One of my favorite styles of beer to drink year round is Saison.
Just a little history of the style….
Saison originates in the French speaking area of Belgium. Seasonal farm workers in this area are tied in with the creation story of Saisons. During the winter months, these seasonal workers would help brew provisional beer that was meant to last the entire next year. These brews were hearty and could withstand changing temperatures of all seasons. Over time with the advent of refrigeration and industrialization, Saisons became more consistent and were often regarded as the Belgian Single Ale (when compared to Dubbel, Trippel and Quad).
Stylistically, a classic Saison is refreshing and contains flavors of banana, clove and in some cases bubble gum sweetness. Saison Du Pont is perhaps the most to style example we have available. It is defined by the Oxford companion to Beer as the stylistic benchmark. We have 750ml bottles of Saison Du Pont and its variants all year round in our specialty beer section (connected to our tasting bar)
Although Belgian Saisons have gained an identity over the years with flagships like Saison Dupont, Americans have changed the rules of making Saison. Similarly to the IPA, the US brewers have taken a traditional style and amplified it and experimented with it. One notable change that is often used by American brewers is the addition of wild yeast. Although this may seem like a tweak to the original formula, in fact Saisons that contain wild yeast are probably closer to the original beer that was brewed in Belgium. When Saisons first came on the scene, there was very little control of what yeast got into the beer. So, in reality most classic Saisons most likely were funky.
The defining yeast of the new American movement is Brettanomyces which imparts an early and barnlike flavor which is very distinct. A great beer to try which demonstrates this flavor is Saison Brett from Boulevard Brewing. This beer takes their Tank 7 ale and modifies it with the addition of “Brett”. This beer is meant to be aged and is only available one time of the year, which happens to be this time of the year. Grab a bottle before they disappear from the shelves.
Some breweries, like Casey Brewing and Blending, based out of Glenwood Springs, have taken the funky Saisons to a new level with the addition of even funkier ingredients such as Lactobacillus to create a Saison that borders on sour beer. The result can be amazing. Check out Casey’s Saison as well as their other great blended beers available (almost) year round here at West Vail Liquor Mart.
So, as you can tell, there is a wide variety of flavors that can come from a bottle of beer labeled Saison. With just a little research you can find the one that meets your taste and you will be rewarded with a tasty brew.
-Dean LoRusso, Beer Buyer, West Vail Liquor Mart