The Traditional Belgian Farmhand drink seems to have found a new home in the UK with craft breweries trying to make their stamp on this classic beer style.
Saisons began life as pale ales brewed in the farmhouses of the french speaking region of Wallonia in Belgium. They were brewed during the cooler winter months and were then stored and used to slake the thirst of the seasonal workers "saisonnaires" in the warmer summer months. Each saisonnaire was entitled to up to 5 litres of the beer per day. Unlike most modern day saisons the traditional version was of a much lower % ABV typically around 3% and were meant to be a refreshing drink for working in the summer sun.
Nowadays traditional style saisons can still be found but craft brewers are pushing the boundaries of what can be expected from the style and below I'm going to give a small glimpse into what is available in shops in the UK.
Saison Dupont 6.5% - A very traditional style saison from the Wallonia region in Belgium. I am including this as the yardstick for which the others should be compared against. I think it's also a good idea to try the traditional style as well as the modern styles as well to get a context of how modern versions differ from tradition.
Bronckhorster Saison Nouvelle 7.5% - From Brouwerij Rodenburg, Another very tradtional style from the continent and again a very good representation of the style which is good to try as a contrast for the offerings from the UK.
Bloeduval Saison 5.5% - From Brouwerij Pampus in Holland, brewed with city hops and hibiscus to give it a very fresh tart apple flavour that compliments the sourness of the style. Get your hands on this!
Mad Saison 5.5% - Mad Yeast brewery in Belgium so you would expect this to be agains traditional but once you get past the sourness there is something special in store with hints of flowers to really elevate it.
Crab Saison 6.0% - From the Cromer based brewery Poppyland, fantastic the best of their beers that I have tired to date. Really something special that is refreshing for the current warm weather.
Saison Lemon and Thyme 4.0% - Partizan Brewing in Bermondsey, a flavour combination common with food but not with beer. This doesn't quite linger on the palate for as long as some of the higher % ABV alternatives but certainly holds its own.
01/02 Saison Amarillo & Orange 5.6% - Brew by Numbers the close neighbours to Partizan Brewing. I had this while camping next to a bonfire and I couldn't have asked for a better choice. Orange flavours to go with some grapefruit hops and sourness following. This makes toasted marshmallows 5 star.
Prelude 4.1% - Bristolian brewers Wiper And True have been pushing craft beer in the west country and are no ordinary brewers and this saison confirms their burgeoning reputation. It's seriously good!
Black Jacques 11.1% - BrewDog are known for really pushing what we can expect from beers and Black Jacques is no exception to this. A bit of an unusual beast it's a black saison which is aged in red wine barrels. The high % ABV works very well with the sourness from the beer and then is mellowed by the smooth dark berry finish from the wine barrel.
Craft beer is meant to push the boundaries of the traditional styles and in the UK this is especially prominent in the saison style. So even if you are not normally enamoured with sour beers instead of writing them off at least give them a try if you see them in you local.