A saison, also often called a farmhouse ale, is a style of beer originating in the French-speaking Wallonia region of Belgium. In today’s brewing scene, it is widely accepted that a saison will be “exceptionally dry, highly carbonated, fruity and of moderate strength: 6-8% ABV.” Beyond that description, the saison style offers quite a bit of room for interpretation.
Saisons are known as farmhouse-style ales for a reason: they were originally brewed on actual farms. Long before refrigeration, Belgian farmers used the labor-light winter months to brew beer. Saison actually means “season” in French, a reference to the fact that the beer was brewed seasonally. Using ingredients they had on hand—barley, rye, spelt, or anything else, really—farmers brewed their beer to be stored and drank in the hot summer months. Not coincidentally, the french cousin to the saison, known as bière de garde (translation: beer for keeping), originated just a few miles south, over the French border.
Saisons come in many colors (and flavors).
Because of the style’s loose origin, saisons became more of a tradition than a particular style. Saisons can be light or dark. Malty or hoppy. Tart or dry. Or many of those things (or few). Put simply, the style is wide enough to contain pretty much any ingredient the brewer desires.
If you’re looking for a hallmark of the style, that would be Saison Dupont. Back in 1920, Brasserie Dupont created this take on a saison that has since become the style’s defining beer. It is golden, fruity, dry, and refreshing. We were lucky enough to actually brew a collaboration saison with them at their brewery in Tourpes, Belgium. We wrote all about the experience in this blog right here.
If you’re looking for American saisons to try, there are quite a few to choose from. Some notable saisons would be Boulevard Tank 7, Oxbow Farmhouse Pale Ale, and Ommegang Hennepin. Of course we have plenty of takes on the style, including Allagash Saison, Saison Gratis, and a tart, fruit-aged take in Shiro’s Delight.
Saisons happen to be excellent for pairing with cheese of all varieties.
In fact, we love the style so much that we created a day to celebrate it. Since 2014, we’ve celebrated Saison Day with brewery friends across the country. Past hosts have been Threes Brewing in Brooklyn, Off Color in Chicago, The Rare Barrel in Berkeley, Oxbow in Portland, and more. Every celebration features a different beer lineup, our way of showcasing the local nature of the saison style. If you’re looking for a straightforward way to get introduced to a wide array of top-quality saisons, Saison Day would be a great place to start.