Brewers and beer enthusiasts around the country will be celebrating Saison Day on April 8.
Saison, literally “season” in French, is a Belgian-style of ale originating centuries ago in the countryside of Wallonia, Belgium’s French-speaking region. Synonymous with farmhouse ales, the style, still venerable and versatile, harkens back to a time when seasonal brewing was necessary and nourishing, providing farmhands with thirst-quenching sustenance during summer soil toiling.
By nature, saisons varied farm to farm, their flavors and aromas dependent on the ingredients within them, which differed from farm to farm.
Today, saisons are just as wide-ranging, brewed year-round in Western regions including all over North America. The oft-bottle conditioned, highly carbonated ale is typically gold in color, offers yeast-born flavors ranging from fruity to farmy (the “horse blanket” or leathery aroma Brettanomyces yeast has become famous for), and adds peppery phenols that tickle the nose and palate.
To our delight, two American craft breweries who have long excelled at farmhouse style ales, Allagash Brewing and Oxbow Brewing, recently announced their first-ever collaboration: Rivulet, a grisette-style ale to be poured at a joint Saison Day celebration at Oxbow Blending & Bottling on April 8.
(Grisette, a cousin of saison, originates in the Hainaut region of Belgium, on the border of northern France, where it is believed to have been brewed for miners rather than farmers. In style, it is similar to saison, leaning toward lower ABV and more pronounced hop character.)
Rivulet was brewed with a pilsner malt base along with a blend of wheat and oats, bittered with a French hop called Aramis, and later hopped for aroma with a European mixture of Mistral (French), Grundgeist (German) and Czech Saaz. The beer was then open-fermented for a few days with Oxbow’s favorite saison yeast (open fermentation is where those funky flavors and aromas are born), followed by fermentation in stainless steel tanks, as beers are normally made.
(For the beer geeks among us: This brew day also yielded a second beer derived from leftover wort poured into some recently emptied Curieux barrels, plus the remnants of whatever beers the brewers were drinking at the time. The two breweries then collaborated on another beer at Oxbow’s farmhouse brewery in Newcastle which was coolshipped, then shipped back to Allagash to be back-blended with the original grisette, and finally sit in foudres for several months. Needless to say, we are drooling.)
Saison Day celebrations are happening all over the country this weekend, but in case you’re unable or unwilling to attend one, here are 10 more American saisons and saison-style relatives that we can heartily recommend for spring and summer sipping.