Impress your boss with some great Happy Hour small talk…
Originally translated from the Belgian term for “Season”, the Saison (or now commonly referred to, Farmhouse Ale) dates back several hundred years to the French/Belgian country-side. To adapt to the changing seasons, and abundant wheat and barley harvests, farmers dried and essentially “malted” their grains to brew an ale that would be fermented in a variety of vessels, most commonly open air troughs. These troughs caught a sufficient amount of spontaneous fermentation from the surrounding farmland. Farmers/Brewers would immediately bottle the product (rather than barrel age, fostering the environment for souring bacterial agents) and condition it for several months.
Bottled in early Spring (ie. March), with the intentions of consuming in Summer, the resulting Ale was mildly tart, dry, and acidic; clocking in around 3% – 4% ABV (alcohol by volume), making this the perfect “table” beer that was refreshing and crisp after a long day in their fields.
Traditional Breweries, primarily found in Belgium and France, pay homage to the previous generation by using yeast strains decades old. These traditional strains bring the acidity to the forefront and maintain their “farmhouse funkiness” reminiscent of farmland flavors.
Today, modern Breweries (particularly those in the United States) brew their Saison with a traditional yeast strain that has been modified over the years to reduce sour and tart notes with an emphasis on a dry, grassy finish high in esters (floral, fruity notes). Some choose to hop their beers with new world hops, such as Nelson Sauvin, which enhance the white grape, grassy notes of the yeast and dominate the light malt flavors, making this the perfect entry level beer for white wine drinkers.
Saison/Farmhouse Ales are excellent to pair food with, and are incredibly versatile. Considering its history, traditional Saison’s pair well with their ancestral food groups (ie. Moules Frites and Saison Dupont), as well as with funkier cheeses (ie. Stilton Blue Cheese, Sheep’s Milk) and salads with heartier ingredients.
Unfortunately, the Saison/Farmhouse Ale category has become a catch-all for the non-conforming beer that a Brewer produces, posing a risky challenge for an unfamiliar consumer. Fortunately, this is half the fun! Grab several bottles from all of the world, taste and explore your palate. Cheers!
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