During an interview a while back, I was asked to name my favorite beer style. No surprise, I answered that it depends on many factors — my mood, the season, what I’m eating. But if someone put a gun to my head, I said, it would be saison.
As Brooklyn Brewery brewmaster Garrett Oliver has declared, “Saison is not just versatile, it’s downright promiscuous.”
The dynamic flavors and aromas range through bitter, bright, tart, fruity, earthy and funky. But saison’s strong, spritzy, champagnelike carbonation from refermentation in the bottle lifts all those complex layers to the realm of utter refreshment. And that’s why it beats out wimpy wheat beer as a sophisticated summer drink, especially alongside food, be it salad, cheese, salmon or steak.
Saison’s roots are in the French-speaking region of Southern Belgium, where traditional rustic farmhouse ales were produced in late winter and early spring to drink during the summer months.
For many years Saison Dupont was one of the few commercial saisons available in the U.S., and it still stands as a definitive example of the style. But nowadays, you’ll find many other Belgian imports, including several interesting versions from Fantome. And like almost every other beer style, saison has been embraced by American craft brewers, too.
Ommegang Hennepin, the groundbreaking American-made saison, remains a great, food-friendly rendition of the Belgian style, with an aromatic nose and sweet-and-sour palate. Not surprisingly, Brooklyn Sorachi Ace, a farmhouse ale made with rare Sorachi Ace hops, also makes a perfect summer sipper and matches well with seafood, cheese and pasta dishes.
Southampton Saison Deluxe is another fine, complex example, along with Allagash Interlude, the Bruery Saison Rue and the relatively rare Dogfish Head, Stone and Victory collaboration, Saison du Buff.
One of my current favorites, Boulevard Tank 7, has been easy to find on draft around Atlanta. But the special limited-seasonal release, Saison-Brett, based on Tank 7, will be much more difficult to locate. It’s assertively dry-hopped, then bottle-conditioned for three months with several yeast strains, including Brettanomyces, a wild yeast that gives it an earthy, funky edge.
Closer to home, Crawford Moran brews a number of saisons at 5 Seasons on the Westside and in Alpharetta, including one he calls Saison du Bob. And Jailhouse Brewing in Hampton has its Saison Reprieve, a spring and summer seasonal farmhouse ale fermented with a French ale yeast that imparts a tart flavor and spicy aroma.
Maggie’s Peach Farmhouse Ale, Terrapin Beer Co., Athens
$7.99-$8.99/four-pack at metro beverage and grocery stores
Profile: This former Side Project experiment joins the Terrapin Seasonal Session lineup as a limited summer release. Brewed with peaches from Pearson Farm in Fort Valley, Ga., it combines the sweet-tart flavor and aroma of a fruit beer with the complexity of a farmhouse ale.
Pair with: Try Maggie’s with goat cheese, grilled shrimp, pork tenderloin with spicy peach salsa, or peach cobbler.
— By Bob Townsend, AJC Drink blog.