What Makes a Saison a Saison?

Emily Hutto set out on a quest to find out how craft-beer brewers across the country defined “saison.” Here’s what she found.

Polling craft-beer artisans about what makes a saison a saison, I received diverse responses, to say the least. Dann Paquette of Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project talked about sessionable English ales; Ryan Greenhagen of Mystic Brewing discussed local ingredients; Jason Yester of Trinity Brewing showed me paintings by impressionist artists; Gordon Schuck of Funkwerks elaborated on the aromatic possibilities of Opal hops; Ron Extract of Jester King Brewery quoted Yvan De Baets; and Chase Healey of Prairie Artisan Ales talked about the weather. In their varied approaches to saison, these brewers demonstrate just how versatile the style is. They’ve led me to the conclusion that a saison is whatever you make it be. Here’s how each of them has made the style his own.

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Erfolgsfans (889)

VON SEBASTIAN DALKOWSKI

Beinahe hätte ich mich bei meinem Verein für eine großartige Saison bedankt. Zum ersten Mal seit 28 Jahren wieder für den wichtigsten europäischen Vereinswettbewerb qualifiziert zu sein, löste recht viel Freude in mir aus. Freude war etwas, das der Verein sonst nur recht punktuell verursachte.

Dann aber ließ ich mir die Saison nochmals durch den Kopf gehen und hielt Dankbarkeit plötzlich für unangemessen.

Nicht einmal hatte mich die Mannschaft existenziell zittern lassen. Mit dem Abstieg hatte sie ab Spieltag 1 nichts zu tun. Dass es für den Europapokal reichen würde, stand schon fest, da war nicht einmal der Schnee geschmolzen. Und weil das Team einfach alle Spiele gewann, sogar gegen Rekordmeister und Werksmannschaften, war das leichte Zittern nur noch eine Gewohnheit aus alten Tagen.

Ich sah einen Krimi, bei dem nach zehn Minuten der Täter überführt war. Ich fuhr auf der Achterbahn einfach immer nur nach oben. Ob Ihr in der nächsten Saison wenigstens einmal in Rückstand geraten könntet?

2

Stone “Saison”

86 B+


Stone decided to join the Farmhouse bandwagon with this new Saison, available Spring through Summer. Some additional ingredients were added to the brew, including lemon peel, lemon thyme, and lavender grown at Stone Gardens. Aromas carry that distinct floral nature of Belgian yeast, then push even further into herbal notes provided by the lemon thyme and lavender. Malts smell freshly ground with a bready character. Hops bring a pronounced impact from the lemon peel, held above grassy undertones. Further interest comes in a hint of mango, ginger, and black pepper.


The palate starts out with a quick honey sweetness, then grows sour as bright citrus highlights give an impression of orange oil and lemon verbena. Further fruitiness tastes like apple and white grape. As hops begin to fill the middle register, herbal elements emerge as sage, thyme, and grass. Bitterness steps on the back, releasing some IPA qualities in the form of rosemary, pine needles, and grapefruit peel. A sharp bite of black pepper marks the climax, then bready malts finally say goodbye. The mouthfeel is lively with effervescent carbonation, reaching a crisp peak that leaves dry. A decent amount of residual hop oils are left clinging.


Their approach is undeniably West Coast, but there are at least some connections to the source. This is just a little too hoppy for a Saison, so it comes across more like a spiced-up Belgian IPA. In terms of flavor, malts provide consistent support until the end. I appreciate how the sweetness is proportionate to bitterness, then sourness outshines all the rest. It’s a fusion with some interesting novelty. I might try it once again, because it does taste pretty good, but I’m not impressed.


$9.76 / 6-pack

6.0%

45 IBU

Escondido, California

Saison Rue (The Bruery)

Brewery : The Bruery
Beer : Saison Rue
Style : Saison / Farmhouse Ale
Variance : Brewed with Rye and Brettanomyces

8.5 / 10

Have I ever told you that I love The Bruery? No? Well I fucking love The Bruery. Honestly if it wasn’t for the fact that I have to re-mortgage my house to be able to afford some of their beers, I’d probably drink them everyday. This beer has a great initial sweetness with those classic Old McDonald flavors (not those shitty burgers) but the brett adds a slight funk to this that is a welcome change up to the standard style. The sweetness is the most forefront flavor here like a Nicholas Sparks book but every once and a while you just need to treat your sweet tooth to a hot kiss in the rain (why do I know that movie so well?). Ok, so at this point you should have left your house already to grab a bottle of this but for some reason you are still reading so… Highly recommended to saison lovers and a great entry to those virgins out there. Not the best from The Bruery but a delicious brew none the less.

Written by: Steve B.

2

Sour Saison

Last week, I found my fridge looking pretty bare, so I popped into Tin Bucket to remedy the situation. I haven’t been in a proper beer store in some time. Our local grocers have a pretty nice selection, but they carry only the most widely available breweries. I was on the look out for stuff I don’t see often and beers that are fairly new to Oregon. like this bottle from Denver’s oak and wild yeast obsessed Crooked Stave.

