As part of our ongoing commitment to craft beer discussion, Brew in Review wants to go deeper into beer styles. Some of this has been touched on in our Conversion Beers and our Naming Conventions articles, but these style pieces go deeper into a specific style.
This article is about the saison. Go here for our full list of saison beer reviews.
Saison is French for “season” and is generally a summer beer. The saison has been rising in popularity recently, most likely because they’re a bit different from the other flavours we’re used to in highly popular styles like pale ales or IPAs.
Saisons can vary wildly and that’s half the fun! Some are just light and summery, some can have a bit more funk in the yeast, most are pretty fruity and have some spice to them.
The story behind the style is slightly romantic, as these things often are. The story goes that farm workers in Belgium brewed the beer during the winter when there wasn’t much to do and then drank the beer in the working summer months. These saisons were typically lighter in alcohol (3-4% ABC), while today’s saisons are generally stronger at up to 6.5% ABV; hey, everything is getting stronger these days.
The Saison Dupont remains the standard for the style. Much like the standard American IPAs that have both popularised the style and been used as a template, the Saison Dupont has done the same for the style. Most modern saisons are based on this one.
There’s not really a standard malt bill for a saison, so they can really vary in colour. With that, spices and other flavours can also be added, for example orange zest, which can really alter the flavour and appearance of the beer. Once again, that’s half the fun of a saison! You never know what you’re going to get.
Adding to this, traditionally saisons were often made with whatever was available in the farmhouse and many still today use well controlled wild yeasts. Once again, you never know what you’re going to get.
When to drink a saison
It’s a summer beer, so go ahead and drink it in the warm weather! They’re designed to be light and refreshing. That being said, they were originally brewed for a European summer, so if you’re a big lager head in a hot or humid climate, don’t expect the same kind of refreshment you’d get from a crisp lager. Expect a similar refreshment to a summer ale.
A saison, however, can go well in cooler weather. There’s often a certain hardiness about a saison that makes them a great Autumn beer. Sure, in the winter they won’t do the job of a porter or a stout, but a saison wouldn’t be unwelcome on a Winter’s night…
As mentioned, saisons are getting stronger. They were originally around 3% alcohol, so they were designed to be easy and relaxed drinking. Today, as they’re pushing 7% alcohol, it’s a bit different… saisons can be pretty rich though, so even with the higher alcohol, they can be savoured which makes them a bit slow.
Saisons and food
Being a farmhouse style beer, saisons go well with rustic foods. Foods like roasted meats and vegetables. Rich foods also work very well. Being a style from France/Belgium, rustic French foods work particularly well.
What else do the French like? Cheese! Yes, some people enjoy wine and cheese, but if you want to try something different, do a saison and cheese tasting or, when it comes to dessert, order the cheese platter and a saison.
Be aware that rustic food means rustic food, not game meat. Game meat can be rustic, but it’s not really a farm meat. Grab some chicken or pork, roast it up, and you should be OK. If you want to give a saison a go with some game meat, go with something European, don’t go too wild!