The word "saison" is French for "season," and the beers so named originated in the French-speaking region of Belgium. Typically brewed in the late autumn or winter for consumption from summer through the harvest, they were the beverage of choice for farm workers, designed to refresh against the heat without being dangerously high in alcohol. What makes them truly unique (as with most Belgian brews) is the yeast. Temperatures at fermentation for most ales don't get much above 70 degrees Fahrenheit, but the strain for Saison pushes 90 degrees. It is thought to be an offshoot of red wine yeast and it lends itself to a remarkably aromatic brew marked by spicy aromas and fruit laced flavors. The benchmark for the style is the Saison Dupont, sadly unavailable in the Boise market, but we do have three interesting offerings from three different countries.
Brasserie de Blaugies Saison d'Epeautre
This Belgian entry is somewhat unusual in that it is brewed with spelt. A translucent yellow brew that looks something like a hefeweizen in the glass, it gives off a slightly earthy funk on the nose that's punctuated by an enticing bit of brininess, something like a fresh sea breeze. There's a definite graininess to the palate that's colored by ripe citrus, light spice, mineral and a soft touch of that brine component. It all tastes better than it sounds with a finish that turns crisp and is marked by a nice hit of hops.
North Coast Brewing Le Merle Salson
A California entry that pours a hazy golden hue with a nice frothy head and aromas that remind me of sweet peas cooking in butter. Very refreshing on the palate with a soft, grassy herbaceousness and creamy malt flavors that lean toward stone and tropical fruit. Soft clover punctuates the mid palate and lingers on the persistent finish. Give this one a chance—it grows on you with each subsequent sip.
Wayan Saison Style Ale
Light, citrusy hops and candied orange aromas highlight this creamy orange-colored brew. It is a very elegantly styled ale, exceptionally well-balanced with the orange theme carrying through on the palate—very fresh and smooth from start to finish. There's something warming but fleeting in the mouth, like candied ginger or nutmeg. The label states this one is brewed with added spices, but you probably wouldn't notice otherwise, so subtle are they in this soft Saison.