Welcome to the Belgian Style series of blog posts, exploring the many beer styles produced in Belgium. Our style for this post is Saison. Once a farm-brewed beer for migrant workers, Saisons are now brewed year-round in Belgium and have become popular with many craft breweries in the U.S.
Saisons originated in Wallonia, the French-speaking part of Belgium, especially in the Hainaut district, southeast of Brussels. The name Saison means "season" in French. Saisons were farmhouse ales brewed by farmers for their personal consumption and for "saisoniers" - seasonal farm workers.
They were traditionally brewed in the cool months - from September through March - then stored in cellars for consumption during the summer and at harvest time. As the popularity of these beers grew, farm brewing gave way to year-round production in artisanal breweries that distributed the beers well beyond their agricultural places of origin.
The Saison Style
Because they were originally brewed on farms, there are many variations on the style with no hard-and-fast style guidelines. The style became more defined as larger breweries began producing it, although there are still many variations to this day. Saisons are crisp, dry, refreshing and hoppy with a golden to bronze color, slight haze and dense white head. Their effervescence is the result of natural carbonation (bottle conditioning) - traditionally in champagne bottles. They are dry and well-attenuated with a quenching acidity. One thing all Saisons share is their characterful yeasts, which give the beers a lactic tartness, phenolic spiciness and complex fruit esters. The warmer the fermentation, the more pronounced these characteristics are.
Saisons are very versatile and pair well with a wide variety of foods. They are especially good with smoked, cured and grilled meats and full-flavored cheeses. The spiciness and bold flavors of Saisons may overwhelm lighter dishes but are excellent with spicy or intensely flavored foods, fish soups and stews and Asian or Middle Eastern dishes. They also go well with robust salads and other summer dishes.
Saison Tasting Panel
The Bruz tasting panel recently tasted a number of commercial Saisons from both Belgian and North American breweries.
The panel thought Saison Dupont was as good as ever. It has been touted by some as one of the best beers in the world - largely due to its unique yeast, which has been described as "a yeast among yeasts - touched by God." Another panel favorite was Funkwerks Saison, which was flavorful, well-balanced and very drinkable, with a depth of complexity. Ommegang's Hennepin was also a standout - intricate and complex with a smooth thirst-quenching character. Firestone Walker's Opal was a different, but very pleasant, interpretation of the style and Crooked Stave's Surette Provision Saison was complex, flavorful and well-crafted. Our Bruz Beers Winter Solstice Saison was tart and citrusy with a lively flavor profile and a touch more alcohol than most. The Lost Abbey's Saison Blanc was cleanly made and tasty, but lacked the intense character of many of the other examples. Fantome's Pissenlit (dandelion infused) Saison was dull and disappointing.
Join us as we take in-depth looks at other Belgian styles in the weeks and months to come as part of our ongoing Belgian Style blog series.