Professional Brewers Name the Best Saisons, A Famously Inscrutable Spring Beer Style
Toast to spring with these refreshing farmhouse ales
Tomorrow (April 17) is National Saison Day, which means it’s time to pay our respects to one of the most delicious but confounding beer styles around. Ask five different craft beer fans what a saison is, and you’ll likely get five different answers. A saison can be malty or hoppy, even light or dark, but the general working definition most brewers have come to accept in recent years is a very dry, highly carbonated, fruity and moderately strong beer somewhere in the 5 to 8% ABV range. Here in America, you may also hear it referred to by its broader category, the farmhouse ale. (In other words, to further complicate things, all saisons are farmhouse ales, but not all farmhouse ales are saisons.)
But while you’d be forgiven for being a little unclear on what exactly a saison is, try one and you’ll be certain of one thing: it’s a damn tasty style of beer. And now that we find ourselves in the heart of spring, eager to do a little outdoor drinking, there’s nothing better than the refreshing style originally meant to cool off agricultural workers after a long day in the fields.
To celebrate National Saison Day, we asked a couple professional brewers for their favorite examples of the style. See their answers below, along with some of our own selections.
Jason Oliver, brewmaster at Devils Backbone Brewing Company
One of my favorite saisons of all time is Ommegang’s Hennepin. Its complexity is married perfectly with its drinkability and gives you so much yet still remains elegant and not clunky in any way, shape or form. Hennepin is a classic and authentic representation of a Belgian-style saison.
Wicked Weed La Bonté Pear
Being a pear fan, I also suggest the Wicked Weed La Bonté Pear. More new-world in nature, you can only go right with the farmhouse ales out of Wicked Weed’s Funkatorium. Mixed yeast, bacteria cultures and fruit provide a whole different spectrum of characters to the genre.
Jason Santamaria, co-founder of Second Self Beer Co.
Brasserie Dupont Saison Dupont
There are many great saisons made here in the U.S., but they can’t compare to the OG, Saison Dupont. It is my desert island beer and one I could drink anytime on any occasion. It’s also one of the instrumental beers that set me on my journey to become a brewer. It’s the perfect balance of malt, hops and yeast. It’s light and flavorful, citrusy and peppery, plus it’s great with food or on its own. Saison Dupont is the one true king of saisons.
…and some of InsideHook’s favorite saisons
Allagash’s Saison is a good entry point for novices looking to get acquainted with the style. Hopped with Tettnang, Bravo and Cascade hops and fermented with a traditional saison yeast strain, it’s citrusy and peppery, with some grapefruit flavor and a crisp, light mouthfeel that makes it extremely drinkable.
Boulevard Brewing Tank 7
Tank 7 is significantly boozier than most of the other saisons on this list, so keep that in mind if you’re not looking to get … well, tanked. That said, it’s still surprisingly balanced, with herbal notes and coriander spice and an extremely pleasant clove aroma. It’s a little on the sweet side thanks to its high ABV, but it still manages to deliver a nice, dry finish.
Funkwerks’ Saison is modeled after Saison Dupont, but it’s not just a copycat — it’s an excellent beer in its own right, taking home multiple medals at the Great American Beer Festival. It’s got a nice tropical nose thanks to its passion fruit and tangerine flavors, as well as a bit of a gingery and peppery kick. It’s proof you don’t need to mess with perfection.
Goose Island Sofie
This one’s a classic — especially for those of us who happened to grow up in Goose Island’s home base of Chicago. Sofie is aged in wine barrels with hand-zested orange peel, and the result is a mildly tart, citrusy brew with some hints of pepper and a dry, crisp finish that feels almost champagne-like.
Hill Farmstead Arthur
Hill Farmstead’s saisons are considered to be among the world’s best, and to figure out why, you needn’t look any further than Arthur. It’s made with a mix of European and American hops and then fermented with the brewery’s house culture, giving it a little tartness and funkiness. It’s subtle, however, and the tartness is balanced by some citrusy sweet flavors like lemon and orange peel.
Jolly Pumpkin Bam Biere
Don’t let the brewery name fool you — there’s no pumpkin to be found in Bam Biere. What you will get is a well-balanced blend of maltiness and floral hops that, at just 4.5% ABV, is extremely sessionable. It’s perfect for outdoor drinking, whether it’s a socially distanced park hang or (fingers crossed) some Hot Vax Summer debauchery — and at just 127 calories per 12 ounces, you won’t feel guilty about tossing back too many.
Two Roads Brewing Worker’s Comp
This farmhouse ale’s name alludes to the style’s origins, when farms in Belgium would brew their own beer in the winter to serve to their workers in the summer after long days laboring in the fields. Its low ABV is also a reflection of this: classic saisons are meant to be crisp and refreshing. Worker’s Comp doesn’t disappoint there, and its complex flavors include barley, wheat, oats and rye as well as some fruity notes and a nice, peppery finish.
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