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The wide world of saisons: 12 to sip

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The first time I tried a saison was in 2006, when I ordered a 750-mL bottle of Saison Dupont; I was hooked at the first sip, and by the time I was halfway through, I was convinced I had singularly made the next incredible beer discovery. Why wasn’t anyone talking about this bright, effervescent beer, and where could I get more? As it turned out, Belgian farm workers have been sipping saisons in Wallonia since at least the 19th century, though not necessarily the same lemony, gingery, dry and happily carbonated form I had fallen for. Saisons of old were more of a beer concept than style, changing from farm to farm with variant grain bills and ingredients, but united by the region’s peppery saison yeast. The modern saison—crystalized by Saison Dupont—came to be known for bright lemon, dried hay and black pepper. But now, American brewers are reexamining the style’s anything-goes origins, coloring their saisons with Old World specialty grains that might have been and modern ingredients that probably never were. Though they’re no longer fit for the workplace (unless, of course, you work in our office!), these new imaginings are still a refreshing reward after a day toiling away in the modern cubicle. –Erika Rietz

Almanac Honey Saison: Bay Area wildflower honey and ginger root transform a classic saison’s dry finish with lip-smacking floral sweetness and a playful ginger kick.

Prairie Artisan Prairie Ale: Three types of yeast—saison, wine and Brettanomyces—zip black pepper, horseblanket, lemon and tangerine through the sip and ferment the beer to a bone-dry finish.

Lavery Imperial French-Style Farmhouse Ale: Forget fueling farmhands; this beer’s for after hours: With a whopping 82 IBUs and 11.5% ABV, its piney, minty hops and drying, warming glow pack a punch.

Goose Island Pepe Nero: The dark side of saison, Pepe breaks tradition with brooding roasted malts and black peppercorns, which layer deep nutty tones, hints of char and sharp pepper spice over sweet plum and bubblegum notes.

Stillwater Classique: A pre-Prohibition pilsner (think your grandfather’s lager) fermented with classic saison yeast becomes this hybrid ale that floats over the tongue with feathery soft bread, earthy pepper and mellow orange.

Hill Farmstead Phenomenology of Spirit: This spontaneously fermented black saison is a wild ride that begins with barnyard funk, puckering lemon and sweet plum, and ends with ginlike juniper and a dry, lactic bite.

Lift Bridge Farm Girl Saison: Seville orange peel lends this peppery, highly quaffable saison floral orange blossom notes and dry, prickly brightness.

Trinity Oh Face: Smooth, floral French oak ties together grainy spelt, sharp rye, chewy oats, funky Brettanomyces, perfumy lavender and peppery saison yeast into a complex, earthy profile that morphs with each wild sip.

Dogfish Head Noble Rot: Fermented with two varietals of white grape juice, this saison’s peppery, wheaty base neatly adopts sweet-and-fruity raw grape tones before a refreshingly tart finish caps off the swallow.

Cambridge Sgt. Pepper Farmhouse Ale: Brewed with four types of peppercorns (count ’em: black, green, white and pink) and a dose of rye, this spritzy beer transitions from honey-kissed jasmine up front to assertive, peppery heat in the back.

ON DRAFT: Hit the East Coast for saison spigots: Swing by Brooklyn Brewery for a pint of its session saison Radius, an approachable 4.8%-ABV brew that pairs floral hops with citrusy, peppery yeast. In Jersey, Kane Cloud Cover saison blends Old World grains (red wheat, oats and rye) with modern lemony Sorachi Ace hops.

 

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