Let the Spicy, Complex Saison Light Up Your Spring

 

By: Christine Terrisse

 

This year, let your spring and summer plein air dreams center around the saison; a broad Belgian farmhouse style of beer.

Part of what defines this traditionally brewed-in-the-winter, consumed-in-the summer style is a certain “anything goes” element. It is a throwback to the bygone days when farmers had to improvise with what they had on hand. Award-winning brewmaster Phil Markowski, who wrote an entire book exploring European farmhouse ales, acknowledges saisons can be hard to define. He nonetheless pulls out a few unifying qualities that distinguish this increasingly popular style of ale now available year-round:

 

Complex with fruit and spice driven aromas

Whether due to the yeast strain used or the addition of spices and botanicals, saisons have a lower phenol character that allows subtle aromas of fruit, spice, and sour to come through.

Dry finish

Although fruity and spicy, with a frothy head when poured, the saison has a noticeably dry, some say even peppery mouthfeel.

Hopped for aromatics

Hopped more than other styles of Belgian ales, saison hops are selected more for their aromatic rather than bitter qualities.

That mysterious “earthiness”

Terroir: just as in wine, terroir refers to the concept that beer tastes like the geography and climate it comes from—like the soil its hops grow in. Most saisons are bottle conditioned and topped with a cork, and some are barrel aged; all which can further enhance its earthy, rustic taste.

 

The overall result is a refreshing beer with a high-flavor profile. A type of beer not overly dominated by any one element, it makes an excellent food pairing choice. Its acidic qualities cut through the saltiness of meat and cheese while its earthy elements add dimension to lighter fare, seafood, and salads.

Rachel is my CiceroneⓇ Certified server at the Belgian forward Ladyface Ale Companie. She says the brewery’s soon-to-be-released summer Chaparral Saison is “…a really complex beer and it lives well with a lot of the food varieties that we have. It comes out strong which is the yeast and spicy notes, but Dave [brewmaster] likes to use local honey in it as well to give a little bit of sweetness . . . every year it’s a little bit different. When asked about pairing she purports their Chaparral “. . . stands up so well to so many different foods that we have in our menu that it’s been really popular, and it’s always been a hit every summer.”

I silently nod, making plans for a return summer visit as I chase the last ridiculously rich mouthful of French onion soup down with their house Trois Filles Tripel.

 

Three to try:

Forêt by Brasserie Dupont 7.5% ABV-An award-winning organic Belgian from the same brewery that made saisons internationally famous. I found it to have a strong grassy, woodsy taste in line with its name.

Allagash Saison 6.1% ABV A commendably straightforward version. I definitely picked up on the spice notes.

Firestone Opal 7.5% ABV For the IPA lover. I picked up the slightly bitter hops a little better in this well-balanced dry-hopped version.