Home Beer What the heck is a Nordic saison?

What the heck is a Nordic saison?


Photo by Jess Suworoff for DRAFT

Photo by Jess Suworoff for DRAFT

I haven’t noticed what I’d call a rash of Nordic saisons lately. They’re nowhere near as ubiquitous as session IPAs or as trendy as goses, but a handful of recently packaged Nordic saisons is enough to make me take note. What are these beers, and who’s behind them?

The second question is a bit easier to answer: Anders Kissmeyer. He’s a prominent Danish brewer, and he’s embarked on a project to make collaboration Nordic saisons with other breweries around the world, including Hill Farmstead, Enlightenment Ales, Harpoon Brewery and Cambridge Brewing, Crux Fermentation Project and Canada’s Beau’s All Natural Brewing Co. He’s also been described to me as a gypsy brewer, a nomad, and “not a morning person.” (He’s currently on vacation, so he couldn’t weigh in on that characterization.)

But his American-brewed, “Nordic” saisons speak for him. He’s released one with Hill Farmstead last year and one with Harpoon/Cambridge in July, and his collaboration with Crux should be bottled and released within the month (it’s currently on draft in Crux’s taproom). The base for each beer is a saison with the addition of six characteristically Nordic ingredients: honey, heather flowers, yarrow, rose hips, rhubarb and sea buckthorn. He allows a few of these ingredients—not more than two or three—to be replaced by something more readily available, so each beer to expresses both his original intent and a local character. The Harpoon version, for example, includes dried cranberries; the Crux beer makes use of wild yeast and Oregon honey from bees that pollinate blackberry fields. Harpoon’s tastes lively, delicate and floral, washing botanical flavors and pink peppercorn spice across the tongue before a satisfyingly dry finish.

The Nordic saison project is an attempt to bridge the contemporary conundrum some breweries face: At a time when ingredients from anywhere can be shipped to anywhere, how do brewers capture a sense of place? What does it mean to brew a Nordic saison in America and have it taste like both its places of origin? When Kissmeyer returns from vacation, perhaps he can share his answer.



Kate Bernot is DRAFT’s beer editor. Reach her at kate.bernot[at]draftmag.com.

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One Comment

  • Brewery Show says:

    Interesting info, I was never aware of the ingredients that classified it as “Nordic.”

    Thanks for the quick and easy explanation! Definitely going to have to seek some out now.

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