Saison is the traditional name originally given to these refreshing, low alcohol ales brewed seasonally in farmhouses to be consumed during the harvest season, hence how it got it’s other name – Farmhouse Ales. “Saison” is the French word for season, which makes perfect sense since these beers were originally brewed during the winter season to prevent them from spoiling during the warm months since refrigeration did not exist yet.
This is a style that they actually served a purpose! Saisons were brewed to help give the farm hands adequate hydration without the risk of getting sick due to the lack of potable water. They were typically around 3% back then however modern and American examples are in the upwards of 5-8% ABV.
What had started to become and endangered style, Saisons are quickly making a comeback, particularly in the United States. A good Saison is typically very complex; high levels of fruitiness with low to moderate hop additions that can carry with them subtle to moderate spicy and/or floral characters. Look for earthy yeast tones and subtle to moderate levels of tartness (that should not be overwhelming over other characteristics) while being semi dry and having very mellow sweetness levels. Many American brewers will often add additional ingredients like orange zest, coriander, or peppercorns to further enhance particular dimensions of the beer.
You will find saisons to typically be a golden yellow to pale orange color, though, depending on the malt bill chosen by the brewer, some are even a darker amber red color. Since saisons are unfiltered and often times bottle conditioned, they remain cloudy as opposed to clear. Head formation should be long lasting, dense, and white to ivory in color with the classic “Belgian lace” as it dissipates.
As mentioned before, the alcohol level is typically on the lower to medium side. It should never be felt or perceived as hot or solventy/boozy. Carbonation levels should be high, typically with an almost effervescent quality. So, overall, a medium to strong fruity and spicy beer with lighter yellow to orange colors that is highly carbonated and carries with it a dry yet thirst-quenching/refreshing feel. One of my most favorite styles to enjoy in the spring and summertime!
Listed below are some of my personal favorites for the style:
Fruity, complex saison beer from the Ardennes forest from a tiny farmhouse brewery very hard to find even in Belgium.
8% alc. by volume, with a wonderfully musty and characterful aroma. “Absolutely gorgeous, complex summer refresher with enough interest to drink all year-round
Saison-Brett, based on our very popular Tank 7, is assertively dry hopped, then bottle conditioned with various yeasts, including Brettanomyces, a wild strain that imparts a distinctive earthy quality. Though this farmhouse ale was given three months of bottle age prior to release, further cellaring will continue to enhance the “Brett” character, if that’s what you’re after.
8.5% ABV - 38 IBUs
As you pour this rich golden ale into your glass, consider your surroundings. Are you in a restaurant? Outside on the deck? Is it hot and humid? Cold and brisk? Take a drink. Feel the way Hennepin is bright and lively in your mouth with a warming mix of spicy gingersnap and citrusy hops. Refreshing. Relaxing. It’s true: no matter where you are, Hennepin is the perfect ale for all seasons
Today, some of the best known Saisons are made by Brasserie Dupont, a farmhouse brewery in western Belgium. Its Saison Dupont Vieille Provision is crisp and well balanced, with a hint of citrus and a slightly bitter finish that leaves you eager for more. Foret, an organic saison made by Dupont, shares the bitter finish of Vieille Provision but is spicy and earthier-tasting. It evokes newly mown grass, another sure sign of summer.
A fragrant saison blended with coriander, lemon balm, chamomile and lemon basil.
6.2% ABV - 30 IBUs
There are always new beers in the style being made and many I have yet to try, so by all means, this is not an exhaustive list. But if you can get access to some of these listed, I highly recommend giving them a try!