10

I'll be the first to admit that I have, at best, the palate of a highly experienced amateur. I can tell an IPA from a Stout from a Doppelbock primarily on the common visual, olfactory, and above all else tastes that are found throughout any example of each style. However, while I've had many delightful 'Saisons' in my time as a drinker of beer, I've never been able to get a straight answer about what characteristics define the style. The best I've ever been able to get is vague handwavey historical notions about the beers role as a 'refreshing summer ale'.

Which is... somewhat unsatisfying to someone who would hope that the term might actually mean something. So, does it? If so, what? If I pick up a Saison from a brewery I've never heard of, what characteristics should I expect it to exhibit that earn it the name?

5

Well, Saison is quite a broad category simply because it comes from a broad definition.

The original term comes from regular strength light ales ca. 3.5% abv) brewed during the Autumn in Belgium, and stored for drinking in the summer by farm workers. (Hence the pseudonym "farmhouse ale".)

As wikipedia states:

Historically, saisons did not share identifiable characteristics to pin them down as a style, but rather were a group of refreshing summer ales made by farmers.

In modern times, the category has been interpreted to mean:

  • a light to golden ale
  • use the Dupont yeast, which gives particular esters and pepper characteristics (hence they have a "Belgian" character)
  • around 7% abv
  • fruity, spicy (some examples add fruit, such as apple juice.)
  • highly carbonated

This might seem quite vague, but the combination of yeast, light malt, strength and carbonation lead to a fairly unique and identifiable beer.

3

I agree with mdma that it's traditionally more of a historical definition than a stylistic one. To expand on their answer, though, in 2008, the BJCP defined a saison as the following (abridged):

Aroma: Moderate sweetness with light, grainy, spicy wheat aromatics, often with a bit of tartness. Some coriander, with a complex herbal, spicy, or peppery note in the background. Moderate zesty, citrusy orangey fruitiness.

Appearance: Very pale straw to very light gold in color. Cloudy.

Flavor: Pleasant sweetness and a zesty, orange-citrusy fruitiness. Crisp with a dry, tart, finish. Can have a low wheat flavor. Optionally has a very light lactic-tasting sourness. Herbal-spicy flavors, which may include coriander and other spices; subtle + not overpowering.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light to medium body; effervescent character from high carbonation. Minimal bitterness in finish.

For more detail, see the full version.

1

There was another source that I read (probably that 1000 page beer encyclopedia that I forgot the title of) where they said that a saison was made with whatever ingredients that were available at hand at that season.

  • 1
    A lot of styles, especially geographically named styles draw their defining character from what's available where and when they're brewed. Pilsners are defined by the use of Czech hops and soft water, which is what's available in Pilzen where the style originated. Another one is Oktoberfest beer, which is sometimes called Marzen. Brewing between April & September was against the law (summer heat/bacteria would make bad beer), so they brewed strong, hoppy beer in March and kept it cellared until lighter beers ran out, cracked it in late summer, and finished it off at Oktoberfest. – Sloloem Jun 19 '15 at 13:42
  • 1
    That got long winded, but I thought it was interesting history. Point being I agree with you, but what you're saying seems pretty much true for most beer, especially old world styles. – Sloloem Jun 19 '15 at 13:44

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