Saison: one of the best beers of the summer
Jason Newell, the manager of our Chanhassen Wines & Spirits location, shares his top saison recommendations – and the story behind this refreshing summer beer.
Working on the farm is not an easy lifestyle, especially in the days before electricity, central air and refrigeration. During that period the European farmworkers’ lifestyle was controlled by the seasonal forces of nature. If you worked on a farm it was likely you had many jobs to master.
One of the most important jobs was fermenting wine, ciders and, of course, beer. After the harvest in fall, weather conditions were optimal for brewing the beer they would need for the following summer. The hot temperatures of summer allowed bacteria to thrive and made it difficult for the yeasts to do their fermentation magic. The farmers would brew the beers, add their unique blend of spices and store their creations until summer time. This style of beer is called a saison and would be served to the field workers as a meal to get them through the blistering hot days and make the work more tolerable.
Modern day saisons have a light golden color, thick white head, refreshingly crisp mouthfeel and citrus finish. The types and amounts of spices vary from each brewer. Most prominent in the mix is coriander and citrus peel. The type of citrus chosen by the brewer gives each saison its signature style – lemon peel, orange peel, lime and even peach can be used. The variety of other spices is endless, from ginger, grains of paradise, thyme, lavender and many others.
I enjoy saisons that are crisp with a light citrus effect that isn’t too bitter. My favorite of the current saisons is also the newest addition to our store from the local Fulton brewery, named The Randonneur. Located a few blocks from the Twins stadium, Fulton has become one of the most famous of the Minneapolis craft breweries. The Randonneur has an incredible balance of spice and ale, with just the right amount of citrus that follows the light body of this saison. A Randonneur is a bicyclist who has completed an all-day bike challenge that goes 100 to 200 miles. This beer has a lower alcohol content, which makes it perfect for my all-day challenge of slow smoking a pork shoulder on the BBQ.
For a more intense flavor experience, try the saison from Stone Brewing Co., one of San Diego’s premiere breweries, where bold flavors and innovation have always been top priority. In 2011 they purchased a 19-acre farm in Southern California, where they are growing the fruits, vegetables and herbs needed for their beer and bistros. This enables us to enjoy a true farm-to-table beer experience that is truly unique and authentically Stone.
The Ommegang Brewery in Cooperstown, New York brews one of the most authentic European-style saisons in the country. Ommegang brews very traditional Belgian-style beers, one of which is the Hennepin Farmhouse saison. This saison is very dry with a touch of citrus and has a yeasty quality that is traditional to Belgian beers. Pair it with a triple cream Brie from France for a memorable beer/cheese pairing. This saison is named after the missionary Father Louis Hennepin who, in the late 1600s, was the first to document Niagara Falls in Canada and St. Anthony Falls here in Minneapolis.
Saisons are not just for summertime field work! Try them when you’re on the deck, on the boat, up north at the cabin or just hanging out with friends grilling. Summer, my favorite Minnesota season, is short and so is the saison season, so don’t delay if you want to try these fantastic summer specialties.