Thursday, December 1, 2011

'Tis the Saison

Who says that summer brews must be tasted in season? While it is true that darker, heavier elixirs do fit well with the coming of ski season, certain styles of beer exhibit such unique and exotic combinations of flavor components that it is a delight to experience them, regardless the time of year. This is certainly the case with the humble saison, or Belgian/French farmhouse-style ale.

Traditionally brewed in a simple fashion for consumption during the warm summer months, saison is characterized by a fruity, citrusy yeast character, accented by modest hop and alcohol flavors. High attenuation by the yeast, (meaning that the yeast has consumed most of the available sugars in the beer and turned them to carbon dioxide and delicious alcohol), tends to leave a comparatively thin body, high carbonation and tart, dry finish.

Farmhouse ales were traditionally brewed for consumption on warm afternoons while working the land. This was at a time when slaking one's thirst with a funky-flavored, but bacteria-free, fermented beverage was a lot safer than drinking water from the nearby canal or irrigation ditch. 

Recently, I was fortunate enough to attend a local beer tasting hosted by the Mesa Verde Mashers homebrew club in Cortez. One of the members had visited the West Coast, and brought back an ‘A’ list of domestic and imported saison-style beer for our consideration. I had also recently received a bottle of New Belgium Brewing Co.'s latest release in their “Lips of Faith” series, Prickly Passion Saison, which billed itself as a saison-style farmhouse ale brewed with juice from prickly pear and passion fruit. Intrigued, I brought it along to be opened at the event.

The bottle lineup looked like this:

Manzanita Lazy Saison (San Diego)

The review of these could consume pages. Instead of this, I would suggest consuming the imported De Prouef and St. Feuillien. These seemed to best find the elusive balance between sweet, sour, and astringent components of the overall flavor. Many of the domestic products were very good as well, with Lost Abbey and Ommegang being stand outs. If any of the Durango Brewing Co.'s 20th Anniversary Saison bottles survive, they would be worth picking up as well.

And for the Prickly Passion Saison? As with most of New Belgium’s brews, this one is very clean in body and appearance. Many of the earlier bottles that were tasted contained a lot of yeast in suspension, making for a cloudy liquid in the glass. This one was translucent, with a very refined malt body forming a base for the yeast and fruit juices.

Perhaps it was the strong flavors that came before it, but the prickly pear was almost absent, and the passion fruit was very delicate, almost more of an aroma than a flavoring. As a stand-alone drink, I think that the Prickly Pear Saison would be quite enjoyable, and is a fine place to start if exploring the world of saison.

A big THANK YOU to Dion and the Mesa Vera Mashers for hosting this excellent event!


  1. Yup, Im a big fan of Saisons in all seasons!

    FYI, since you're back, have you thought of setting up a Google+ page? That might get you a bit more followers. I've started replacing many of my RSS feeds with pages.

  2. I'll be all over Google+ as soon as I fix my Edsel.