When I was writing a piece on Wallonian saisons last year I asked Garrett Oliver what his interpretation of a saison was, given that in his magnificent Brewmaster’s Table (in my eyes one of the best beer books ever written) he had note-checked the beer as the one style he could drink every day.
He came back with the words: ‘In my mind, there are really only a few things truly required of a saison. It must be dry – residual sugar would have a considerable effect on the beer’s ability to keep through the summer. They should also be fairly hoppy. Moderate alcohol, 5- 7%, would make them strong enough to last for a while, but not so strong that they’d stun the farm workers who drank it. So perhaps it is not a style that lends itself to orthodoxy, but rather one that originally existed to answer a question – “what can I brew that’s nutritious, refreshing, tasty, and will last for at least a year in the cellar?”’
So in other words, every man his own brewery makes his own saison. Which is a roundabout way of leading me to Sharps’ colossus of a head brewer Stuart Howe, who is currently ploughing his way through a series of 52 beers. When he asked for suggestions of what to do I said why not do a dark saison, given that most variations of the style I have seen were blonde or even a dirty yellow (with his penchant of thinking outside the box Blumenthal-style I almost suggested a bacon and egg rauchbier but sadly thought I would sound too frivolous). A dark saison I had not seen, but referring back to Oliver’s quote there is nowhere that it says that a saison cannot be dark (I bet Dany at Fantome has done one) and so Howe took the challenge and last week he sent me a couple of bottles. He has succeeded admirably.
‘I really like the beer that has come out,’ he told me, ‘if I was marking it according to closeness to style I wouldn’t be able to rate it very highly as it is a big beer and not particularly dry but it really is lovely and quite unusual. As for strength, it has galloped up to 7.8% in the bottle.’
I tried one the other night and found myself loving it. It was the colour of an ancient oak sideboard some great aunt has seen fit to leave to you on her demise, even though you only met her twice. Juicy fruit gums and a sweet stewed potage of fruit dominate the nose. It’s a big mouthful and there is the flinty, chalky character of saison, joined by an oddball fruitiness that veers towards booze soaked currants; it has that historic edge of a saison, a peppery peripatetic edge that makes me think of Wallonia, yet look at the colour. On the other hand is there anything that says a saison has to be a certain colour? From where I stand saison a moveable feast; sure the Howe’s is a cleaned-up version, lacking the funk and junk of something like Saison d’Epeautre from Blaugies (pictured), but it’s still a delectable beer that I would love to see out in the wider world. I’ve one bottle left and fancy pouring it out alongside a massive pasty from the baker’s up the road. Now would be heaven.
Im lucky enough to have a couple of bottles from Stuart's 52 brews sat at home including a saison labelled "ohhhh sex" guessing it could be the same one!!ReplyDelete
Ohhhh sex!! He wrote dark saison on mine. I’m easily unsettled. ;-)ReplyDelete
I like the idea of a bacon and egg rauchbier. Seriously!! you're right though, it's a hard style to nail.ReplyDelete
Leigh — where will it all end, fish finger stout or turmeric witbier? actually the latter sounds quite interesting, be interested to see how it worked with oats.ReplyDelete
Garrett's own Brooklyn Saison is sublime. I have very fond memories of drinking it in Denver.ReplyDelete
You’re absolutely correct, and while you’re at it try Victory’s Saison with its a hint of Sauternes-like dessert wine on the palate and Southampton Saison Deluxe, creamy, honeyed and peppery all in one go. BTW is that the village in Norfolk, a few miles from Beers of Europe?ReplyDelete
ATJ - AND THATS WHY we leave brewing to those guys. Cos if WE were at the helm, that's what sort of beers we'd be drinking!! Ps. turmeric wit would probably work...!!ReplyDelete
Leigh, Turmeric Wit is a goer then, anyone want to have a go? after all Kelham Island did a saffron ale for a Beer writers do about 10 years ago — not bad if I recall.ReplyDelete
I've completely failed to get my head round Saison. Any suggestions on where to start?ReplyDelete
I know what you mean, something such as Voisin can be as austere as a monk at morning prayer, while I have found Silly’s version become sweeter over the past five years, sweet enough to put in your morning tea.
I always reckon Dupont’s saison ia a good opener, it’s restrained in its sweetness, there’s a good champagne-like effervescence (would have been ideal at the Burton do the other week) with a quick drying finish with spice in the background. Then I also find Saison d’Erpe Mere from Glazen Toren bit friendly, bittersweet with citrus fruit and the merest hint of white pepper; dry finish (it’s Flemish rather than Wallonian). Other people will have other ideas. Saison is a good food beer as well.
But on the other hand, it’s not worth worrying about if you don’t get it, I haven’t got White Shield for years, only now am I starting to enjoy it.