There is a bit of romance and reward in saison. These farmhouse ales have roots in Belgium and were created as grain-forward ales with relatively low alcohol. They were brewed in colder months, fermented and then served on hot summer days. Hearty yet light, these are beers with a distinct character and often showcase a sense of place.
Many classic examples of the style can be found in Belgium and one of the most notable producers is Brasserie Dupont. Known the world over, this saison is fruity, floral, slightly funky and a little spicy.
Today, it is easier than ever to find a locally made saison in the United States, with most breweries embracing the style and eager to play with Brettanomyces and other microbes to bring a sense of wildness to the beer.
Modern brewers have also embraced the farm roots in new ways. It’s not uncommon to see hand-picked fruits, vegetables and herbs added to a saison. Often these are local to the brewery, giving a deeper sense of place. Others are working with smaller maltsters to use heritage grains, specialty malts or other flavors to put a distinct stamp on it.
While it appears that a growing number of brewers are packaging their saison in cans, most breweries will stick to glass. Not only is it a better presentation for the style but can also help the beer mature over the course of several months with secondary fermentation.
There are even a handful of American brewers who are packaging in green glass bottles. The green glass allows for a little sunlight to penetrate the beer, giving a slightly skunky aromas to the hops. In lagers and pale ales this is a flaw; in certain saisons, it’s a welcome feature.
Brewers are also using saison as a playground to help develop local yeast or house cultures, or to put oak barrels to good use in the brewery. The style is varied, some saison are aggressively hoppy or use darker malts where they almost verge into wild stout territory.
Russian River Jannemie Saison; $5/375ml, 96 points. This beer is golden straw yellow in color, with only the slightest bit of haze in the glass. The thick head of foam seems like it could last for days, if only the beer could stay that long. Offering aromas and flavors of hay, lemon pith and a soft, funky tartness, this is a saison that could easily demand full attention but is happy being in the background of a mind wandering into a favorite album or book.
Jolly Pumpkin Bam Biēre Farmhouse Ale; $11/16oz 4 pack, 94 points. A lot of little things in this beer add up to a big drinking experience. It’s a little fruity and a little funky in a gentle whiff of aged Brettanomyces. Notes of hay, grass and pepper bring this together on the dry finish, with a splash of sweet tones yielding a memorable drinking experience.
Side Project Le Saisonnier Blend #4; $20, 94 points. Whiffs of candied vanilla and oak emerge from the glass of this golden, almost orange hued ale. Clear and bright in appearance, with a low head, it offers dry but welcoming with flavors of honeycomb, crusty baked French bread and a touch of lemon peel.
Embrace the Funk The Lost Butcher; $7/375ml, 93 points. There is a softness and earthiness to this ale. Brewed with a varied grain bill that includes corn, the farm in this farmhouse ale is apparent. A full glass of this popped at the end of a long day feels like a reward.
Fair Isle The Knitting Circle Season 1.e; $24, 93 points. This beer pours a clear golden color, with a thin white head. It bursts with aromas of herbs and lime zest. Slightly lightstruck in a pleasing way that adds a rustic, country character to the ale, this was steeped with larch tips and fermented with a number of wild yeasts.
Nebraska Tarte Apricot Saison; $13, 93 points. This is a rich and lush full-bodied saison, with deep aromas of baked apricot and wheat, like a decadent pastry but without unnecessary sugar. Aged in Chardonnay barrels, the wine character is present in the background, providing a thin base of tartness, with accents of baked apple, cinnamon and vanilla as well.
Perennial Owen; $14/375ml, 92 points. With robust carbonation and the unmistakable punch of Brettanomyces, this is a farmhouse ale worthy of deep inspection. It offers pepper and leather notes in the background, backed by a pleasing lift of guava.
Yeast of Eden Foeder Brune; $21/500ml, 92 points. Smartly aged in white oak for almost a year, this woody, tannic saison has undertones of balsamic, cherry and cedar. Brewed by the Yeast of Eden project at the brewery, it’s light chestnut in color with a tan head of foam that laces the glass.
Crooked Stave Citrus Earl Grey Saison; $13/12oz 6 pack, 91 points. Soft floral and dried citrus tones settle on a tannic body, which makes sense since this beer was brewed with bergamot tea. Aromas and flavors of orange blossom emerge giving it a refreshing character. Medium carbonation makes it easy to drink along with a pleasing, slightly bitter finish.
Embrace the Funk Saison De L’Automne; $13/500ml, 91 points. Released by the brewery’s Embrace the Funk imprint, this saison feels like fall in a glass. There’s a rustic quality but still some hop brightness that evokes the final haul of a harvest. This dark golden ale is brewed with straw and red wheat.