Houstonâ€™s Ideal Beer is the Saison
What if I told you there was a style designed to be refreshing after a hard days work on a hot summers day? It is loaded with fruity flavors that can range from citrus to baked pear, but it is not a “fruit beer”. A moderate spiciness balances out the fruitiness, bringing to mind a delicate lemon pepper fish dinner.
I’m talking about the Saison*. A style criminally underrated and underrepresented in Houston.
There are guidelines for official judging, but in practice the Saison is a “you know it when you see it” style. Historically, it was brewed in the Wallonia region by Belgian and French farmers from excess grain at the end of the fall harvest. It was fermented and stored over the winter to be served to laborers during the next harvest season. Over the long storage time, the yeast and other organisms would ferment all of the available sugars, resulting in a light bodied, dry beer.
Based on this historical practice, Belgian commercial brewers began to brew their own variations of Saisons. According to Phil Markowski, who literally wrote the book on Belgian Farmhouse brewing history, Belgian brewers considered themselves first artists, then brewers. Like artists, they tended to eschew guidelines and put a spin on the Saisons brewed by their predecessors. This led to a variation in ingredients and as a result, flavors.
In my opinion, these characteristics make it the perfect craft beer style. It is light in body and delicately flavored, making it a great gateway beer for those that don’t like thick stouts or dissolve-your-tongue-bitter IPAs. It’s also the perfect style for beer nerds. Each version is more unique than the next. They can run the color gambit from bright yellow to brown with flavors such as apple, banana, orange, lemon, clove, black pepper, sour, tart, and funky. There are even “Black Saisons” brewed with dark roasted grains, but I’ve found the roast, fruit, and pepper flavors don’t usually work well together. It can be brewed from 100% barley, like Saison Dupont, or it can have wheat, rye, or spelt. Or heck, Jester King just put hay into one**.
I would love to see more Saisons being brewed in Houston.
- Karbach’s Barn Burner is the most popular of the Farmhouse Ales*** brewed in Houston. It’s heavy on the citrus, lightly carbonated, and finishes sweet. I love taking cans to the beach where the salty sea air helps me imagine I’m one of the early Belgian laborers enjoying my daily refreshment as I wipe sweat from my brow. And maybe I’m a sucker for marketing, but it sure tastes good around a campfire.
- Southern Star’s Walloon does justice to it’s eponymous region. The fruity esters offer up flavors of lemon, banana and apple, and the spice is perfectly balanced. With similar flavors, I can’t help but compare Walloon to Saison Dupont, often regarded as the benchmark of the Saison Style.
- Saint Arnold’s 2013 Icon Gold: “Biere de Saison”, created by brewer Aaron Inkrott, is more of a “Winter Saison”. Much darker than most versions of the style, Icon Gold had more body and mellow, subdued flavors when compared to its counterparts, skirting the line between Saison and Biere de Garde. I think Icon Gold has been the best beer to come out of the Icon series, I’m holding out hope we’ll see it again. Until then, I have 1 bottle left.
- Coincidentally while I was writing this article, Buffalo Bayou announced their new Saison, Rotundone. It comes out next Wednesday, April 22. It is brewed with Wheat and Oats, with Green and Pink Peppercorns added. Although I think adding the peppercorns, rather than getting the pepper flavor from the yeast is cheating, you’d better believe that’s what I’ll be drinking on April 22nd. Look for a review in a future article!
*For the craft beer police, I know much of what I’m saying also applies to the Biere de Garde style, and I could use “Farmhouse Ales” instead of Saison to be more accurate. But I’m specifically talking about the lighter bodied and more carbonated farmhouse ales, which we can agree is closer to a Saison than a Biere de Garde. I’ll also be talking a little bit about Biere de Gardes later in the article, don’t worry.
**Yes, I know, “Jester King brews farmhouse ales, not Saisons”. I told you I was going to call them Saisons for the sake
***I know they call it a saison, but it doesn’t quite fit into my definition, and I’m about to talk about non-saisons as well. Chill out.