From Rob Fink. Follow him on Twitter @RobDFink or email him at rob[AT]borderstan.com.
If one were to observe the ubiquity of saison within the American craft beer landscape, he or she would observe a style whose characteristics are anchored in tradition while defying style categorization.
Originating in the French-speaking southern region of Belgium known as Wallonia, specifically the Hainaut province, Saisons on the whole offer a wide spectrum of flavor possibilities while still remaining identifiably Belgian and identifiably saison.
Literally meaning “season” in French, saisons were traditionally brewed anywhere from late autumn until early spring, and there were several practical reasons for doing so.
Before the advent of refrigeration, you could maintain fermentation temperatures more easily during the late fall and early winter when temperatures were more moderate. Additionally, it gave farmers an opportunity to continue working between harvests and allowed enough time for beer to be brewed to last the entire year.
Although variation is widespread, modern interpretations of the saison style (whether in America, Belgium or elsewhere) have a tendency to showcase extraordinary dryness, ample hop character (by European standards, so not IPA levels) and a Belgian fermentation character redolent of musty earth, phenolic spice and ester-driven fruitiness, resulting in a distinct conglomeration of appetizing flavor.
Best Beer for the Dinner Table
In other words, saisons are arguably the best beer you can have at the dinner table. In terms of food, saisons can handle just about anything. From the most nondescript salad preparation to more involved Southeast Asian cuisine, particularly Thai food, saison reigns supreme.
The wide-ranging plethora of spice flavors, not to mention the silkiness of a coconut milk based curry, provide a beguiling number of flavor hooks for saisons to rest on. The next time you order Thai carry-out, opt for a saison instead of wine (in particular, stay clear of red wine); you’ll be glad you did.
As the summer months invariably approach, two saisons (one omniscient and one local) come to mind, either of which would amplify any warm weather gathering (preferably outdoors!) you may be having.
Saison Dupont – Brasserie Dupont, Tourpes, Leuze-en-Hainaut, Belgium, 6.5% ABV: Saison Dupont is the indisputable standard-bearer of the style. Upon first whiff, your nose is infiltrated with a barrage of herbaceous grass, musky earth, stone fruit and the slightest hint of peppery spiciness. If I were to take five beers away with me to a desert island, this would be one of them. Incredibly food-friendly and ultimately quaffable, Saison Dupont re-establishes the flavor/food paradigm for beer.
Stateside Saison – Stillwater Artisanal Ales, location “unknown,” 6.8% ABV: As a “gypsy” brewer who travels around the world to brew beer with other like-minded brewers yet retains his own brand and is based in Baltimore, Brian Strumke fully embraces the cultural manifestation of defiance. Despite being steeped in the Belgian tradition, Strumke takes a distinctly American perspective in terms of his beer. His beers often exhibit the flavorfully intense bravado associated with American craft beer. Stateside Saison bursts at the seams with notes of peppery spice but with an accompaniment of American hop character, allowing flowery citric notes to permeate the Belgian fermentation character. To be sure, Stateside Saison is a veritable stunner that just screams for a lime-heavy sea bass ceviche.
Thankfully, both of these beers are plentiful in the Borderstan area. Most liquor stores with a decent beer selection will carry Saison Dupont, and Borderstan mainstays such as the P Street Whole Foods and Connecticut Avenue Wine and Liquor will undoubtedly satiate your thirst for Saison, including a variety of Stillwater beers. If you choose to enjoy an evening on your balcony or porch in the near future, consider one of the above mentioned saisons — you certainly won’t regret it.