s just part of the fun.