Saison is an ale style of beer that originated in southern Belgium. Also called "farmhouse ale," it's a rustic beer that, unlike other styles, is open to the brewer's interpretation. Saisons often use wild, top-fermenting yeast and a variety of local ingredients, including various grains. Refreshing and moderate in alcohol, these brews can range from light to dark, taste malty or hoppy, and are often noted for fruity or spicy characteristics, as well as a low bitterness. Artisanal breweries in Belgium continue to specialize in saison, and it's a popular style among American craft brewers.
- ABV: 4.4–8.4%
- Bitterness: 25–45 IBU
- Color: 5–7 SRM
What Is the Difference Between Saison and Session Beer?
Though the two words appear to be similar, there is a distinct difference between saison and session beers. Saison is a specific style of Belgian beer, and "session" beers can be of any style. Generally, a session (or "lawnmower") beer has a low alcohol content of no more than 4 percent or 5 percent ABV, so you can drink a few without feeling too much of an impact. They're typically light-bodied beers that are very refreshing and considered easy drinkers.
Saison is French for "season." The French-speaking area around Wallonia, Belgium is the birthplace of the style. It was originally produced in the winter to be enjoyed by farmhands through the summer and last until harvest. These seasonal beers tend to have a rustic flavor profile, which stems from their origin as farmhouse ales that varied from one brewer to the next and used the ingredients available. Originally a low-alcohol beer that would be considered sessionable, many modern saisons range from 6 percent to 8 percent ABV.
Saison is full of complexity. A soft malt character contributed by the pilsner malt supports spicy and fruity flavors resulting from the yeast and adjuncts. Though the hop's presence is pronounced it's not overwhelming. The acidic sourness, high carbonation, and a typical dry finish contribute to a complex and very satisfying brew.
To many beer experts, saison is just one style of farmhouse ale. They would include other rustic, artisanal European beers (bière de garde of France, for example) in the "farmhouse" family. In the U.S., farmhouse ale is often seen as a synonym for saison, possibly because it is the best known of the European farmhouse styles.
- Saison: Europe
- Farmhouse Ale: United States
Up until the 1980s, saison was regularly referred to as a "dying style." Always brewed by small breweries in southern Belgium, the U.S.-based craft brewing scene helped revive it worldwide. It has also expanded from a summer seasonal into a beer to that's brewed and enjoyed year-round.
As with many Belgian styles, almost anything you fancy can go into a saison, and consistency between different brewers is not expected. Saison Dupont Vieille Provision is often noted as the beer that defines this unique and distinctive style.
Most saisons are based on pilsner malt with adjuncts, such as herbs, honey, fruits, and spices. The style contains a bit more hops than other Belgian styles; Noble, Styrian, or East Kent Goldings are common. It is also sometimes dry-hopped. It uses an ale yeast that contributes lots of flavors. This is often enhanced with a sour mash or Lactobacillus to add some acidity to the beer.
Craft brewers enjoy the freedom of the saison style. They interpret it in a variety of ways, from wild yeasts suited to the local climate to old or unusual equipment with rustic charm. Some even describe saison as less of a "style" and more of a "philosophy" that allows the brewer to experiment endlessly. This offers drinkers a great variety of well-crafted ales to explore. Though most share Belgian saison characteristics, there's always something new to discover.
How to Serve Saison
Best between 45 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit, saison is often served in a tulip-shaped glass that accents the intriguing aromas. The glass may be stemmed or similar to a tall pint.
Saison is a yeasty beer, and the residual yeast produces a cloudy beer. Some brewers and drinkers prefer to pour saison so it doesn't disrupt the yeast layer, resulting in a clearer beer in the glass. To do this, pour slowly and stop before emptying the bottle completely. If your personal preference is for a cloudy beer, pour some or all of the remaining yeast.
Given its complexity, it's easy to think that saison might be a fickle beer for food pairing. Actually, the opposite is true. With so much going on in the aroma and flavor of a good saison, it can complement almost any dish, with the exception of the most delicate foods.
Saison's fruity and spicy notes can lift a simple barbecue to angelic heights. The spicy and peppery notes will really enhance the flavors of any hot or peppery dish. It can transform something as simple as sausage and soft cheeses like brie. Saison is also an excellent choice for shellfish and many types of seafood, particularly mussels.
Each bottle of saison offers exciting possibilities. While the offerings continually evolve and expand, there are some tried and true brands that are an excellent introduction to the style.
- Blaugies La Moneuse
- Boulevard Brewing Tank 7
- Brasserie a Vapeur Saison de Pipaix
- Brasserie Dupont Avril
- Funkwerks Saison
- Goose Island Sofie
- Ommegang Hennepin
- Oxbow Farmhouse Pale Ale
- Prairie Ale
- Saison Dupont Vieille Provision