Monday, July 11, 2011

Session Beer Truthiness.

The Boston Globe took on session beers in a Saturday article. Writer Steve Greenlee calls them "sessionable beers," which strikes me as two syllables and four letters more than necessary for news writing style, but that's just a quibble. What's more important is that he stays below 5% abv with his recommendations: Narragansett Summer Ale, Haverhill Haver Ale, and Samuel Adams Rustic Saison.

This was the first I'd heard about the Rustic Saison. How about that, only 4.35% abv? OK, it's only available in the summer seasonal variety pack. And while the product description emphasizes spicy yeast character over the hop character, that's a matter of personal taste.

Best of all, the beer leads to some basically accurate historical info about saisons in a major metro newspaper:

Rustic Saison is more in line with the original saisons, or farmhouse ales, that were brewed centuries ago in Belgium to refresh field workers (since drinking water could prove fatal). These days we have become accustomed to saisons that are anywhere from 6 to 8 percent alcohol by volume, but the original saisons were only 3 to 4 percent.
To me, that's nearly as refreshing as the beer itself must be.


  1. Notch now has a saison at 3.8% ABV. My attempt to locate a six-pack this past Saturday was fruitless as the store underestimated how fast it would sell. Their Pils filled in nicely. I've already put away a few six-packs of it and I think Notch can safely ignore the people that take offense to their philosophy.

  2. I'm also happy to see breweries treating saison as a drinking beer that can be sold in six-packs, rather than something really special in corked bottles at prices akin to Belgian imports.

    I always hoped Boulevard would put their regular saison in sixers and sell it for Pale Ale-type prices. Instead, they discontinued it.

  3. Tim,

    Thanks for the nice words. Just for the record, Notch Saison is in 22oz bottles (you should find it for <$4), and it's a one-off. However, the plan is to put it in six packs, but I wanted to see the response to a 3.8% saison first.

    The saison is only one of MANY examples of historically significant beer styles that were / are low ABV.

    Chris, Notch Brewing

  4. I must say that the Saisons I've tried have mostly failed to impress me. After reading this, I might now no why: they were amped up, fancied up versions of what essentially should have been down to earth, simple beers meant to be drunk in big swigs instead of short sips. I would love to get my hands on a Saison more faithful to the origins of the style (if we can call it that).

  5. Max, do you include Saison Dupont in the "failed to impress me" camp? Considering it's often hailed as a traditional archetype, it's amazing how many American-made "saisons" are over-spiced and under-attenuated. Dupont is neither.

    The Biolegere might be more up your alley. I never understood why it's mainly sold in teeny 25cl bottles. Needs to be on draft.

  6. Of all the Saisons I've had (which haven't been that many) Dupont is the one I liked the most, but it still didn't earn my unconditional love. It's the kind of beer that it would never make me go out of my way to find it, but I wouldn't turn it down if I was offered it...

    On the other hand, a session strength beer sold in 0.25l bottles, what a waste....

  7. Wouldn't be too surprised to see Biolegere on draft in the States... But the added costs of importation would make it pricey for a 3.5% beer.

    Reminds me of seeing Taras Boulba a few times in the U.S. for $8-10 a glass. I'd pay that much for a glass, but not all night, and how many others would?

  8. P.S. Should clarify that in the U.S. it's called Avril and does appear on draft sometimes.