Tuesday, 16 June 2015

God knows when I first drank a saison

God knows when I first drank a saison, sometime in the early 1990s perhaps, maybe after reading Michael Jackson and thinking that the beer he described was rather interesting; at the time I was drinking wine (as well as beer) and also thinking about the wine I was drinking and I wanted to do the same with beer.

The first beers I really thought about were Bavarian Weizen (back in 1988 they were a revelation and I can still pour a bottle into a glass super quick as was shown to me by a barman in an Eindhoven pub then), but Belgium followed — there was a deli in Stoke Newington in 1992, which is where I then lived, that sold Delirium Tremens, and of course there was Belgo, whose Camden branch was very close to where I worked.

In 2005 I co-organised a British Guild of Beer Writers trip to Wallonia that included visits to Silly, Lefebvre, Du Bocq and Cantillon (my second, I was first there in 1996). I do remember being excited about Silly Saison but several years later when I wrote a piece on saison for All AboutBeer I thought it had become much sweeter. 

On the other hand, saison as a beer style/variety/expression was starting to really dig away at me. What on earth was a saison? And when I wrote my AAB piece I contacted Garrett Oliver who came back with the following quote: ‘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 with that in mind I tasted Firewitch from Cheddar Ales, a brewery more known for their solid cask beers and when I got a press release and the offer of a bottle I was interested to try it. As soon as I popped the cap I could smell Soriachi Ace; it dominated the nose, a sort of soft, meringue lemon, dank hop sack character, and then it was followed by a soft lemony and bittersweet and flinty and bitter and spicy template of flavours on the palate, a billowing of flavours with a high dry finish — a modern saison indeed and I must say that it’s rather good.

1 comment:

  1. Saison is merely a French (and German) word for season. So across the Continent, Saisonbier(e) means the current seasonal/special, to the considerable confusion of monoglot Anglophone visitors who wonder why this 'Saison' tastes more like a Bock, Witbier or whatever. It would be nice if we could call the style something else - Farmhouse ale, perhaps - but it is too late now. And yes, to some extent it's their problem for being monoglot!