by Nathan Hak Beer Journalist at Beerwulf.com 22 March 2020
With its summery origins, thirst-quenching properties and fruity character, the saison ties in perfectly with the end of summer and start of autumn. In recent years more and more beer lovers have bought into this unusual beer style, due to its interesting flavours yet overall accessibility. Read on for my tips on how to get immersed in the saison style!
What is a saison beer?
Saison, or occasionally referred to as farmhouse ale, originated in the French-speaking Wallonia region of Belgium. Saison is a highly carbonated pale ale, known for its dry, fruity, spicyness. It was historically brewed with low alcohol levels, but modern productions of the style have moderate to high levels of alcohol. Beyond this, the style leaves much room for interpretation.
The word ‘saison’ is practically synonymous with ‘Dupont’. The Saison Dupont is thirst-quenching with a spicy, fruity character. The aftertaste is nicely dry and the generous hopping provides notes of citrus fruit. Exactly what you can expect from a saison style icon. And a fantastic beer to enjoy in the sun!
The current Saison Dupont has been brewed since 1950 and has remained almost the same since then. But the history of Saison Dupont goes back much further, to the 18th century.
The origin of Saison Dupont
Beer brewers in the 18th century had not yet developed an effective cooling method. Summer temperatures made fermentation unreliable, so the predecessor of the current saison was brewed only in winter, and kept to drink in the summer. This style of beer is inherently seasonal - which is why it was named after the French word for ‘season’.
In order to ensure the beer was still good by the end of the summer, extra hops were added. Hops served mainly as a preservative, although this undoubtedly also added flavour. The beer was then donated to the workers on the farm as refreshment. It is sometimes called ‘farmhouse beer’ in recognition of where it was most commonly drunk.
The yeast is what gives the Saison Dupont its character. It is a very strong, hungry yeast species which really forms the soul of this beer, grown under strict control and of course stored carefully. The yeast consumes sugars in the wort, which gives the beer its typical dry aftertaste.
In addition, the temperature of main fermentation is very specific to the Saison Dupont. Normally, 21 degrees Celcius is around average for top fermented beer, but the Dupont is fermented at about 31 degrees. There are some stories of beers being fermented at temperatures as high as 37 or even 38. But at the Dupont brewery they master this trick perfectly: the high fermenting temperature is where the nice fruity, spicy aromas in the beer come from. If you have a strong sense of taste, you will also notice a slightly refreshing touch in the Saison Dupont.
Saison food pairings
Its dry, fruity and bubbly character makes the saison a good beer to have as an aperitif. It gives your tastebuds a shake up without overstimulating them.
Creamy cheese always fits well with a saison. A simple piece of brie, for example. The carbon dioxide cuts through the fat, while both the beer and the cheese have sense of earthiness to them, bringing this combination together nicely. Goat’s cheese, too, has a similar effect.
Finally, try your saison with fish: various kinds of white fish, mussels, mackerel or salmon work well as a pairing. Make sure that the intensity of your fish dish matches the beer and you can’t really go wrong. All worth a try!
Saisons aren’t for everyone, but their funky flavours and farmhouse charms aren’t to be missed if you love discovering something new. So what are you waiting for? Check out the beers at the bottom of this article and give your tastebuds an experience they won’t soon forget.
In the United States, Saison Dupont was well received, which is why there are now many American saisons. Over there, they often call it Farmhouse Ale. A good example of this is Sorachi Ace from Brooklyn Brewery. Sorachi Ace refers to the hop variety that’s used. It gives this saison delicious fruity flavours. The aftertaste is dry, but slightly less dry than with Saison Dupont.
Other European brewers have taken the lead from the American variant of the saison and made their own in the same style. The Osiris from Walhalla Craft Beer is an American-style version brewed by a Dutch brewery with spelt and oats. The Cascade hop gives Osiris fruity aromas, while the dry aftertaste fits nicely within the style, followed by a bitter kick.
A nice, fresh and accessible example is Blanco from Oersoep. Unmistakably a saison, with all the fruity and spicy properties, this one is a little more supple. A good one for Belgian white beer fans!
Try Frankendael Tramp Stamp. It’s a bit lower in alcohol than the others, which makes it a tasty and very drinkable beer. It's got lots of fruity aromas like passion fruit with sweet but refreshing sourness.
Bons Voeux, again from Dupont, is the perfect example of an intense, heavy saison. With its 9.5% ABV, along with a sweeter, more malty character, this aligns more with typical Belgian heavy Blond beers. The yeast, however, gives it the soul of a saison. A wonderful beer to enjoy all year round, but even more appropriate for celebrating the new year: “Avec les Bons Voeux” - “With the best wishes”!