If, like me, you have been drinking a lot of beer this summer (no need to add up how much, exactly), you might have found yourself filling your fridge with the same old bottles over and over again. I tend to fall back on tried and true pale ales when it’s hot, while others might reach for pilsners or wheat beers. All these styles are crisp and refreshing, perfect for sipping on the deck after a long day thrashing about in the surf (or for most of us, sitting in the office looking longingly out the window).
But did you know that, nestled amongst the lagers and IPAs at the supermarket, there's a funkier alternative? Brewed specifically to be drunk in summer, it’s the Belgian-style ale known as saison.
Where did saisons originate?
Saison (which is French for “season”) originated in the 1900s in farmhouses in Wallonia, the French-speaking region of Southern Belgium, where it was brewed in winter and given to thirsty workers to drink during the hot summer months. Fresh, portable water was often unavailable in these rural areas, so the saison – which was then brewed at around 3.5% – was essential for keeping the workers happy and hydrated.
What defines a saison?
Like sunshine in a glass but with an endearing note of weirdness, Saison is as complex as it is delicious. Generally speaking, they are earthy, spicy and fruity – mostly because of the Belgian yeast used, but sometimes also through the addition of extra herbs and spices. They are usually slightly tart with a dry finish and, because they are bottle-fermented, have a lovely sparkly, champagne-like fizz. Finally, saisons often pour a luminous orange, with a firm and rocky head.
Sounds delicious! Where do I get one?
Scarily, in the 1950s saisons were in danger of becoming extinct. But thanks to a huge recent revival (especially in the US) we now have countless versions of the original summer ale to choose from. Here are a few good examples to be found on New Zealand shelves…
1. Garage Project - Tournesol
Admittedly it was the gorgeous label that drew me to this beer, but it was the stuff inside the bottle that kept me buying it. Spiced with white pepper, coriander and meyer lemon, it has a vibrancy and punchiness that sets it apart from the pack.
2. Emerson's JP 2014
Every year, Emerson's releases a Belgian-style ale in honour of the late Professor Jean-Pierre Dufour, formerly Dean of Food Sciences at the University of Otago. The 2014 release is an award-winning saison: spicy and dry with a refreshing lemony bite. Try it before it's gone!
3. 8 Wired - Saison Sauvin
Unique and delicious, 8 Wired's version marries funky, musty French saison yeast with the fresh-cut grass and ripe tropical fruit notes of Nelson Suavin hops. If your usual tipple of choice is a sauvignon blanc, this one's for you.
4. Invercargill Brewery - Sa!son
An oldy but a goody, Invercargill Brewery's Sa!son was one of the first examples of the style to be brewed in New Zealand. It's dry and fizzy, dominated by zesty orange hop aromas, with subtle underlying notes of funky yeast and spice. As refreshing as they come.
5. Craftwork Brewery - Anise
A recent discovery for me, Craftwork is a nanobrewery in Oamaru specialising in Belgian farmhouse ales. It was tough to pick which of their four saison styles to include here, but the Anise won out. It has a floral hop aroma and warm, spicy notes, and an intriguing hint of liquoricey aniseed on the toungue. Check out stockists here.
6. Brasserie Dupont - Saison Dupont
No introduction to saison would be complete without Saison Dupont, the most famous example of the style and the benchmark to which others are compared. Brewed on a working farm in Tourpes, Belgium, it's celebrated for it's lively fruitiness, complex spicyness and refreshing, long dry finish. It is the quintessential saison.
This post is brought to you in association with the Brewers Guild of New Zealand. For more information on New Zealand brewers, breweries and beer, visit brewersguild.org.nz