Saison beer is a famous Belgian-style, thirst-quenching beer from the Wallonia region, a small French-speaking area of Belgium. It was traditionally brewed solely during the winter months when farmworkers had less work in the fields and the beer can be left to ferment and mature for an extended period, making it suitable for the spring and summer months.
Do not confuse the Saison beer with seasonal beers as these are not beers that are brewed during a particular season or festive period like Christmas Ale. Let us dive into the world of Saison in this comprehensive guide.
What Is a Saison Beer?
Saison beer is a Belgian-style beer that features spicy, citrus fruit and “Belgian” ester flavors with a characteristically dry finish and is brewed with plenty of hops and seasonal yeast. The beers are unfiltered, which gives them a hazy appearance topped with heavy and sticky foam.
The word Saison refers to “season” in French. The beer was initially created as a refreshing drink for farmers during the hot summers. It is a medium alcoholic, amber-colored top-fermented beer. Traditionally, the alcohol percentage is between 2-3, but modern Saison beers have ABV up to 7 percent.
Saison beers, which were exclusively produced at particular times of the year, are now manufactured and available year-round.
– History of Saison Beer
Although it’s hard to pinpoint when the Saison style beer first appeared, the beer was produced by farms in the town of Wallonia as early as the 17th century. It was initially prepared to be consumed by farm workers after daily field activities at the end of the day.
Most breweries were part of local farms in Wallonia. The beers were made from ingredients (such as grains) sourced from the previous harvest of local farms, thus the name farmhouse ale. The alcohol content was mild to refresh and fuel farmworkers without intoxicating them.
In the winter, these breweries made light alcoholic beers. To remove as much sugar as possible, they allowed it to ferment for an extended time. There were a lot of hops added to keep the beer fresh until the summer, and hops were used as a natural preservative because there were no freezers available at the time.
Workers were allowed to carry the beer when they went out to the field. During the harvest season, field workers were allowed to consume a maximum of five liters of Saison beer daily, and the beers were even part of their pay!
The following winter, a considerable portion of the harvest was used to make new beer. As a result, the beer was dubbed ‘Saison’ since it crossed the seasons.
– Saison Beer Through the Years
This beer was on the verge of being lost until it saw a rise in popularity in the US. The Americans reworked and reproduced the Saison beers in a variety of ways. Nowadays, local breweries in the US have their own versions of Saison ale.
The Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) Style Committee established the guidelines and characteristics of Saison beers.
Saison beers can range from light golden yellow to dark amber orange. But often, you will find them in pale orange. They are cloudy with long-lasting heads. As the beers do not go through filtration, they are usually not very clear.
The malt flavors in a traditional Saison beer are very light, but you can enjoy the fruity aromas of lemon and orange. Aromatically, hops can impart a mild peppery or flowery flavor. Notes of herbs, spices and alcohol aromas are also present, depending on local breweries’ recipes.
Many of the current versions of this historic beer exhibit an increased alcohol content and the use of spices.
The Saison beer’s high carbonation and bubbly character impart a light to medium mouthfeel. It leaves you with a mild refreshing sensation. You can also feel a mild to moderate bitterness while gulping down the beer, but there will be enough peppery acidity to counteract the dry finish.
The taste of Saison beers varies from region to region. Most often, you can find a combination of spicy and fruity flavors. Their bodies are often earthy and malty-sweet in taste, and the yeast used during the brewing process plays an essential role in giving the beer a spicy flavor.
The dry and peppery aftertaste of the beers results from using water rich in sulfates along with high carbonation and strong attenuation.
The hops in a Saison beer are mild, and the flavor is fruity. There is a noticeable presence of citrus flavor and mild herbs and spices. All these characteristics make the beer suitable for any food, but Saison beer tastes the best when served with:
- Seafood: Fish, mackerel and mussels go particularly well with Saison. Try a light fish with lemon while sipping your favorite Saison beer.
- Meat: A slice of grilled red meat goes well with this Belgian-style Saison beer. Try a steak coated with cracked pepper, and you’ll never forget the additional oomph it provides.
- Goat cheese: A lightly aged goat cheese pairs well with this beer’s mild yet flavorful aroma.
Saison is a food-friendly ale that may be paired with many different foods. Just try any of your favorite dishes with Saison beer – it will never go wrong!
How To Serve a Saison Beer?
A Saison beer is best served in temperatures ranging from 45 to 55 F in a tulip-shaped glass.
If you are in a hurry, drink it straight from the bottle. Some may pour the Saison into a glass so that the yeast layer is not disrupted, resulting in a clearer beer. Pour slowly and do not empty the bottle into the glass.
Which Are the Finest Brands to Taste?
Saison Dupont beer and the Wandering Bine Saison beer are some of the best Saison beer brands to try.
We seldom find beers faithful to the original Belgian style Saison beer, which is brewed in the strictest adherence to the traditional style and ingredients. But many local breweries will add their personal touch to the original style by generously including more ingredients to their Saison beers, which results in tropical flavors.
For those of you who aren’t sure which one to taste, we’ve handpicked some of the popular Saison beers that can keep your taste buds wanting more.
– The Dupont Saison
Saison Dupont beer is considered the most traditional of all Saison beers. Since 1844, it has been brewed at the Dupont farm-brewery, where it has gained a reputation across the world.
It is, without a doubt, a must-try beer to discover the authenticity of Belgian Saison beers. Dupont Saison will certainly delight beginners with its yeasty scents on the nose and hop characteristics on the palate.
