Now that we’ve made it through the cold winter and rainy spring, it’s time to turn our attention to warm-weather entertainment and festivities. That’s right, it’s finally summer!
With rising temperatures and outside gatherings of family and friends, it’s important to find refreshing and versatile beverages that will please a wide audience and pair well with a variety of foods. While lagers, session IPAs and pale ales might do the trick, some of the best options are traditional saisons, or farmhouse ales.
A saison, the French word for season, was traditionally brewed in the autumn or winter for consumption by farm workers in late summer during the harvest. While the flavor profile, color, alcohol and conditioning of the brews can vary, traditionally the beer was quite rustic, with a hearty addition of hops and spices, moderate alcohol (between 5–8% abv) and some degree of bottle conditioning.
Originally brewed for enjoyment within the year, selections today offer such depth and complexity that they will cellar well.
The Belgian yeast strain typically used provides a distinct foundation, while flavors of wild organisms, especially Brettanomyces, are often present, with varying degrees of intensity, dependent on the brewery’s style.
Domestic brewers are experimenting with nontraditional American hop varieties for additional layers of aroma and flavor.
Originally brewed for enjoyment within the year, selections today offer such depth and complexity—and perhaps a bit more brett influence—that they cellar well. Age will take these beers from fresh hop and primary fruit characteristics to nuanced, earthy selections of intrigue.
Wonderfully complex, spicy and refreshing, there’s no better way to welcome a new season.
Except maybe with some additional selections of Belgian-style wheat beers of varying styles. From witbiers to hefes and amazingly refreshing Berliner weissbiers flavored with fruit additions, these golden beauties will keep your palate refreshed as you soak up summer.
Blackberry Farm Classic Saison (Saison/Farmhouse Ale; Blackberry Farm Brewery, TN); $17/750 ml, 93 points. A classic, clean example of the saison style, this pours a hazy straw color with a billowy head. Initial scents of yeasty spice, white pepper, bread dough and a touch of fresh grass waft from the glass, with a faint secondary hint of barnyard. The medium-bodied mouthfeel offers ample carbonation, which keeps the creamy flavors of banana, pear and honeyed lemon lifted and brisk through the spicy, dry finish. The coriander, pepper and yeasty characteristics become more apparent with warming. A well-balanced and complex offering.
The Lost Abbey Red Barn Ale (Saison/Farmhouse Ale; The Lost Abbey, CA); $15/750 ml, 92 points. This is a thirst-quenching, refreshing yet complex and layered brew, which is not surprising coming from this stellar California brewery. It pours a sunny golden color with some haze and a frothy, lingering white head. Pungent, tart, citrusy aromas lead the nose, with supporting notes of underripe peach, coriander, white pepper and barnyard. The earthy, funky characteristics lead on the palate, complemented by assertive carbonation, but are then followed by a soft, malty nuttiness and ripe orchard-fruit richness that carries through to the dry finish, which resonates in yeasty and peppery spice tones.
Smuttlabs Nott Dark Farmhouse Ale (Saison/Farmhouse Ale; Smuttlabs, NH); $7/375 ml, 90 points. A fun take on a saison, which is typically light in color and derived from a non-roasted grain bill, this is a richer, heartier option, with a gorgeous brown color, attractive roasty character and pleasantly pronounced bitter-hop edge. There’s typical saison-esque spice on the nose, but it’s complemented by scents of cocoa nib, toasted brown bread, peanut skin, raisin and dried cherry. The medium-weight, creamy body is lifted by a subtle warmth and sweet spice character that hangs on to the finish. Don’t drink this one too cold, or you’ll lose some of the deeper toasted spice and dried fruit characteristics.
Ayinger Weizenbock Authentic Bavarian Weizen Bock (Weizenbock, Brauerei Aying, Germany); $4/500 ml, 94 points. This is a classic wheat ale, but brewed to be as strong as a bock or double bock, so the resulting selection is one of serious depth and intensity, while still remaining clean and refreshing. It pours a hazy amber-tangerine color, with a thick, frothy off-white head that really lingers. The aromas are all wheat beer—yeasty spice, banana, orange peel, apple and a touch of bubble gum. Those notes carry through to the medium-weight palate, supported by the core of bready malt and toasted wheat that are lifted on the close by bright, slightly prickly carbonation. Overall, this is a rich and decadent yet surprisingly drinkable and well-balanced brew. Merchant du Vin.
Brasserie du Bocq Blanche de Namur (Witbier; Du Bocq Brewery, Belgium); $9/750 ml, 92 points. Named for Princess Blanche of Namur, born in the area in 1320 and later married King Magnus IV of Norway, this is a traditional wit that offers upfront aromas and flavors of orange peel, lemony hop, underripe stone fruit and yeasty spice. It’s faint golden-yellow in color, with a cloud-like white head that shows good retention. The palate is smooth and approachable, with a medium-minus body and brisk, lifting carbonation that keeps it clean and refreshing. Subtle hints of coriander, clove and earthy, softly mentholated herbs tease on the finish. Merchant du Vin.
Brùton Bianca (Witbier; Birrificio Bruton, Italy); $20/750 ml, 89 points. This Italian take on a traditional Belgian style is produced with a large percentage of Garfagnana IOP spelt and wheat. It’s a spicy and nuanced selection, with delicate scents of white flowers, orange blossom, orange peel, whole coriander, clove and bread dough. The palate loses some of those nuances, with a more direct flavor profile of toasted grains and clove-spiked orange. Low carbonation and medium weight results in a smooth palate, while the finish is dry and spicy. Market St Spirits.