Saturday, August 2, 2008

5 beer styles you've never heard of: Saison

The farmlands of Wallonia (right next door to Stankonia), the French-speaking region of Belgium, are home to an incredibly refreshing beer, Saison (also referred to as a farmhouse ale). “Saison” is the French word for season, and the season that is in question is Spring. During the early weeks of spring the Belgium farmers would brew there last batches of beer because in the days before modern refrigeration ales would be impossible to brew during the summer. These beers had to sustain the farmers into the harvest season. Although now most commercial examples range from 5 to 8% abv, originally saisons were meant to be refreshing and thus had alcohol levels less than 3%. Because of the lack of potable water, saisons would give the farm hands the hydration they needed without the threat of illness.

Saisons are not as prevalent as they once were, only a few saisons are produced today. They are brewed using pale malts which lends to the light and refreshing taste. Some recipes also use wheat and the usage of botanicals such as orange peel is not unheard of. These beer were aggressively hopped as they needed to be preserved though the hot summer months. Currently, saisons are moderately hopped. These beers are usually more carbonated than other Belgium beers lending to its light peppery spritzy taste.

Saisons generally go well with a wide variety of foods from meaty dishes to spicy dishes. Saisons are truly utility players. One of my favorite pairings is a saison with a spicy thai dish. The bright spiciness of the beer really makes the spices in the food shine through.

Some fantastic Belgian examples of saisons are: Saison Dupont, Fantome Saison, and Avec Les Bons Voeux. Interestingly enough there might be more American versions of this style currently in existence. Probably my favorite saison is Hennepin which is brewed by Ommegang in Cooperstown, NY. Frequently you can find a 750ml bottle of this fine brew for about $5, which is one of the best values for your money currently on the shelves.

If you don't go out and buy a baltic porter or doppelbock I understand because those beers are not for everyone. BUT you owe it to yourself to go out and buy a saison and try it out.

Drink your saison,


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