Available on tap at Beachwood BBQ & Brewing in Long Beach (flights, pints and growlers)
Saison is one in a category of farmhouse ales traditionally produced in France and Belgium, brewed at the end of the winter for consumption in spring and summer. Most beer historians agree that saisons originated on small farms in the French-speaking region of Wallonia in Southern Belgium as beers brewed for the seasonal workers (“les saisonniers”) hired to tend the fields. During the down months of winter, farm employees needed to be kept busy, so they brewed the beer that would act as nourishment and refreshment for the coming work season. Each farmhouse created its own recipe and each area had its own unique wild yeast strain, so no two saisons were the same. The recipes employed by these farmhouse brewers used whatever was on hand, substituting various grains, spices, and hops depending on what they had in abundance. During the 19th century, many of these small farm brewers evolved into full blown breweries serving the local communities needs. While saisons remained regionally unique they became standardized. by the end of WWII, as industrial brewing processes were introduced and the saisons gained their style characteristics.
Saisons are refreshingly light to medium bodied, lively carbonated with a faint sourness, a bit of wild or Belgian yeast funk, a subtle hoppy/spicy aroma and a light hop/spice bitterness. Low to moderate in alcohol, these are called "session beers” in today's vernacular and make for a fantastic beer on a warm spring or summer’s day. If you have friends unfamiliar with Belgian or sour style beers, saisons are the perfect introduction to the style.
The standard bearer and one of my favorite saisons is Saison Dupont (available at Lazy Acres and Wine Country) from Brassarie Dupont located in Tourpes, in the centre of West-Hainaut, Belgium. This classic saison is dry, complex, tart and delicious with a wonderful grassy/hay character and crisp refreshing carbonation and a peppery/fruity yeast finish. But like all imports Saison Dupont has to be handled correctly during shipping and getting a bad bottle is possible (though rare). It’s best, as we all know, to drink fresh beer when possible, and thankfully contemporary American brewers are doing a fantastic job with this style and a fresh saison is always near at hand.
Beginning in the mid 1990s, craft brewers seeking to find beers that would set them apart from the competition revived this nearly unknown (outside of Southern Belgium) beer. The focus of the modern craft brewer went back to the “brew with what you have” ethic of the small farms of Belgium’s past. In this way, today’s saisons are as unique as the brewers who brew them, each choosing a different grain bill, hopping schedule, adjuncts and yeast strain making saisons one of the most interesting and varied styles of beer.
In Southern California, Beachwood has two delicious saisons on tap for spring. Rose Royce and Ryeco Suave and by offering them together one gets an interesting opportunity to taste the subtle differences of the style.
Rose Royce is brewed with rose petals, grains of paradise (a peppery spice from West Africa), a combination of German rye, pilsner and wheat malts and hopped with German Magnum and Hallertauer hops creating a wonderfully floral and spicy saison with a noble hop bitterness on the finish, a true champagne of beers. Ryeco Suave on the other hand is equally dry, complex and refreshing, but has a bit heavier body and mouthfeel, the spicy aromas and flavors of the rye malts are more predominant and the hop finish is much pronounced.
Saisons are food friendly beers and, given their French/Belgian pedigree, work very well paired with classics from that region: grilled meats (lamb and pork especially), sausages, wash rind farmhouse cheeses, and charcuterie and smoked meats. The light, refreshing nature of these beers means they also pair well with spicy foods. I like saisons with Thai and Indian food instead of drinking the traditional imported lagers (Kingfisher, Kings, Singha or Beer Chang) sold in most Thai or Indian restaurants.