sub-categories: Saison, Mixed Fermentation Saison, Grisette
ABV: 3% - 7.5%
key characteristics: Dry, fruity, refreshing
can be drunk fresh or aged. store in the fridge or at cellar temperature. serve cool
Saisons are some of the most distinctive tasting beers in the contemporary market. The word Saison translates in French to ‘season’, as these beers were traditionally brewed in the winter months and stored until the summer, and usually drunk by farmers – Saisons can often be referred to as a type of “Farmhouse Ale.”
The brewing process of a Saison is pretty simple: a mixture of pale malts and wheat with relatively low hop flavour, the real star of the show is yeast. Saison yeast ferments at hotter temperatures than most other styles of yeast, and this results in a more ‘estery’, fruity and spiced flavour. They’re highly carbonated, light, dry, refreshing beers that many modern breweries are trying their hand at. Here’s a run-down of what’s happening in the world of Saisons right now…
The Saison is a pretty ubiquitous style. Modern Saisons are usually above 5% ABV, have a pale colour and are highly carbonated. These beers are dry and refreshing, with strong fruity, citrusy, peppery and bubble-gum esters from the distinct yeast strain. Unlike most beers, there is a universally agreed upon take on a modern Saison, so if you’re unsure where to start with the style try a Saison Dupont – a must try beer for any enthusiast. A lot of contemporary UK breweries are trying their hand at Saisons with added fruit, herbs and spices. If you want to try a smaller Saison that’s closer to what a Saison would have tasted like in days of yore, Burning Sky’s Petite Saison is a great example – a mixed fermentation, barrel aged low-ABV beer which is ideal for summer sipping.
Mixed Fermentation Saisons (and beer more generally) is back on the rise, so it’s worth mentioning when discussing the style. Mixed Fermentation simply refers to the process by which regular brewing yeast is crossed with any other wild yeast or bacteria – put simply, it’s multiple strains (usually wild yeast) mixed together to produce something greater than the sum of its parts. It’s a contested term with a lot of confusion surrounding it, but beers advertised as Mixed Fermentation are usually tart, more acidic, barrel-aged, sour and absolutely delicious. Saisons are a key style that has utilised this fermentation method due to its already existing funkier yeast characteristics, and the Mixed Fermentation element just builds on this complexity.
One style that’s back on the rise is the Grisette – a nearly forgotten style that’s seeing a revival with the craft beer movement. There isn’t much that separates the Grisette from a regular Saison; some evidence suggests that it was drunk by miners, not farmers, and in different provinces of France and Belgium, but Grisettes tend to be lower in ABV than Saisons as well as a bit hazier in colour. They’re super refreshing and light, with a bit more of a floral note due to a higher level of hop character.
Saisons are simultaneously some of the most refreshing, distinctive and accessible beers out there. Modern breweries, unless adding lots of ingredients to it, don’t tend to stray too far from the traditional style, meaning Saisons can be a real testament to brewing technique. These beers are complex, full of flavour and relatively inexpensive in comparison to many modern brews. They taste great alongside everything from nutty cheeses, to shellfish, and are a great accompaniment to a summer session. Make sure to give this distinctive style a go - ‘tis the Saison, after all.
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credit where credits due. the majority of content in this part of our website has been written for us by Dan Lyons; a talented beer writer, homebrewer and all round beer enthusiast.