by Alain Schepers Blogger at Bierista.nl
Saison - nearly extinct but thriving again thanks to Michael Jackson
You’ve had a long day. Have a break with a good beer - nothing too heavy, but with its own unique character. Have a Saison! A crisp, dry beer, substantially hopped and with spiced, fruity tones.
This description can never fully capture the essence of all Saisons, but you get the gist of it. The dry aftertaste, in particular, is characteristic of this often highly carbonated beer. What is a dry aftertaste exactly? It’s the dry mouthfeel you get due to a lack of sweetness. Sweet is actually the opposite of dry. The yeast that’s used in the Saison brewing process is so hungry that it eats almost all the sugars in the beer. This creates the distinctive dryness.
Saison originates from the Belgian region of Henegouwen (Wallonia). It was traditionally brewed in the winter months because, as we are talking about the 19th century, there was no way of artificially cooling the beer. Summer was also a busy time, with everyone working on the land, whereas in winter people had time to turn their attention to other endeavours.
The Saison was therefore originally a seasonal beer, meant to be drunk in summer. Almost every farm brewed its own Saison, which was offered as refreshment to land workers. It had to contain enough alcohol to preserve it until the end of the summer, but not too much, or the workers would be too drunk to work.
In the 20th century, the Saison became something of a rarity. Writer Michael Jackson was the one to bring this beer style back in vogue. Also known as The Beer Hunter, he fully immersed himself in the rich world of Belgian beer. Through this exploration, he discovered the delicious, thirst-quenching Saison and his enthusiasm for this almost forgotten beer style led to a surge in interest.
The Saison is also known as ‘Farmhouse Ale’ and is often thought to be the same as the French Bière de Garde. This is understandable, but it’s a misconception. Farmhouse Ale can be seen as an umbrella term which includes Saison and Bière de Garde. Saisons are usually dry, well-hopped and have fruity and herbal aromas. Bière de Gardes are much fuller, more malty and sweeter.
The Saison is now a firm favourite in the Netherlands too. Oedipus brewery from Amsterdam brews Mannenliefde, an interesting Saison. And not just due to its name, which translates as “man love”. It was the first beer the brewery launched onto the market. Mannenliefde is brewed with lemongrass and Szechuan pepper. These ingredients combine with the Sorachi Ace hop to give this fresh, dry beer with 6% alcohol its fruitiness.
Kompaan Bier in The Hague also brews Saison beers. This brewery recently won the title 2017 Best Beer in the Netherlands with its porter Bloedbroeder. But this dark beer with roasted notes wasn’t the only beer of theirs to win appreciation. The Saison Thierry Sauvage with just 4.8% alcohol also won a prize. This beer from the Kompaan series Foreign Legion is also fresh and fruity and has a funky aroma. Funky is a flavour that is difficult to describe. It's often associated with farm aromas. We admit that doesn’t sound very appetising, but once you smell it and taste it, we swear your opinion will change.
Another famous Dutch Saison is Brand Saison. It was brewed based on a recipe by Bart Engel. He won the Brand Beer Brewing Competition in 2015, which meant that his recipe would be brewed for the mass market as Brand Saison. Bird Brewery has also created a nicely balanced Saison, Datisandere Koekoek, and Bruut Brewery’s Saison is similarly well balanced.