Real Quick! History time! First of all, these are Belgian beers-which means they are inclined to be pretty crazy. Belgian-Farmhouse Ales to be specific, not like the Trappist beers that are brewed by monks. These beers were made by farmers in the southern, French speaking region of Belgium, known as Wallonia. Hint-Saison is French for "season". As Phil Markowski tells us in Farmhouse Ales, they "were brewed at the beginning of winter in a farmhouse brewery in order to quench the thirst of the farmhands who worked the fields in the summer." This is pretty much the standard of brewing practices before refrigeration. High fermentation temperatures (above 70F) usually spells disaster for beers...EXCEPT Saison-which can get up to 95F. What is interesting is that Markowski notes each brewer pretty much had a different recipe. Basically, they had to be robust enough to handle extended aging, but refreshing and light enough to not get farmers piss-drunk while they were working. Remember kids, water was pretty dicey hundreds of years ago.
Long story short, the style almost died out (much like how Witbier-Belgium's awesome wheat beer...Blue Moon anybody?-almost did until the 1950s) but was rescued recently. Read Michael-Beer Hunter-Jackson's (hee-he!) website to relive the scarcity of these beers. What's interesting is that each saison that you try is different. Its ALMOST like brewers now-a-days understand the history of the little farmhouse locals that each were brewed according to the imagination, ability, and desires of each farm brewer. That can also be frustrating for in-the-box drinkers, that is people who expect the same beer every time they have a certain style. A perfect example is Boulevard brewing company in Kansas City. In their Smokestack Series they had a Sasion and a Farmhouse Ale-the mighty TANK 7. Essentially, they are the same style...Farmhouse. But they are two way different beers. The former, which has been retired, is cloudy orange in color, deliciously dry, but still has hints of sweet maltiness. Its peppery and citrusy. Awesome! The latter is even more crisp & dry, clear, sometimes, golden and very hoppy. Both of these are patterned after actual Belgian Saisons. The Saison is pretty much the hoppiest Belgian beer you're gonna find. Both of these, like the original Belgians, pour a crazy looking head that looks like soft, bubbly clouds. Every time I pour one, I want to jump right in and nestle. Nestle. See:
So if you get a Belgian one, what are you in for? The Belgians still have the craziest Saisons. The pre-eminient Saison is Saison Dupont. Its straight forward saison-having only Pilsener malt and hops in it's make up, the wild flavors come from the yeast. Its orange in color, has a rich, dense head, pepper & slight citrus and dry as a damn bone. Careful, it can also be a bit skunky, thanks to the green bottles. That company also makes an organic version (Foret) which has a heavier mouthfeel and more of a bier de garde nose-fruity and sweet malt. These are also pretty easy to find. Shit. I can find them in Branson, MO...
If you get a few under your belt and you are loving them, then try any of the beers by the brewery Fantome. This brewery is known for throwing in whatever the hell they feel like in their beers-spices, herbs, fruit juices, and flowers. For Markowski, Fanotme "embodies the unbridled spirit of brewing saison...". These beers have a bit of Brettanomyces in them. Brett is a "wild" type of yeast that produces the distinct "farmhouse" notes. When you get a beer with Brett, you will know it. They are very dry, slightly tart/acidic/sour whatever you wanna call it, have smells of wet wool, hay, or anything remotely barnyard. Now I know that sounds kind of crazy, but you just gotta trust me and go with it. If you like things remotely sour, you gotta try these beers. Boulevard also has a Saison-Brett in their Smokestack Series. It is truly a beer not to miss.
What is awesome about the variety of Saison is the versatility. Its unbelievably tasty during hot days and will pair with pretty much every single food, one exception being marinara sauce dishes-but honestly, I haven't enjoyed a beer with any red sauce really. One thing that it goes exceptionally well with is Goat Cheese. I think my favorite beer and food moment came at a friends classy BBQ where they were serving goat-brie soft cheese. The lady and I had that with Great Divide's amazing Colette. The high carbonation makes Saison clear your palate of anything fatty and rich-hince its refreshing-ness. Unfortunately this beer isn't available until April. You better believe I'm ordering some in bulk my babies. Any other food that has herbs, spices, citrus notes, is fat or rich, Saison will absolutely love. Do roasted chickens, salmon salads, shrimp, any spinach salad, BBQ, WHATEVER.
So I've mentioned a few different Saisons thus far. Dupont is the standby and a must try, but if you can find the organic Foret it might be an easier drink for beginners. I used to find it really nice, but after having the two back to back I prefer the dryness of the original Dupont. Fantome is also a must. From there, any other Saison will make sense. As mentioned, the Colette is a great Saison/Farmhouse ale and more like Dupont and Tank 7 in its simplicity. If you can find Jolly Pumpkin's Bam Biere, give that a whirl. Its more like the Fantome in that it has a nice sourness. One should also note that you don't have to pour the ENTIRE bottle into your glass. Almost ALL of these are bottle conditioned, meaning that some yeast is added back into the bottle after primary fermentation. This gives the beer a little more unique character. It also adds yeast into the bottle. So pretty much any bottle that says "bottle conditioned"means that you don't have to pour the whole thing into your glass-an exception would be Hefeweizen...ANYWAYS. Ommegang's Hennepin isn't a bad option, but it just doesn't float my boat like Tank 7 or Colette.
I've been brewing up a storm on Saisons. I could go on, but my stories are on... and last time, the post got quite a bit long. So, I'll leave it for another day. Cheers and go get yourself some Saison!
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