Surette is a pale golden ale fermented in oak foeders which house a variety of wild organisms. Despite plenty of time for secondary fermentation, the bottle poured virtually flat with a thin wisp of a head. Not a great start. The flavor was dominated by lactic acid, tart and crisp. It’s not super sour, but I didn’t taste much else. Maybe some hints of phenol or some notes of oak, but really it tasted more like a sour ale than a saison.

Over on their blog, Boak and Bailey have been taste testing saisons in a tournament of sorts. I was intrigued by the constant comparison they make between saison and geuze. I’ve always seen them as completely different styles. Saison may be clean or have hints of earthy wild yeast. Geuze has a puckering acidity as well as more leathery wild yeast character. But with a beer like Surette, I can see where they are coming from. There is a definite overlap here.

2

Funkwerks “Saison”

94 A-


Funkwerks Saison (Farmhouse Ale) is brewed using their unique, proprietary Belgian yeast strain. This is probably their ‘flagship’ brew. I’d like to thank Keith in Boulder, Colorado for his personal donation of this bottle. Aromas are predominantly fruity like a mix of cantaloupe, tangerine, and pear. Malts are bready with hints of hay, floral hops like honeysuckle, highlights of lemon, and yeasty phenols bringing out black pepper with a dash of clove.


The palate makes a fruity introduction with suggestions of white grapes and star fruit. A sour note like green apple quickly rises from behind, resting on an undercarriage of crisp cereal grains. By mid-palate, hops begin to rise into a bouquet of floral flavors, anchored down by gentle grassy bitterness. Bready malts counterbalance with moderate sweetness. Nearing the finish, that original sour note continues to rise into a bright note of lemon zest. The mouthfeel begins with tongue-tickling carbonation that surges into a smooth body, leaving dry and thirsty.


This was a great choice, Keith! Altogether, I find this incredibly well-balanced, easy to drink, and generally very agreeable. Sourness ends up being the dominant point on the palate, followed by sweet, then bitter. Yeast isn’t super funky. I feel like this captures the classic element of the Saison with harmony and grace. What’s not to like? I recommend it.


6.8%

? IBU

Fort Collins, Colorado

3

Adventures in (tasting other peoples) homebrew: Part two

Just look at how pretty those beers are, srsly peeps, ain’t they beautiful? The Most Awesome Jon (his official title no less) at brewshack​ sent me a bottle of each of his three varieties of recent fruit saisons, and last weekend I oiled up and got stuck in.

From top to bottom there’s blackberry, pear, and raspberry, and all were full of fruity, yeasty, goodness, with the raspberry saison the showstopper thanks to huge juicy and tart raspberry flavours, a nice yeastiness, and a lingering dryness. Just lovely. And really rather pretty.

Cheers, Jon. You da man.

2

Five Years Later

Our fifth anniversary is a week away. Sarah and I have been married nearly five years. We’re supposed to give each other gifts made of wood. That’s what wikipedia says. Wood or silverware. I have no ideas. But I do have a few bottles of the Upright Anniversary Saison

For their fifth anniversary, the team at Upright used every trick i their book to infuse a beer with as much flavor as possible. They used fruit, barrel aging – both gin and wine barrels, wild yeast, and blending to make a saison of incredible depth.

After sitting in the bottle a year, this beer is even better than it started. The scent is all lemony and fresh. The big, rocky head and creamy body are evidence of the slow maturation of wild yeast. It tastes like orange juice. It taste like orange juice muddled with lemongrass and gin. It’s both sour and bitter. First, a snappy bite of acid followed by a bitter center, like sucking on a cherry pit. Oh, and the Brettanomyces adds a subtle funky background.

This Anniversary Saison is super complex, but perfectly balanced. 

2

Southampton “Saison Deluxe”

92 A-


This Saison should be available year-round in 22 oz. bombers. Aromas are predominantly fruity with a resemblance to pear, apricot, orange, and white wine. Yeast give hints of spice, such as clove and coriander, along with just the right amount of Belgian funk. The sweetness comes across as a confectioners sugar wafer.


The palate starts out a tad sour with a flavor akin to lemonade, then shifts more toward orange as sweetness descends. A vast body of fruit bursts through with evident suggestions of pear, peach, and banana. The yeast promotes a particular character of spice that accumulates on the back-end, which like the nose, centers around clove and coriander. Hops give an impression of earth and grass, then a final flavor similar to white grape juice emerges for the aftertaste. Alcohol provides some inviting esters, which actually contribute to some of the fruity flavors, but also bring along an edge of warmth that muddles up the crispness I expect from this style. The mouthfeel is generally quite creamy with lively carbonation over a medium-full body that dries slightly as the finish approaches.


In terms of style, the malt weight is above-average, and the alcohol comes through with clarity despite being a lowly 7.4%. I’m not necessarily bothered by either, but both qualities make this stylistically uncharacteristic. In terms of flavor, the sour element balances perfectly to the sweetness, and frail bitterness upholds support from below. I feel this has just the right amount of fruit to complement a proportional degree of spice. All in all, it’s been a unique, enjoyable drink, but this doesn’t embody the style in its most classical distinction. Instead, I find a complex rendition with a surprising amount of depth. Thanks for the trade, Kirby! I recommend it to those who prefer Belgians.


7.4%

? IBU

Southampton, New York