It’s that time of year again. The sun is shining, the cherry blossoms are popping, and people are starting to take their beer drinking back to the great outdoors. So what beer styles best complement those sweaty spring and summer days? Saison’s are a great choice and last night I hosted a tasting where we explored a few examples of the style ranging from traditional Franco-Belgian interpretations to exploratory American versions.
Before I share the results here is a brief description of the style according to the BJCP:
History: A seasonal summer style produced in Wallonia, the French-speaking part of Belgium. Originally brewed at the end of the cool season to last through the warmer months before refrigeration was common. It had to be sturdy enough to last for months but not too strong to be quenching and refreshing in the summer. It is now brewed year-round in tiny, artisanal breweries whose buildings reflect their origins as farmhouses.
Overall Impression: A refreshing, medium to strong fruity/spicy ale with a distinctive yellow-orange color, highly carbonated, well hopped, and dry with a quenching acidity.
The Tasting Lineup:
Saison Dupont- (6.5%)Since 1844 this beer has been brewed in our farm-brewery during the winter time, and then undertook a second refermentation in the barrel. During the next summer, this very thirst-quenching beer was served to the “saisoniers” which were working on the fields. Surely therefore, our Saison Dupont is considered as “the classic” among the Belgian season beers! Coppery blond, the finest aromas and a strong bitterness transform this beer into a thirst-quencher with no equal, just the way it was created.
Ommegang Hennepin- (7.7%) as you pour this rich golden ale into your glass, consider your surroundings. Are you in a restaurant? Outside on the deck? Is it hot and humid? Cold and brisk? Take a drink. Feel the way Hennepin is bright and lively in your mouth with a warming mix of spicy gingersnap and citrusy hops. Refreshing. Relaxing. It’s true: no matter where you are, Hennepin is the perfect ale for all seasons.
Pretty Things Jack D’Or- (6.4%) a simple table beer, or “Saison Americain” as we’re referring to it. We are not trying to coin a beer style – we’re just having fun…our Jack D’Or starts off with North American Pils, Vienna and Malted Oats (among others) and is hopped with a combination of four hops, finishing with First Gold, Nugget and whole leaf Cascade. Fermentation-wise we use a blend of three yeast strains to give Jack D’Or its refreshingly dry character. Finally, despite all of the spicy flavours in this beer it contains no actual spices - only malt, oats, sugar, hops and yeast. One more time: there are no spices whatsoever in Jack D’Or!
St. Feuillien Saison- (6.5%) a warm golden blonde ale, is a top-fermented classique. Thanks to secondary fermentation in the bottle, Saison has an unmistakable flavour full of rich nuances and a slight tang.
Saison D’Erpe-Mere- (6.9%) a typical speciality of the province of Hainault. Straw yellow and slightly hazy, fine sparkling, strong and lasting creamy head, bitter in the nose like citrus, dry and sweet bitter in the mouth, long gradually spreading bitter aftertaste.
Cigar City Guava Grove- (8%)is a Belgian ale that sees a secondary fermentation with and extended aging on Guava puree. The complex flavors imparted by both the Belgian yeast strain and the Guava are unlike anything you are likely to have encountered. This is an elegant beer that pairs well with white fish, mussels, fresh tropical fruits and earthy cheeses. It also makes a fine accompaniment to Guavaween festivities.
Goose Island Pepe Nero- (6%)With an aroma of roasted chestnuts and a mysteriously dark, mahogany hue, Pepe Nero is a farmhouse ale brewed with black peppercorns. His roasty sweetness melds into a lingering, earthy, black pepper finish that is ideal for pairing with grilled meats and roasted vegetables.
Jolly Pumpkin Bam Noire- (4.5%)an artisan farmhouse ale that is golden, naturally cloudy, bottle conditioned and dry hopped for a perfectly refreshing balance of spicy malts, hops and yeast.
“Um…is this really a Saison?” Division:
Cigar City Guava Grove- good beer…but it is not really a saison. Its acidic, its funky, its made with a guava puree. If you like Wild Ale’s and Lambic’s definitely give this one a try.
Goose Island Pepe Nero- way darker than all the rest since it was made with black malts. It also has more of a nutty roasty flavor and in my mind did not really fit the description of a saison. Probably more of a Belgian Specialty Ale.
“This is good…but what else do we have?” Division:
St. Feuillien Saison- lots of pilsner malt…subtle spice…subtle citrus.
Saison Dupont- why the green bottles? Classic example of the style…very good.
“Fill it up again!” Division:
Saison D’Erpe-Mere- my favorite of the traditional Belgian saisons. Great blonde color, citrus, very refreshing.
Jolly Pumpkin Bam Noire- delicious, crisp, refreshing…low ABV…a subtle funk finish…what more do you need on a hot day?
Pretty Things Jack D’Or- wow…this is different…this is hoppy…but it also maintains all the characteristics of a saison. Well done America!
Ommegang Hennepin- I love this beer…and not just because it’s everywhere in NYC. It’s more traditional in style…yet has a bit of the New World edge…a little sweeter…a little livelier…delicious!