Welcome to the first in a series of articles we’re calling “The Fervent Few Introduces.” Every once in a while, we’re going to ask The Fervent Few to present a beer-related topic as if they were discussing it with an absolute beginner. We’re kicking things off with Saison. You might remember that Saison was our style of choice when we dreamed up our own beer, so it seemed like a good place to start. Here’s The Fervent Few’s take on Saison.
Manny Gumina: “Saison is a broad term for an ale with flavors and aromas that are not primarily derived from hops or malt. Instead, many of the flavors come from the yeast, and the ambiance in which that yeast ferments. Those flavors are typically spicy and/or fruity, but don't expect that from every Saison you try. They typically finish fairly dry. If available, try Saison Dupont, but also something fermented with Brettanomyces for a side-by-side comparison.”
Bryan Arndt: “I’d definitely hand them a Saison Dupont or a Tank 7 from Boulevard. They’re great in their own right and both are excellent examples of the style.”
Andrés Muñoz: “When I was in sales, I sold most of my Saisons to wine drinkers. Some Saisons, especially those from Almanac Beer Co. and Logsdon Farmhouse Ales, are pretty dry, and a great substitute for a white wine.
I would also go into food pairings. I think I finally found love for Saisons once I started pairing them with the right foods. The first time I had Tank 7 I didn't like it. Someone recommended pairing it with some Indian food. One of the top-five beer decisions I've made.”
Lana Svitankova: “Saison is a pretty wide category of rustic ales, but mostly they are bone-dry, French or Belgian, peppery, just a bit phenolic, but very drinkable and refreshing—a foolproof drink to take with you as a gift to any dinner. Here, try this (Saison Dupont, obviously).
And yes, it's a perfect palate-cleanser after a Pastry Stout or other imperial heavyweight. It’s also one of my favorite styles, if not the favorite.”
Zak Rotello: “Pale, dry, phenolic, maybe a little wheat added for body, roughly 6.5% and super food-friendly. A great next step for people who like wheat beers/Hefeweizens, and want to venture out from there.”
Matthew Curtis: “I find there are usually a couple of obstacles when introducing people to Saisons, namely the style’s ester-led ‘Belgian’ flavors and ABV. Dupont is the one, yes. But unless you’re already into beer, it’s not super accessible, IMO. Same for more of the modern, wilder interpretations, like my bae Burning Sky Saison à la Provision. It’s a killer beer, but that tartness can be off-putting. I’ve found that Grisettes are often a great intro to the style. Partizan Brewing here in London makes some super tasty beers, including a Lemongrass Grisette and a Lemon and Thyme variant. They are easy-drinking, refreshing, go great with food, and their yeast flavors are less of a barrier if you’re coming from Lager, Pale Ale, cider, or wine.”
Neal Buck: “I tend to agree with Tim Clifford's appropriation of Justice Stewart: ‘I know it when I see it.’ In general, though, I would say a Saison is an ale in which the flavors and aromas are driven primarily by the fermentation rather than the ingredients. But that can describe a lot of beer styles.
A Saison can be pale or dark, but if it's dark, it probably sucks. It can be sweet or dry, but if it's sweet, it probably sucks. It can be really phenolic or mildly phenolic. It can be funky and/or sour, but it shouldn't be so sour that it crosses into full sour-beer territory. Adjuncts are frequently used but not always.
Tasting through Boulevard’s Tank 7, Saison Dupont, Fantôme Saison, and Hill Farmstead’s Arthur would give a nice cross-section of varying approaches to the style. They're all very different, but I think that, by tasting them, you could develop a sense of what gives something Saison-ness. Which brings us back to the definition of obscenity: I know it when I see it. I don't think you can adequately describe to someone what to expect when they have a Saison for the first time. But, once you've had enough of them, you get a sense of what distinguishes a Saison from, say, a sour or a Hefeweizen.”
Rob Steuart: “I'd begin by talking about how some beers are malt-driven, some hop-driven, and then some yeast- or fermentation-driven. Hops and malt are easy to comprehend, but the yeast-driven beers are harder to get across to people. I'd give them a table Saison and would try and talk about the fermentation profiles required to push the yeast to produce classic Saison clove and pepper phenols vs. the fruit esters found in wheat beer.”
Mark Twig: “Saisons are the olives of beer. You might not love them at first. In fact many people dislike them. But your palate will adapt quickly, and they will take up a unique and important place in your beer desires.”
Matthew Modica: “I would say that there might not be a more expressive and geographically linked style than Saison. I have never in my life understood something so clearly as when I stepped off a plane in Brussels and saw where Saison comes from, after having drunk this style as an import for so long. I think it’s one of the truest stylistic examples of the smell and taste of the air and ground around you. Saison places you.”