Belgian Saisons – Beyond the Farmhouse

Before the release of our new beer it is only right that we give you a bit of history and background on the Saison style. Once considered an endangered beer style, Saisons are making a strong comeback thanks to popularity both in the UK and America. Our new beer, due for launch next month, will be an eclectic take on this traditional style incorporating some punchy hops, funky yeast and blend of secret spices.

 

History

The history of Saison beers can be traced back to Wallonia, a predominately French speaking area of southern Belgium. The name Saison (French for season) stems from the fact that these beers were originally brewed during the cooler and less active winter/spring months of the farming calendar. The beers would be consumed as a thirst quenching drink by farmworkers toiling in the fields during the summer months. Saisons had to be strong to prevent spoilage during the prolonged storage but could not be so strong as to debilitate the workers. Because of a lack of potable water, Saisons also provided a safe source of hydration without the threat of disease.

 

These beers were provisional beers for the farmhouse table and are sometimes referred to as Belgian Farmhouse ales. They would be light, refreshing and nutritionally as important as milk or bread. Similar style beers can be found in Northern France, traditionally in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region and are referred to as Beire de Garde literally meaning ‘beers that are kept’.

 

Style & Ingredients

Historically these farmhouse beers didn’t share any identifiable style characteristic other than being a group of refreshing summer drinks. Each farm brewer would add their own trade mark and this level of individuality continues into modern day Saisons. They do however form loosely around the Pale Ale style with the main differences being the hops and the yeast. Traditional Saisons were loaded with hops to act as preservative and keep them until consumption in the summer months. The yeast flavours are typically spicy although this can be achieved through the addition of spices during the brewing process.

 

Historically Saisons would have a modest ABV of around 3 – 4% however modern varieties can vary hugely with anything up to 9% although they are generally around 7%. The typically golden or amber colour of Saisons is attributed to the large amount of pale or Pilsner malt used. The beers are generally highly carbonated and yeast flavours benefit from very high fermentation temperature sometime up to 35°C.

 

Notable Examples

The Dupont Brewery is generally considered the archetype of Saison brewing but here are a few more to get stuck in to:

 

 

With Food

Their history as part of a staple farmhouse diet and the sheer variety in style means Saisons are an excellent pairing with food.  The mixture of hop bitterness, high carbonation, spicy flavours and peppery notes make them a hugely dynamic beer for many food types. Crab cakes are a classic example where the spices of the beer and fish marry harmoniously. A peppered steak matches wonderfully with the peppery yeast notes from the beer and the high bitterness cutting through the fats of the meat.

 

Given the variety and history of this style, Saisons are one of the most dynamic and exciting beer styles around. Great for quiet imbibing and even better when sitting down for a meal!

 

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