Words By Mitchell West, Photos By Morgan Hungerford West
While it’s tempting to drink those early arrival pumpkin ales, let’s put those Fall beers off a few more weeks and enjoy some Saisons now. It’s tough to find a better beer for a hot Summer day than a Belgian Saison. Also known as “farmhouse ales,” the original saisons were brewed on farms in the Winter so they’d be ready in the Summer to quench the thirst of the farm workers, known as saisonners. The style originated in the French-speaking Wallonia region of Belgium.
Saison is a difficult style to categorize. They’re usually light in color and body and are highly carbonated and dry. Most feature a fruity nose and high acidity, and it is typical for these beers to go through a process known as “bottle conditioning,” which means adding extra yeast a bottling time so the beer carbonates naturally, leaving them hazy, and with a fair amount of sediment floating around in your glass. Saisons, however, break all these rules constantly, as it’s more of an art form than a science.
We are featuring four saisons, and all are available here in DC. Two are from Belgium (a classic version and a “funkier” one), and two from the US: one from Richmond, VA, and one from here in DC.
The classic Belgian saison, this one pours a pale gold color and has a light body, full of great citrus and pear flavors, and a slight tartness. It is highly effervescent and has a thick white head that slowly recedes. This beer is endlessly refreshing, and a great baseline of the style.
From the elusive Brewery Fantome, the Hiver is their Winter seasonal. The brewery is well known for their original Saison, but in DC, that one’s tough to find. Their seasonals, however, are usually available at De Vinos in Adams Morgan. The recipes for these change every year, and can be hit or miss, but they’re always interesting. This one is no different. Mildly carbonated, Hiver pours a darker amber than most saisons. It has a pronounced nutty flavor with notes of fruit and even a slight hint of chocolate. Not as refreshing as the Dupont, but definitely interesting and worth a try, especially if you enjoy the funky stuff.
This local option was the group favorite in the tasting. It is remarkably smooth with less carbonation than the others. Big citrus flavors come from the lemon peel and the Citra hops, although neither overpowers the beer. Instead, they work very well with the sweetness of the malts to produce a great 5% ABV beer for a hot Summer day.
Saison Rustica is brewed with lemongrass, peppercorns, and star anise. These ingredients add a subtle and delicate spiciness to its champagne-like smoothness. At 4.5% ABV, this is the lightest of the bunch, and the most drinkable. Once it warms up a bit, you really start to notice the slight licorice flavors coming from the anise.