Originally produced back in the 17th century in Belgium (in the French-speaking part, Wallonia), Saison beers were designed for consumption by field workers during the active farming and harvest period.
True craft beers, with local farm-produced ingredients left over from the previous crop and long maturation time, these farmhouse ales had low alcohol levels, aiming to refresh the field workers without inebriating them.
This style began to diversify into higher-strength versions and other variations after World War II. Today, we can break this family down into two categories: ‘traditional’ and ‘contemporary’ Saison beers.
If you are a Belgian ale fan, you will thoroughly enjoy the ‘Saison field’ and its impressive diversity, with a huge amount of variations available on the shelves today.
As a Belgian beer lover, you are most likely also a ‘yeast lover’ and that’s another reason you will enjoy Saison style beers, since the yeast is a key factor in the sensory expression of this very special beer style.
It will deliver intense fruitiness, spiciness, and especially for Saison-style, its very dry finish. Generally speaking, it is a yeast variety in particular, (nl. Saccharomyces cerevisiae var diastaticus), which plays a major role in the flavour development.
Indeed, although Saison beers are rich in spiciness, they typically do not have spices added. It is mainly the yeast – and occasionally, certain hop varieties – that will provide this attribute to the final beer.
However, in modern types today, you may find spiced Saison beers produced with the addition of herbs, flowers and other condiments.
Base malts are typical, but the grist frequently contains other grains such as wheat, oats, rye – and traditionally spelt – that also provide spicy flavours and its precursors for the yeast.
Adjuncts such as sugar and honey can also help boost dryness. Today it is easy to find heavily and dry-hopped versions, in which you combine the power of the yeast with an extra charge of flavour and modern hops – though traditionally, continental European hops were the favourites.
Even darker versions using dark and caramel malts – but not roasted types – can be found. To add even more diversity, modern Saison beers are sometimes even produced by mixed fermentations.
Historically, ‘pure fermentations’ were naturally scarce; but today brewers are coming back to these former times by intentionally adding ‘wild yeasts’ (such as Brettanomyces) at the main fermentation and/or secondary fermentation steps.
Although it is not typical for this style (as it would then rather be considered as a ‘wild ale’ or could fall into mixed fermented beer categories), those micro-organisms will certainly add other layers of complexity within the spiciness, fruitiness and funky character in this category.
Finally, the rule is: if you want to be creative and play with the incredible world of beer yeast and flavourful ingredients, Saison-style may be the one you can distil the best of your imagination into!
Saison style yeast suggestion: SafAle™ BE-134, which is ideal for dry and spicy Belgian-style beers, like Saisons. Our yeast recommendations are meant solely as a guide to help you choose the right strain from our range.
It is entirely possible to brew a specific style of beer with a different strain: feel free to experiment and be creative! Source: Fermentis.