Saison Beer Explained: What Is A Saison?

I love trying Saison beers because you never know what unique blend of flavors and aromas each brew will present. Some have rustic, earthy notes like a traditional Belgian farmhouse ale, and some surprise with modern, experimental infusions, ranging from fruity and spicy to tart and hoppy. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this beer style, here’s an easy guide to Saison beer.

What Is A Saison Beer?

Saison beer, often referred to as “Farmhouse Ale,” is a highly carbonated, fruity, and spicy pale ale traditionally brewed in the Wallonia region of Belgium. Saisons are known for their complex range of flavors. They often have a noticeable fruitiness, sometimes with citrus or banana notes, a spicy character that can include pepper, clove, or ginger, and a distinct yeast-driven flavor.

Saison Beer History

The Saison beer style has a rich history that traces back to the 1700s in the Wallonia region of Belgium, a predominantly French-speaking area known for its agricultural roots.

Saison beers are called “Saison,” which means “season” in French, because they were originally brewed seasonally in Belgian farmhouses during the winter months for consumption by farm workers in the summer. Saison beers were brewed during the colder months to avoid contamination from airborne yeasts prevalent during the warmer seasons.

The primary reason for making these beers was to make a safe and hydrating drink for farm laborers during the scorching summer months, a period when water was not always readily available.

Each farm produced its own distinctive version of Saison, using the grains and ingredients available on-site, leading to a wide variety of flavors and characteristics. The alcohol content was typically low, aiding in refreshment and hydration without overly intoxicating the workers.

Over time, the Saison evolved from these rustic, variable farmhouse ales into a more defined beer style, particularly as commercial brewing practices became more widespread. By the 20th century, the advent of modern brewing technology and refrigeration brought significant changes to the production process, allowing for more consistent and varied creations.

Despite these advancements, Saisons retained their signature features: a high level of carbonation, a spicy and fruity flavor profile often derived from the yeast, and a refreshing crispness. Today, the style has gained international acclaim, inspiring brewers worldwide to craft their unique interpretations of this traditional Belgian beer.

Saison Beer Examples

Saison Dupont

This is perhaps the most iconic and benchmark Saison beer from Belgium. Brewed by Brasserie Dupont, it is known for its balance of spicy, fruity, and earthy flavors with a dry finish.

Fantome Saison

Brewed by Brasserie Fantome in Belgium, this beer is known for its unique and often varying flavor profile, as the brewery likes to experiment with different ingredients.

Hennepin Farmhouse Saison

From Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown, New York, Hennepin is a well-regarded American take on the Saison style, featuring ginger, coriander, and orange peel.

Saison Bernice

Produced by Sante Adairius Rustic Ales in California, this is an American version that is highly praised for its balance and complexity, often featuring a notable tartness.