With the exception of the rogue snowfall that graced our city early this week, it’s really starting to feel like Spring. The days are getting longer, the markets will soon be selling more than potatoes and turnips – and there are even little crocuses starting to sprout in gardens around town. Springtime is always something to look forward to, especially since warm weather will surely be on the way and the idea of having a cold beer on the patio is becoming more attainable by the day.
If we turn the clocks back to the pre-refrigeration era of Northern France’s countryside, it would be an entirely different story. In those days, if you wanted summer beer you’d have to be brewing all Winter and into the early Spring. The beer had to be brewed earlier in the year, when there was a lot less work to do around the farm in the Winter and controlled fermentation for the brewing would be much harder to achieve in the hot summer months.
The style that we know as Saison is probably the closest thing to what was brewed back then. In many cases, leftover fruits from the harvest were used and, when hops were in short supply, spices and herbs would be substituted. It’s hard to say exactly what the beer would have tasted like back then but the modern interpretations are very refreshing with pronounced citrus notes, a firm, but not overpowering bitterness, and usually a cracked pepper tingle. The thing I love best about Saison is that these brews are a very neutral canvas for adding interesting flavours.
Take for instance, the Brooklyn Sorachi Ace. Back in the late 1970’s in Japan, Sapporo breweries developed a hop called the Sorachi Ace. The hop soon fell out of fashion until around 2006 when a hop farm in Washington started growing it. Brooklyn Brewery decided to showcase in their Saison, where the hop displays bright lemongrass aromas, notes of dill, and cracked white pepper. This beer is also re-fermented in the bottle with Champagne yeast to give it an impressive mouthfeel and lively carbonation.
If you’re interested in Saison styles, check out Le Trou du Diable’s Mellifera. This is a Saison made with a boat-load of local honey. Under normal circumstances this would make the final beer very sweet, but they took it one step further and introduced a lactic fermentation. In this particular fermentation, the lactic acid eats the sugars from the honey and turns it into a sour profile while the honey leaves behind a floral character. This beer is refreshing, complex, and ready for summer!
Finally, if you’re looking for a beer that’s a little less Saison and a little more malt focused this season – check out the Lagunitas Pilsner. This is a super clean, refreshing lager that has really focused maltiness and subtle hops with floral, and spicy notes. This is the perfect beer pairing with all sorts of food and the best companion to a trip to the beach, a patio, or any other warm weather activity.
Cheers to the warm weather to come!