Saison For SpringThe fantastic farmhouse ale
April 4, 2017
By Jeff Gredlein | The Beer Snob
The Saison style has seen a spike in popularity recently, and it’s no mistake. This ‘farmhouse ale’ is a true original, and one of the few spring styles that is complex yet accessible. Not long ago, the saison style was in danger of vanishing, as fewer and fewer breweries were making this type of beer. However, it has had a revival, thanks in no small part to our craft beer scene.
One unique aspect of saison ales is their widely ranging variability from brewery to brewery. I have had dark ones and light ones, hoppy ones and dry fruity ones; very few are completely alike. Still, when you order a saison, expect a refreshing beer, typically dry yet fruity and well carbonated.
Historically, the key to a successful saison was making a beer that was robust enough to last up to and during the summer season, yet be refreshing. While typically fruity, from the esters, and spicy, from the hops and yeast, these beers should have enough malt to give a foundation to the other flavors, nevertheless can be tart and quite sour.
The classic and standard of the style is Saison Dupont from Brasserie Dupont, in Wallonia, a French-speaking region of Belgium. This is a slightly strong ale, cloudy, dark yellow with a fluffy, almost champagne like head. The beer is not only well hopped, but also fruity, dry and refreshing. The yeast is distinct and perfectly suited to satisfy a summer thirst.
This ale has a somewhat wheaty taste, but not exactly like a witbier or hefeweisen. A great mouthfeel on this one, Saison Dupont is nicely carbonated and tingly, and the finish is dry, just what you want on a sweltering day. Dupont’s website claims that Saison has “the finest aromas and a strong bitterness transform this beer into a thirst-quencher with no equal, just the way it was created.”
With all due respect to the classic, it’s the American-brewed saisons that are really winning over fans. Varieties range from similar in style to Dupont to over the top craft beer madness. Hennepin, from Brewery Ommegang in New York goes a step beyond standard with additions of grains of paradise, ginger, coriander and sweet orange peel. A bit bolder than the Belgian original, this is a world-class beer.
Saison Rue, from California’s The Bruery, is a rustic and stronger saison. The distinction here is the addition of malted rye for an even spicier, outdoorsy flavor. At 8.5 percent alcohol by volume (ABV), this is no tame yellow beer.
Just as some Belgian brewers do, American craft brewers put their own stamp on a beer by using different ingredients. Brooklyn Brewery has Sorachi Ace, a saison brewed with the Sorachi Ace hop and Belgian yeast.
I’ve been enjoying the Saison from Allagash, Interlude. Making use of two yeast strains, a classic Belgian strain and an Allagash house Brettanomyes strain “contributes myriad flavors including pear, apricot, graham cracker, and bread crust. A portion of Interlude is aged in red wine barrels, which imparts a distinctive vinous, plum character and a dry, almost tannic, finish.”
Possibly the most unique take on the saison style is Saison du Buff, a collaboration between Stone Brewing, Dogfish Head and Victory Brewing. Each company has released their own version, but all have a base saison ale brewed with parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme! I can’t say it’s my favorite, but it’s certainly wild.
Saisons are distinctive beers, with characteristics of pilsners, wheats, malty lagers and even pale ales. Here’s to the little Belgian ale with a twist, and a happy spring to you. Enjoy the brews … Cheers.
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