– The Blonde Moinette
It is another popular Saison-style beer from the Dupont brewery. The customary dry taste of this Saison beer will leave an impression on your palate. Aromatic notes of fruity hops are typical of the Saison beer type, and it has a sparkling white head with a golden hue.
It is a strong Belgian ale with an ABV content of 8.5 percent. While drinking this, one can experience the aroma of apricots, peaches and pears.
– Wandering Bine
The Wandering Bine Saison beer from the Three Brewing brewery is popular for a hot summer day. It is a mild, rounded farmhouse Saison beer and a perfect fit for beginners.
The beer got a smooth balance between its dryness, fruitiness and tartness. It finishes with a funky, grassy sharpness, giving you a crisp mouthfeel.
– Songbird Saison
Produced by Tallgrass Brewing Company, this beer creates a refreshing aroma of lemon and apricot blended with fresh-cracked pepper. With 4.8 percent ABV, it’s a balanced and straightforward beer without being too bitter.
It has a very light smell with notes of banana and cloudy orange color. It also has a citrus-like smell with a dry finish.
Ingredients to Brew Saison Beer
If you are interested in brewing your own Saison beer at home, here is the list of ingredients and a few tips you should know.
You can prepare hard water at home by adding gypsum to your brewing water. Using hard water accentuates the bitterness and drying finish of the beer. You may need up to 20 liters of hard water.
Yeast is the primary ingredient that imparts the Saison beer its distinct flavor. The yeast does generate more or less distinctive aromas and tastes of spices.
Some of the popular yeasts to brew a Saison beer are:
- WLP565 Belgian Saison I
- WLP566 Belgian Saison II
- WLP585 Belgian Saison III
- Wyeast 3724 Belgian Saison Yeast
- Wyeast 3711 French Saison Yeast
Different types of yeast can be used at various periods in the fermentation process to create a unique end product.
Given that Saison is from the Belgian region, it is recommended to use European hops with an authentic aroma and taste. Noble hops such as Tettnanger, Spalt or Hallertau are commonly-used European hops.
On the other hand, some brewers experiment with exotic m hops like the Chinook, which adds a peppery aroma to the beer. The most crucial element is maintaining a balanced bitterness that is not overpowering.
– Grain Bill
Grain bills are the grains and malts used to produce the wort, which are then fermented into alcohol. A Saison’s malt flavor should be mild, without dominating the flavors of the yeast, hops and spices. For a standard Saison beer, you can go with a single Pils malt or a blend of pilsner malts.
Add Lactobacillus bacteria to your yeast to impart an ounce of sourness to the beer.
– Other Ingredients
Often, more spices and herbs are added to Saison beers to make them taste better. For example, ginger, coriander, orange peel and peppery yeast are used to make the beer a little bit spicy.
Brewing Saison Beer
Now that all the ingredients are in order, how do you brew your first Saison beer yourself? These are the standard steps to Saison beer brewing.
- Mash the grains and add to five gallons of water at a temperature of 152 F.
- Boil the wort for 90 minutes. Add the first dose of hops (around 2/3 of total hops) with 60 minutes left.
- After 90 minutes, turn off the heat and add the rest of your hops and spices.
- Add cool water to make the wort up to 5.5 gallons.
- Use an ice chiller or ice bath to bring down the wort temperature to 70 F.
- Empty the wort into a sanitized fermentation bucket or carboy.
- Ensure the bucket is airtight and cool it to 68 F.
- Once the wort temperature reaches 68 F, aerate the wort and add the yeast.
- Leave the wort to ferment for 7 to 10 days.
- As the beer ferments, raise the temperature to 80 F.
- If it doesn’t entirely attenuate, finish the process using a packet of dried champagne yeast.
- The beer’s final gravity should be between 1.008 to 1.010 before it is bottled.
Saison Carbonation Level
The carbonation levels are an essential factor for Saison beers as they can affect the beer’s mouthfeel, presentation and flavor. Yeasts naturally convert sugars in the wort into alcohol and carbon dioxide, which results in carbonation in the beer.
Saison beers need to be carbonated with around 2.5 to 3.5 volumes of carbon dioxide. They can also be carbonated as high as 4.5. It is advisable to use thick bottles to store the Saison beers, as thin ones are reliable only up to 2.5 volumes of carbon dioxide.
Are You Thirsty?
Amateur beer drinkers will surely like the thrill of Saison beer as this is a beer type that highlights the incredible diversity of Belgian beers. They are flavorful, thirst-quenching, hoppy and dry on the mouth.
- Saison beer is a Belgian-style beer that features spicy, citrus fruit and “Belgian” ester flavors with a characteristically dry finish.
- It is brewed with plenty of hops and seasonal yeast.
- The beer is unfiltered, which gives it a hazy appearance topped with heavy and sticky foam.
- A Saison beer is best served in temperatures ranging from 45 to 55 F in a tulip-shaped glass.
- Saison Dupont beer and the Wandering Bine Saison beer are some of the best Saison beer brands to try.
- Saison beers need to be carbonated with around 2.5 to 3.5 volumes of carbon dioxide, but they can also be carbonated as high as 4.5. Make sure to use thick bottles.
Saison is a pleasant beverage that is enjoyed by many as it can be consumed during the summer, just like farmworkers formerly did, or whenever you hang out with your buddies. After a long day of work, there’s nothing better than a refreshing drink from the Saison, aye?
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