Saisons were the farm worker’s staple in the Wallonia region of Belgium during the 19th century, which explains the beer’s association with warm, sunny weather. Though they’re now available year-round, these bright, well carbonated and lightly lemony brews taste especially refreshing in the dog days of summer. Of course, contemporary brewers aren’t all going to brew standard saisons. (Even Brasserie Dupont makes a dry-hopped version of its venerable saison.) The style’s dry, clean finish makes it an open canvas for additional fruit and herb flavors, as well as time in a barrel—provided it doesn’t lose those beautiful bubbles. Here are six spins on saisons that will serve you well into the start of fall:
Alpha Apricotta: The St. Louis brewery released this beer in June to celebrate its second anniversary; befitting an anniversary, the saison’s aged for seven months in rosé barrels from Pisoni Winery. It’s been fermented with a chardonnay yeast as well as four bushels of Missouri-grown apricots, lending a haylike funk, some white wine notes and fleshy apricot aroma. The sip is tart, like an unconventional white wine, with a pleasantly weighted mouthfeel. The rosé barrel’s woodiness helps dry out the finish.
Upslope Blood Orange Saison: Available in six packs starting Sept. 15, the newest beer in Upslope’s Limited Release series is brewed with blood orange juice, pink peppercorns and Mandarina Bavaria hops, which impart a tangerine and citrus aroma. The blood orange reads more like grapefruit flavor, which could appease hop heads whose preferences lean Cascade, before lively carbonation and a dry finish wrap up the lemony-citrus sip.
River North Cabernet Barrel J. Marie: J. Marie is one of the Denver brewery’s most versatile beers, lending itself to numerous barrel-aged versions throughout the past few years. This cabernet sauvignon barrel-aged version, released in late May, logically was the darkest of the saisons featured here, pouring the color of a freshly minted penny. There’s much to savor in the aroma: tannic grapeskin, spicy peppercorns, purple grape flesh and a sneaky alcohol prickle from the beer’s 8.3 percent ABV. More purple grape juice and black currant flavors lead the sip, with young red wine fruitiness emerging at the middle. Wine tannins and the saison’s inherent dryness team up for a super clean swallow.
Cigar City Cucumber Saison: Florida heat may have inspired this super refreshing saison, which leaps out of the glass with fresh cucumber aromas reminiscent of spa water or a cucumber tea sandwich. It’s hard to find the beer in the aroma, but it’s there in the sip: the saison’s spicy white peppercorn peeks through the sweet cucumber, buoyed by bright carbonation. If temperatures are still in the 90s where you live, this is the beer to grab from the fridge.
Ecliptic Aurora Crimson Saison: Portland, Ore.’s Ecliptic Brewing released this rhubarb saison in July, making use of a vegetable most people know only in its coupling with strawberry, or perhaps as a pie ingredient. Here, it lends a lightly ruby hue as well as some floral, earthy notes that are underscored by a restrained addition of spicy/herbal Sterling hops. The base saison really comes through on the sip, with just a bit of roselike bitterness from the rhubarb. Kudos to the brewers for not letting this very bitter addition overwhelm such a delicate, pretty beer.
Crooked Stave Colorado Sage Wild Saison: Denver’s resident Brettanomyces-wrangling brewery, Crooked Stave, puts the yeast to use in this white sage and lemongrass-spiked saison. The herbs figure prominently in the aroma, underlined by Brett’s musty book calling card. Sage arrives on the tongue first, with sweet-tart lemon peel riding beautiful bubbles that flit across the tongue. Brett provides the muscle here, making this (technically) more of a wild ale, but the lemongrass and peppery sage evoke a saison’s spirit.