Now that the season is upon us, take a deeper look at these tasty beverages and how they can brighten up your brewery.
With spring freshly finished and summer still full of hot, thirsty days, many breweries are rolling out their saison beers. These light, effervescent beers provide excellent refreshment as the temperature climbs. The key to this unique treat is the saison yeast and the creative additions to the brew. Saison beers are often where brewmasters experiment with unique tastes and ingredients. Customers usually want something light and fun during the summer.
What Is A Saison Beer?
The modern saison beer is a pale ale known for high carbonation and light, refreshing taste. Spices and fruit accents are often mixed into the brewing processes to add light flavors in with the yeast. Saisons are also often bottle conditioned, adding to their simple farmhouse style by coming to their carbonation through additional yeast in the bottle. Saison craft beers are known for their fruit notes and unusual flavor elements, such as citrus, spices and other non-traditional components.
The most well-known saison beer is Saison Dupont, bottled in wine-style with a cork stopper and cage. Bottle conditioning makes this beer an excellent choice for aging, so a comparison to a fine wine is not entirely off-base. Similar beers include Brewery Ommengang’s Hennepin, Boulevard Brewery Company’s Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale, and Goose Island Beer Co.’s Sofie.
Most modern saison beers range from 5.0 to 8.0 ABV, coming out to an average of 7.0. They rate an 8 on the SRM color scale, about where a good Weissbeir comes in. Saison Dupont has an IBU rating of 28. Since most beers using the name try to model Saison Dupont, that number is a good starting point for the bitterness of your brew. Saison yeast handles high temperatures well, working best between 68 degrees and 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
A History of Saisons
Traditional saisons originated in Wallonia, the French-speaking region of Belgium. ‘Saison’ is French for ‘season.’ The name stuck because they were originally made by farmers during the cooler months of the year. This was to provide farmhands with something to do outside of planting and harvesting but also because the cooler days meant a smaller chance of the fermentation going bad. The traditional farmhouse ale was produced with a lower alcohol content, as it was meant to be consumed on the job as a refreshment in the hot summer sun.
A few years ago, saisons broke big onto the craft brewery scene thanks to the success of Dupont Brewery. Their Saison Dupont Vieille Provision won many accolades within the American market, including being called “the world’s best beer” by Men’s Health magazine in July of 2005. Saisons are also known as farmhouse ales in those cases where a French name might turn off someone looking for a beer. It’s also a way to differentiate the modern, more alcoholic version from the lighter, traditional brew, which still has some fans in Europe.
Saison beers came about before refrigeration was an option. Brewing conditions were only perfect for certain parts of the year. Summer was usually a bad time to brew because the heat had a greater chance of spoiling the fermentation process. Now, saison craft beers offer an excellent opportunity for breweries to experiment with different tastes and ingredients for a small batch that might lead to more unique versions of classic brews. Successful combinations might even evolve into your next perennial brew. Customers will come back over many summers for a saison beer that tastes just right.
What’s Happening in the World of Saison?
This seems to be the summer of the saison. Even the New York Times says so. Thanks to the craft brew explosion, more and more people are looking to expand their horizons when bellying up to the bar. Putting a saison on your menu can be a good test run to see how interested your customers are in trying different things. It also can be eye-opening if properly paired with a summer food menu, should your establishment serve both. Talk to your chef and see if he or she has any ideas about crafting a paired special for the summer that could make your brewpub the talk of the town.
You can literally spice up a saison by adding things like peppercorns and coriander. The success of pumpkin spice in fall opened up palates in a big way around the world. Thanks to craft beers like this, ginger beer has made the leap from non-alcoholic to mixing the warmth of ginger and satisfaction of a good beer. Saison beers have a traditional mix of fruits as part of the recipe, but a trip to your local world market can add fruits that those farmers from Flanders would have never dreamed to mix in. If you have a favorite fruit that you rarely see used in brewing, trying it out in a saison beer seems like a good way to see how it fares.
The seasonal nature of this beer leave it open for use as a platform to bring in all sorts of strange and interesting ingredients. Fruits and spices are traditional choices, but so many other things can be added to a saison beer that can generate buzz for your brewery. Find a local business that produces something edible and talk about a cross promotion with a saison featuring their product in the mix. The ingredient can even be something exotic. Butterfly beer, anyone?
This is the time of year to open your horizons and try something new. Your brewery or restaurant is no different. Saisons allow you to stretch your legs as a brewmaster and get people to notice your creativity. If you think you have a recipe that could work, consider renting a commercial water heater to help increase your manufacturing volume. If you decide to come up with a new craft beer, don’t forget to raise a glass to those Flanders farmers from so many years ago.