Ah, wheat beers. Light, refreshing, and citrusy, but also full-textured, spicy, often creamy. Wheat beers encompass several distinct styles, all known for their versatility either on their own or when matched with nearly every culinary pairing you throw at them.
Wheat beers are so-named because their grain bill consists of 30-60% wheat. This wheat can be brewed raw or malted, or as a mixture of the two. The wheat lends a bit more body while the top-fermenting ale yeast coaxes fruity and spicy flavors from the brew. The result is a multi-layered drinking experience that can present with strong clove aromas (hefeweizens), citrusy, spicy overtones (witbiers), soft bitterness (American wheat ales), or even tartness (Berliner Weisses).
Blonde and golden ales – the terms are often used interchangeably – grew from Belgian brewing traditions and were later adopted, and adapted, by domestic brewers. Brewed to a slightly elevated ABV, they remain nearly as quaffable as their wheated cousins. As with many styles made here in the States, the hop bitterness is often more pronounced in most American blonde and golden ales. But American versions of the style share similarities with their Belgian forebears in that these beers feature bready malt characteristics with occasional use of wheat to add body to the result. They also share the ability of wheat beers to pair wonderfully with a breadth of food options with their spicy and/or fruity aromas.
Belgian-style options tend to be on the spicier and more fruit-forward side due to the yeast used to ferment them, but all blonde and golden ales range from relatively clear and golden to slightly more hazy when wheat is added to the grain bill. American-style examples, in particular, frequently employ the addition of spices and fruit, bringing them that much closer to the experience of sipping on a witbier.
Allagash Brewing Fine Acre – our own organic Belgian-style golden ale, balanced and refreshing
Allagash Brewing Nowaday – our cold-fermented blonde ale, crisp and dry
Russian River Redemption – fruity, banana bouquet with a spicy, mild finish
Sixpoint Sweet Action – American-style blonde ale brewed with wheat, hazy and hoppy
“Saison” is French for season, which is fitting given the history of the style. Saisons were traditionally brewed seasonally, in the colder months, to be consumed by farmhands during the warmer months. As you’d expect, these beers are highly drinkable. They commonly achieve a similar range of ABV as the wheat beers you know and love. But they’re also extremely complex due to the ingredients as well as the yeast strains used in fermentation. (“Saison” also unofficially refers to the loose, catchall name of this group of yeast strains.)
With their provenance as farmhouse ales, it should come as no surprise that their grain bills are chock full of grains commonly harvested upon these farms, including barley, oats, spelt, wheat, and buckwheat, not to mention the regular addition of various forms of sugar. These mixed grains and sugar sources, in addition to the slow-fermenting saison yeast fermentation, result in a marvelous intricacy of flavors and aromas.
Saisons can also be fermented with wild yeast, which arguably provides an even greater depth of flavor and character. Because the yeast adds a level of sourness and/or funk, these wild-fermented saisons are highly recommended as a worthy substitute for Berliner Weiss beers. Grisettes are a lesser-known but no less delicious subset of saisons, brewed to be lower in alcohol and more drinkable. They often include adjuncts such as spice or fruit and are maybe the most drinkable of all the styles mentioned here. Saisons and grisettes are glorious on their own but also possess transcendent powers when paired with light meals such as salads, whitefish platters, and chicken dishes.
Allagash Brewing Kurkuma – our saison with turmeric, perfect for food pairings
Allagash Brewing Little Grove – our series of fruited grisettes, light, refreshing
Saison Dupont – the world standard for saisons, peppery and dry
Hill Farmstead Anna – a wild saison brewed with honey by our friends in Vermont