Fortune released Spring Is Saison Season For Craft Brewers yesterday and the author seems to believe they are the new spring beer fad. I recall when the only representations of the style you could find were Saison DuPont and Fantôme. I remember the 1997 BJCP Style Guidelines and their description of Saison. Here it is:
A seasonal summer style of beer produced in the Frenchspeaking
part of Belgium. Sharply refreshing and faintly sour,
with a fruity nose, a pungent sourness and hop aroma. Often dryhopped.
Generally low malt aroma. Bitter but not assertively so,
the hoppy, fruity flavors of this style often include citric notes.
Distinctive orange color with a dense, rocky head. Light to
medium body. Alcohol level can be medium to high.
Commercial Examples: Saison DuPont, Saison Silly.
It was the same in the 1998 version of the guidelines. By 1999 they had improved dramatically:
Aroma: Fruity esters dominate the aroma. Complexity is often contributed by hop aroma, complex higher alcohols, herbs and spices, and phenols. Generally the malt aroma is low. No diacetyl. Appearance: Distinctive pale orange color with a dense, rocky head. Clarity is generally good.
Flavor: Bitter but not assertively so, providing a refreshing character. The hoppy, fruity flavors typical of this style may include citric notes, and often the addition of several spices and herbs. Hop bitterness is moderate, and hop flavor may be moderate to high but should not overwhelm fruity esters, spices, and malt. Malt character is light but provides sufficient structure for the other complex
flavors which may include a quenching tartness. No diacetyl.
Mouthfeel: Light to medium body. Very high carbonation with an effervescent quality. Alcohol level can be medium to high.
Overall Impression: A fruity, hoppy, highly carbonated, moderately strong, refreshing ale.
History: The style has origins in the traditions of the “March beer” brewed at the end of the cool season to last through the warmer months. It is now brewed year-round.
Comments: A seasonal summer style produced in Wallonia, the French-speaking part of Belgium.
Ingredients: Pale malt dominates the grist, and a very small fraction of Vienna or Munich malt contributes a touch of color. Hop bitterness and flavor may be more noticeable than in many other Belgian styles, and Saison is often dry-hopped. A number of different spices and herbs may be used to add complexity, interest, and uniqueness to each brewery’s products.
Vital Statistics: OG: 1.055-1.080
IBUs: 20-45 FG: 1.010-1.015
SRM: 6-12 ABV: 4.5-8.1%
Commercial Examples: Saison Dupont, Moinette, Laforet, Saison Silly, Sezoens.
It was those guidelines which were in effect when I brewed a 3rd Place BOS beer which is still the base recipe I work from when I brew a Saison.
Saison – 5 gallons
11 lb. Belgian pale
0.75 lb. Wheat malt
4 oz. British crystal 75L
0.5 oz. American chocolate
0.75 lb. Cane sugar (in boil)
150° F 60 min
168° F 10 min
1.5 oz. Hallertauer (4.25% AA, 60 min.)
0.5 oz. Saaz (aroma)
At end of boil add (after processing in a coffee grinder):
0.5 oz Coriander
A few flakes of dried orange peel
A few crushed black peppercorns
White Labs 565 Saison Yeast.
Ferment at 70° F
In reality it is not a new style and really hit the homebrew world after Markowski published Farmhouse Ales in 2004. Ever since the publication of that book homebrewer’s have been religiously making the style. This is actually one case where commercial breweries lagged homebrewers, but today many breweries make the style. I checked a beer rating site and they have over 4,000 Saisons listed and considering in 2011 there were about 9,000 breweries worldwide and today that number has to be closing in on 11-12,000 it would stand to reason every third brewery has a Saison in their repertoire. It is a popular style which will only become more popular. I’ve loved the style for a long time and I don’t see that changing. Spring, Summer, Fall, or Winter the time is always right to enjoy a Saison!