Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Lecture From a Self-Proclaimed Expert on What a Saison Should Really Be Like. By Joe Stange.

It's hard to find a good American-made saison. For that matter, it's hard to find a good Belgian one, but already I digress.

I'm not an expert in many things... Brussels cafés, sure. Star Wars trivia, yes. The limits of my wife's patience, no. Quality saisons, yes. And by quality, naturally, I mean those I like.

And so: Too many saisons I've tried hither and yon are too sweet, too spicy--whether from warmly fermented yeast or actual spices--too alcoholic, and really not hoppy at all. Are they still saisons? Sure. If you say so. I don't care what you call them. The important question is, are they any good? No. They are not. More to the point: They're not drinkable.

Why drinkability matters to a saison, if the word "saison" means anything at all: The only thing that really ties saisons together is their mythology--even, as I said in a recent article for DRAFT, if that mythology is true. That myth is that back in the day Wallonian farmers made light beers to rehydrate and reward their workers. They were low in alcohol. They were, ideally, refreshing.

You can argue that modern saisons are different. They are stonger now, blahbbedy blah. Again, I don't care. Call them whatever you want. We don't have to drink them.

Now, finally, I get to tell you about a really good one I found in an unlikely place. We had about 20 minutes left in Columbia, Missouri, when I snuck in the back door of the Broadway Brewery, which did not open for another two hours or so. Luckily there was a friendly barlady there. I explained that I had to leave town but I would like to pay to taste a few beers if they'd oblige me. She refused to sell me anything but let me taste a few -- including a gorgeous saison.

"It's our lightest beer," she said.

"That's a good sign," I said.

It was somewhat lemony, moderately hopped, and golden. Fairly clean without being boring. Refreshing. The sort you'd want to drink after a long day in the fields. After having a couple you'd be unlikely to lop off any limbs with old-school harvesting tools.

There is no secret here. We're talking about what appears to be an above-average brewpub with a technically sound brewer who's making good decisions. I don't even know the guy's name yet. But I will. I suspect a lot of us will, eventually.


  1. I love the idea of likeable, low in alcohol easily drinkable beers. Though I have no problem with stronger ones. In England there was once a strong tradition of the easy drinking refresher - ideal for the farm or factor worker at the end of the day. We called them Boys Bitters. Probably hoppier than a saison, sweeter yes. But they'd stand toe to toe on drinkabilty.

  2. In my opinion England is still the very best at easy drinking, refreshing beers with character. The catch is that you generally have to go there to taste them as they were meant to be.