The term “farmhouse ale” can invoke romantic visions of a beautiful countryside, animals grazing along a country road, or rustic wooden tables where you sit drinking your beer with a hearty stew and crusty bread. Romantic, yes, but that’s pretty much where saisons got their start.
Farmhouse ales have their roots in the farmland once known as Flanders, a region that currently stretches right along the border of Belgium and France. Before the Industrial Revolution, agriculture in the area attracted many seasonal workers, better known as saisonniers. Although the crops being harvested were intended for sale, the ales brewed at the farmhouse were not. Farmer-brewers made these beers to be consumed by the laborers, not unlike the ‘family meal’ modern day restaurant owners provide for their staff. In fact, a certain allotment of daily beer was often part of the saisonniers’ entitled pay.
Nowadays, seasonal beers can feel like a marketing ploy, but before refrigeration they were a necessity: brewing conditions and temperatures were only optimal for a short period of time when temperatures were cool enough to prevent spoilage. Beers brewed in cooler months were stored for drinking the rest of the year; they had to be robust enough to last through months of storage (even in hot weather), yet still bright and refreshing enough to quench the thirst of tired farm workers.
These farmhouse ales are also known as saisons, which is French for “seasons.” Classic saisons tend to have distinct hop flavors with bright, fruity aromas, a smack of tartness, and a crisp dry finish. Saisons are very similar to wine in that they manage to be complex and full-flavored, yet delicate and refreshing, which means they are some of the best food partners in the world of beer. The herbal hop flavors, the bready malt, and the fruity, tart qualities created during fermentation each latch onto food and make your meal taste better.
While not located in remote farmhouse settings, many American craft brewers have also taken up the style, and are experimenting with riffs that include funky Brettanomyces and new flavor additions. Savor the season and try some saisons this spring:
Brasserie Dupont Le Forêt | $11.99/750mL
Saison Dupont might be the saison gold standard but we love the Forêt, the brewery’s organic, slightly stronger version. Aromas of blood orange and cinnamon with flavors of vanilla malt, black plumbs and lemon tang. This brewery is credited with saving the saison style when it was near extinction and makes us extremely thankful for that.
Brasseriede la Pigeonnelle Loirette | $9.99/750mL
The Harddouin brothers started off as beer distributors in Paris, and after years of working with the likes of Cantillon and Dupont, they decided to start making it on their own. They moved into a family property in Touraine and developed a deep love of the beers of Belgium, from the heavily sour styles to the lighter farmhouse ales. They only work with organic ingredients and Loirette is their first beer. It’s refreshing, creamy, with flavors of bread and white pepper.
Perennial Artisan Ales Saison de Lis | $10.99/750mL
One of our favorite domestic breweries, Perennial Artisan Ales focuses on using local, seasonal, and organic ingredients in making their ales. Located in St. Louis, their beers are influenced by Belgian farmhouse ales. Their Saison de Lis is brewed with local chamomile flowers and fermented with a traditional saison yeast strain that imparts fruity and spicy notes. The chamomile adds a tea-like quality that finishes dry, tart, and refreshing.