Saison the Beer of Summer

Belgian brewing is a world unto itself. Belgium is a relatively small country of roughly eleven million people, yet it boasts over a hundred breweries producing some four hundred different beers in several different and unique styles.

Saison, which means, “season” is often referred to as “farmhouse beer” because it originated as a summer refresher for the men who worked the fields in rural Belgium. Saison is a product of the French speaking part of Belgium known, as Wallonia and most of the breweries are located on what is or once was a farm.
There is no general description of this style as it ranges in color from golden to orange to brown. The alcohol content also ranges from 5% to 8% abv and is considered to be light (by Belgian standards) and refreshing. 

This style was originally brewed before refrigeration came into play in the springtime. In those days brewing was impossible during warm weather because the beer would spoil. The clever brewers of the day would put hops into the casks to prevent spoilage during the summer months. In the 1800s this style was made in varying strengths including “children’s”, “family”, “double’ and “royal”.

The Saisons of today are often sold in corked bottles and undergo a secondary fermentation in the bottle. They are highly hopped and at the same time very refreshing with a slightly tart finish. They are sometimes flavored with spices or botanicals.

As far as pairing with food Saison is about as versatile as they come. They go well with the ethnic spicy foods that are readily available here in the San Francisco Bay Area. The hop character and crisp finish will stand up to Thai dishes as well as Viet Namese and the spicier of the Chinese cuisines Hunan and Szechwan. The chile-laden concoctions of Mexico and Central American are also complemented and contrasted by this refreshing brew.

 However ethnic is not a necessity as Saisons match up well with a grilled steak or any seafood as long as the fish is not to delicately flavored. Seared salmon, grilled prawns, crab cakes, fried fish whatever Saison matches up both as a flavor enhancer and palate cleanser. Virtually any flavorful dish whether it be grilled sausage or a ragout of wild mushrooms will fine a friend in Saison.

There are many styles available year round in bottles and on rare occasions on draft. Brewery Ommegang in New York produces Hennapin which is available and some of the better stores in the area. Saison Dupont from Belgium is one of the benchmark examples of this style. La Chouffe is also a fine example of the “farmhouse beer”. So in closing, get out there, find it, try it and enjoy.

Remember April is Belgian Beer month at Toronado at 547 Haight Street and they always have a fine selection of Belgians in the bottle and a couple on tap.


Chef Bruce