Style Profile | Saison
Every other month, PorchDrinking.com will tackle a style profile and, this month, the subject involves Saisons. Our motivation involves educating beer drinkers so they can more accurately identify beers and calibrate their senses accordingly. Beer can be a complex topic but worry not because PorchDrinking is here to show you the ropes – like an older brother or sister, only with less abuse and more information.
Saison brings a funky, bubbly and golden personality to many beer drinkers every year. As the spring rounds into summer, many drinkers are looking for lighter but still flavorful beers to enjoy. But year round saison offers an incredibly easy pairing for many types and flavors of food. The History of Saisons much like the beer has its roots in farming and the cultures of southern Belgium. My fellow PorchDrinker, Sarah Haughey, put it best in her Beerology: History of Saisons article, “Saison is much more than a style of beer, it is a family of traditional beers that originated in Wallonia, southern Belgium. Meaning “season” in French, Saison was brewed at the beginning of winter and conditioned in time for farm hands to quench their thirst during summer field work.” A true representation of terroir Saisons often were brewed with whatever malts were grown by the farm.
According to the 2015 BJCP style guide, Saison is “most commonly, a pale, refreshing, highly-attenuated, moderately-bitter and moderate-strength Belgian ale with a very dry finish.” Some examples may feature grains such as wheat or oats to add more character while leaving the color very pale. Still others may choose to compliment the complex esters and phenols of the yeast with spices and herbs. Traditionally Saisons would have been conditioned or aged in wooden casks. While some examples may be soured, for the purpose of this style profile, I chose to showcase examples absent of sources that sour the beer.
Saison Bone Santè!
Classic examples of Saison can be found in most quality bottle shops. At my local bottle shop, Beverage Outlet in Augusta, Georgia; I was able to source two classic examples and one American craft brewed representation. First, I enjoyed Saison Dupont which was the best classic example I could find. Next, I enjoyed Boulevard Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale which plays a nice counter point to the lightness of Saison Dupont. Lastly, I enjoyed Allagash Saison, which even though it’s not a classic example is still a fantastic representation of saisons.
La Brasserie Dupont | Saison
Saison Dupont was one of the first Saisons I ever drank and I instantly fell in love with it, hence why I selected it. Moreover, I decided to share it with fellow Porchdrinking writers.
The straw-golden liquid poured quickly and the intense carbonation gave rise to a large, fluffy head that hung around and could easily be roused again. This beer doesn’t lace so much as paint the inside of the glass with a fine bubbly head as you sip it down to the bottom of the glass. The unique aroma is almost surreal, comprised of black pepper, crackers, a hint of nonspecific fresh cut fruits and a light floral aroma. A fellow PorchDrinker detected a bit of soapiness, but the others didn’t seem to agree. The taste mirrors the aroma with phenols reminiscent of black pepper and a light fruity ester that doesn’t particularly recall any specific fruit flavor. Saison Dupont has just enough bitterness to clear the palette and invite a follow on sip. There is light malt sweetness but the finish is very dry. A fellow PorchDrinker commented on its similarity in finish to white wines. The crisp finish of this beer leaves you wanting more and though it is 6.5% ABV, it never exhausts the drinker.
Sharing is nice, but I wish I had bought an extra bottle to enjoy all on my own.
Boulevard Brewing Co | Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale
Boulevard’s Tank 7 pours hazy with a golden-straw color accompanied by a huge, frothy head, which hangs out like it has a long layover at an airport. Substantial lacing coats the glass as you sip the beer, and bubbles racing up the glass until it erupts into the head speak volumes about its effervescence. The aroma is far more noticeable than the other Saisons we tried this evening. It featured citrus peel, fresh cut flowers and a hint of cracked pepper followed by a faint sweet almost honey like character.
The first sip offers far more bitterness than the other samples we had tried but the yeast is clearly at the forefront of this example. However, neither phenol nor ester stands out in the taste. The spice note is also heavier than Saison Dupont, but it’s balanced by the supporting wildflower-honey notes. At one point, I asked a fellow PorchDrinker for their thoughts and the response was simply “it’s gone”.
It drinks easily but make no mistake, the alcohol is certainly present.
Allagash Brewing | Saison
Lastly, we closed the evening with samples of Allagash’s simply named offering, Saison. While the name may be simple, this beer is as complex as they come!
It pours an exceptionally light golden color and the most clear of the examples we tried. The head rises but it doesn’t seem as definite as the others and clears quickest of the three. The light aroma recalls cut flowers and some citrus, but it’s seemingly absent of any type of spice note. The aroma being so light is contradicted by the flavor. The prominent initial flavors include pre-cut flowers, green pepper, black pepper, parsley, coriander and a faint touch of lemongrass. That intensity washes away quickly and clearly to a dry finish that leaves you almost wondering what the license plate number was of the flavor truck that just hit you.
Allagash Saison invites further sips, which can be accomplished slowly or quickly — both are satisfying.
Pairing Saisons is easy, yet complex.
It is easy because Saison frankly stands up to just about anything I have eaten, yet enjoys complexity because endless choices make it difficult to decide on a specific food.
This evening, we enjoyed Dubliner Cheddar and crackers as an initial profile for each beer, but then quickly jumped into snacks served by the wife of one of my Porchdrinking friends. She made some incredible loaded backed potato skins where the smoky saltiness of bacon and the melted cheddar of the toppings allowed the Saisons to really cut through and refresh the palette; we were allowed to enjoy every bite as if it was the first. She also brought a chicken dip that featured Gruyere cheese and herbs that proved to be a life-changing, grade-A midlife crisis comfort food. Putting some of this dip on a crostini and going for it makes you reevaluate what you have been doing all this time. The Saison’s palate-refreshing character allowed everyone to enjoy the dip, again, as if each bite was the first.
Saisons are, hands down, the ultimate food beer.