Saisons aren’t the first style you’d think to cellar. But among our shelves of lambics and barrel-aged imperial stouts, we’ve stashed a few bottles of the higher-ABV versions of these farmhouse ales just to see what happens over time. Experiments in aging saisons are normally just that, experimental. Some of the more delicate versions lose their citrusy or spicy flavors, while bottle-conditioned versions can mature into something complex and beautiful. Which would we find from our three-year-old (almost to the month) bottle of Dock Street’s Super Saison?
Its 10.3% ABV made it a good candidate for a three-year lay-down, but we worried that the beer’s earthy English hops might have completely lost their luster. We weren’t far off: Pouring an almost burnt orange color, this beer was far from the golden, bubbly saisons you’d drink fresh from a tap. On the nose, we detected some sweet malt, plus a faint and generic citrus aroma in the background. Flavor-wise, we were happy to find that the yeast still contributed some peppery qualities, though the malts had amplified and turned more caramel-like. The hops were barely detectable, but a bit of hop bitterness combined with the saison yeast did give it a peppery, spicy amber character. Alcohol had smoothed out and was just a bit peppery, augmenting peppercorn notes, though it was still clear that this was once a pretty big beer.
So what did we learn? Alcohol level isn’t the only factor to consider when aging beers, obviously. Hop flavor can be important to the beer’s overall character and the potential maturation of a particular yeast strain also needs to be taken into account. That means that styles like saisons will always be something of a cellar crap shoot. In the case of the Dock Street Super Saison, we ended up with a complex, unexpected beer that wasn’t true to its original style per se, but wasn’t unpleasant for it.