The Beer Files: Saison
by Irina Vishnevskaya, Tastemaker in Residence
In the interest of educating our dear readership on the many makes of beer, every once in a while the Spirited Table will feature a flavor profile on a specific type of beer, complete with history, tasting notes and food pairings. Keep your eyes peeled for these features in the coming months!
Also known as farmhouse ale, Saison is a pale ale that is generally about 5-8.5% ABV, highly carbonated, spicy and very often bottle conditioned. When I describe this style of beer to people I generally tell them to imagine their favorite wheat beer, with all of its flavors and properties doubled in intensity. Saison is a refreshing alternative to the classic Lager-type boring summer beers. It’s full of flavor and character and makes an excellent match for most summer evening meals.
A bit of history
Meaning “summer” in French, Saison beer originated in Southern Belgium in the 19th century. This type of beer was typically brewed in the winter months and stored until the summer months when it would be given to temporary farm workers as a form of hydration and nutrition, as water itself wasn’t always suitable for drinking. In fact, according to some accounts, each farmhouse worker was allotted 5 liters of Saison beer a day. Because the beer had to last through the summer season without becoming infected, Saison was brewed to have a dry flavor profile and hops and other spices (as well as fermentation to a high alcohol content) were added for their natural preservative properties. Because each farm brewed its own beer, there was no specific recipe for Saison beer, and as such the beers that fall into this category may vary greatly.
This is a very complex style of beer with many fruity tones in both the aroma and the flavor. You’ll experience a mild tartness, which is part of what makes it such a great summer beer; Saisons are usually semi-dry with only a subtle touch of sweetness. Expect lots of spice, a bit of bitterness and a lot of carbonation.
Saisons and strong, funky, creamy, bloomy-rind cheeses are a match made in heaven; they complement each other beautifully, and you’ll find that neither one over-dominates the other. Spicy, aromatic Asian or Middle Eastern dishes also work well. For example, a flavor-full Pad Thai will blossom when accompanied with a Saison, as will a Shawarma with hummus and plenty of cumin and coriander notes. And of course meat: Saison is certainly a strong enough beer to stand up to any grilled meat, even the reddest, and most strongest.
Saison Dupont (Brasserie Dupont, Belgium)
Hennepin Farmhouse saison (Brewery Ommegang, NY)
Brooklyn Sorachi Ace (Brooklyn Brewery, NY)
Guava Grove Saison (Cigar City Brewing, FL)
Saison Du BUFF (Victory Brewing Company, PA)
Rabbid Rabbit (3 Floyds Brewing Co, IN)