Summer is the season for saisons, beers that were literally brewed for summer by the French-speaking southern Belgian farmers of Wallonia. Brewed in the late autumn or winter to be ready for consumption by summer, the name means “season” in French. Like most beers, saisons have a reason for existence. Some brews were created for pleasure, other for rituals, still others, like saisons for sustenance.
Known as Farmhouse Ales, saisons came onto the beer scene in the 1700s. In those days, most of Europe was in the midst of a water crisis – water was undrinkable due to the many microbes that called it home. Alcohol killed those microbes and made the water drinkable and, well, tasty. Farmers, being the practical, work-oriented sort they have always been, realized that in order to keep workers (“les saisonniers”) in the fields during the hot months of summer, they would need to have some sort of liquid refreshment handy. Thus, the birth of saisons, low-alcohol ales designed to quench thirst and keep farm-hands working the fields. Tradition demanded that workers were entitled to five liters of the brew per day of work.
Over the years, these ales slowly increased in alcohol content from around 3.5% to today’s 7.5% or better. The brews also began to change in flavor through the addition of spices and other ingredients like fruits and even vegetables. Each farmhouse had its own recipe and brewing method, making it difficult to classify the beer into a single style. It was more of an idea of how a beer of its sort would taste than a complete thought even though it occurred very commonly across the countryside.
As the world industrialized, the need for field workers diminished and thus the demand for Saison waned. Many farmhouse breweries became full-fledged breweries, producing other Belgian styles as well as their own distinctive Saison. Some, like Brasserie Dupont maker of Saison Dupont , became the bellwether for what a saison should be.
What you should expect when you enjoy a saison is a slightly cloudy beer with color ranging from straw to that of dark honey. The aroma will often be reminiscent of bananas or even bubble gum along with spices like coriander and black pepper depending on what was used in the brewing process. Saisons are arguably the most complexly flavored style of beers that may taste sweet, tart, crisp or herbal. Often this style is referred to as having Champaign-like qualities.
For the hot summers of Florida, a cold saison is an excellent choice for refreshment.