All Seasons are Seasons for Saisons
Portions of this article are rewritten from my “Beer Style of the Week – Saisons” written in 2011
Farmhouse Ale - Originally brewed in France as Biere de Garde and in Belgium as Saison (meaning season) during the late fall and winter months, the Farmhouse Ale would be tapped for the warm summer months in both countries as a flavorful beer that would last without refrigeration for several months. There are a wide spectrum of brewing ingredients and techniques used to create Biere de Garde or Saison. There are combinations of old traditions and newer methods employed to brew a batch nowadays, but to be authentic to the style, they should all, first and foremost, be bottle-conditioned. There may be some differences in malts, hops, yeast and water. The colors may vary from amber/orange to leathery brown. While there may even be vast differences from one to another, a beer within the style range should not be overly hopped and have just enough malt body to carry some of the fruitiness and mellow citrus bitterness known to the style. The aroma may have a slightly musty basement smell (in a good way, of course) or woody smell. An earthy smell is very common, as is a floral scent. The flavor profiles should possess a light peppery spiciness and/or resinous quality with a well-hidden alcoholic bite. Herbal tastes vary with coriander, basil, mint and/or allspice. A light taste of citrus zest and a mild taste of cloves are usually noticed in any farmhouse worthy of the name. The alcohol content ranges from between 5.5% and 8.0% alcohol by volume (ABV).Many of the old farmhouse brews were developed for the farmworkers as a nourishing, thirst-quenching beer. These particular ales were brewed at a lower 3.5% - 5% ABV level, perhaps so that the workers wouldn’t injure themselves with the farm equipment or animals. And as we will see later, there’s a New England born Saison “Small Beer” just waiting to get noticed.
Many French home brewers have in the past added citrus rinds and/or pulps, or other fruits into their Farmhouse ale, kicking up the alcohol level and flavor profiles in many crazy directions.
From the lands of Origination – Easy to find in New England (ask your local packie)
Biere de Garde - France
Les Freres De La Biere / Thiriez Xxtra – Biere De Garde - France - a fairly light (4.7% ABV)
25.4oz dark green bottle. No freshness date.
It pours a hazy pale gold color with a big, slow-fading pure white head and lots of sticky and sliding lace.
It smells like a fist full of freshly rubbed hops or resinous buds. Another smell that comes to mind is a dry desert and cut oak.
This moderately malted brew has a fresh bagel taste with a mild grassy finish.
The hops are edgy and sharp-edged, but not over-done. Resinous floral hop flavors abound.
Ever inhale deeply on a slightly clogged unlit hash pipe? Me neither, but the experience might be very reminiscent of that.
At 4.7%abv, it's one of the few brews I've had that tastes stronger than it actually is. This brew is quite different from anything out there today. Uniquely flavorful and totally refreshing! A must try!
Les Bière Des Sans Culottes - Brasserie La Choulette – Biere de Garde - France 7%ABV
16.9oz tall green, corked bottle. Best Before date notched on the side. Nice artwork paying tribute to the "trouserless" laborers who did the handiwork of the French Revolution. BTW - The fighters appear to be wearing trousers, but the woman leading the charge has raised her flag while lowering the top of her blouse. Ou la la!!
It pours a cloudy honey gold color with a small, but lasting white head and some sticky and trailing lace.
The aroma is a pleasant mix of dried malt, hay, lemony citrus and faint whiff of alcohol.
The malt has a nice herbal quality to it. A light sweetness and buttery biscuit taste provide a uniquely satisfying maltiness.
A lime-like bitterness is upfront. Hints of coriander, cloves and faint taste of pears adds to the brew's fine subtle character. The 7% ABV is well disguised.
This is one those rare beer purchases that turn out to be an amazing find. I wish I had bought more.
Fantôme – Fantôme Brasserie – Soy, Belgium – 8% ABV
750 ml dark green capped and corked bottle.
My mother-in-law (a Heinie and Stella fan) tasted and fell in love with this Saison at a local beer tasting. She purchased a bottle to share over a dinner of Belgian Beef stew. NICE PAIRING!
Anyway, it poured a cloudy orange-hued light golden color with a big, frothy white head and loads of sticky, clinging lace.
A big citrusy fruit and floral bouquet is somewhat muddled by a distinct barnyard smell. A light smell of dried hay is noticed in the background, as is a mild alcohol fuminess.
Given the light color, I was surprised by the full, sweet, nearly oily malt body. Flavors of toffee, orange zest, lemon, honey, and fresh bread are so in balance. A light floral, clove and peppery taste help keep things in harmony. A very mild taste of sweet light rum finishes nicely.
This is a very well-conceived and made concoction!
Here in New England
Jack D’Or - Pretty Things Beer & Ale Project - Westport, MA 6.5% ABV
22oz brown bottle. Bottled on date on top label.
Served in a Piraat fluted goblet.
It pours a very deep and cloudy caramel/amber color with a thin beige head on top along with loads of lacing.
Nice citrusy and musty fruit smells rise at first pour. Sweet fruit and spicy smells linger. A light alcohol fuminess comes and goes.
The flavors represent the style very nicely, with the exception of the hop profile being the dominant taste, though it works extremely well for this particular farmhouse. Edgy citrus peel and resinous hoppy bitterness are tempered with a lightly sweet caramel malt. A faint metallic tang inches through in the background. Tastes of a crusty baguette come to mind.
It's a very well-made brew! Lots of creativity involved with this Saison Americain!
Allagash Saison – Portland, Maine 6.1% ABV (New!)
12oz brown bottle
Served in an Allagash goblet
Pours a hazy orange-hued/tea-like color with a substantial fluffy white head on top.
The smells of citrus and spices rise at once, followed by glass pastures and wildflowers. A dry malty smell rolls forward, as does a light whiff of gin.
Balanced flavors of citrus and strong tea ride on a solid malty body. Minor flavors of wood and spice peek through. A bit of clove-like taste fades and a pleasant honey sweetness glides in.
A Small yet full-flavored Saison
Notch Saison – Ipswich, MA – 3.8% ABV
12oz brown bottle
Served in an Allagash goblet
Pours a hazy pale golden color with a medium-sized spritzy snow white head.
Smells of dry hay, grain and citrus zip out of the gate vying to gain ground. When, from out of nowhere, smells of green wood, mowed lawn and spices roll in. They all cross the finish line together and in complete harmony.
This is a GREAT beer to have on a hot day on the boat, at softball, on the beach or just lying around on the hammock in the shade, avoiding the heat.
We are lucky to live in a time when we don’t have to wait for Saison season. Every day is the Saison for Biere de Garde. Viva la Farmhouse Ales!
Quote: Mankind: “The animal that fears the future and desires fermented beverages” - Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, French Writer (1755-1826)