Summer has ended but that doesn’t mean you can’t crack open a saison. Saison is a style of beer that originally comes from the French-speaking area of Wallonia in Belgium, first back in the 18th century. These beers were brewed in the winter months and consumed in the hot winter months in the area, with the name, which means “season” in English, reflecting that.
At the time, saisons had to be sturdy enough to survive some of the cold winters in the area; however, not so strong that the farmhands would be drunk during the periods of farming the land. As such, saisons ended up being dry as too much sugar in the beer would have made the beer unstable, and also hoppy (for the time!) due to the amount of hops being used.
Saisons were traditionally much lower in alcohol than they are now, with abvs of between 3% to 4%. Low enough to be consumed in large quantities and not feel the effects of alcohol, but high enough so the alcohol helps preserve the beer. It’s only in modern times that the abv has increased to its current levels of 5% to 7% – you wouldn’t want to be working after that a few too many saisons at that strength.
In terms of what to look out for, saison is a peculiar style to look at, simply because so much was accepted initially. However, the style guidelines have been refined and the following holds true for the majority of saisons now.
- Appearance – usually a yellow / orange colour with a fluffy white head. May have some haziness to the beer due to the lack of filtering.
- Aroma – Fruity aromas should dominate from the yeast. Some alcohol heat may be detected at higher levels but the hops and malts should remain in the background.
- Flavour – Fruity and spicy flavours from the yeast should be at the forefront. The body should be dry and thirst-quenching. There may be some tartness but the hops won’t be bitter. Spices such as coriander, ginger, or orange zest may be present from additions.
- Mouthfeel – Saisons are often highly carbonated, with a light dry body to them.
The first commercial saison to have set the style boundaries is considered to be Saison Du Pont. It also inspired Kyoto Brewing Company on their adventures with Chris, Paul, and Benjamin being big fans of it. Since then, the USA has shown to be a strong market for taking the original style, imitating it, and then improving upon it, with the various kinds of hops available to the breweries, as well as not being so tied up with traditional methods of making a saison beer.
Considering Japan has a similar environment to the Wallonia region – hot summers and cold winters – it’s surprising that saisons have not taken off like other styles of beers in Japan. Belgian bars and beers are as popular, if not more so, than they have ever been though the popular styles are more witbiers and trappist beers than saisons. It’s unknown how much beer is imported from Belgium per year, but you’re bound to find either a witbier or trappist beer in your local supermarket.
However, compared to other styles in Japan, saisons are relative older than people think. Shiga Kogen made the first commercial saison with their Miyama Blonde back in 2006. Baird Beer followed suit in 2007 with their Saison Sayuri, which has since become part of their annual seasonal release. Kiuchi Brewery, makers of the Hitachino Nest Beer range, used local ingredients of wheat and koji to make their Saison du Japon. Shiga Kogen have also produced a range of saisons under the “Yamabushi” range, which follows the Hitachino Nest idea closely, using locally sourced hops and rice,
The following are some saisons that we recommend from Japan, though with the seasonal aspect of the beer playing a strong part, not all of these are available all-year round. As such, we’ve listed if they’re seasonal or all-year round beers.
Japanese Saisons Worth Trying
All Year Round Release
1) Kyoto Brewing Company Ichigo Ichie
- The Bottom Line: I was a tad skeptical after the first few Kyoto Brewing Company beers but with Kyoto Brewing Ichigo Ichie, I’m convinced they know what they are doing.
- The Full Review: http://beertengoku.com/2015/09/14/kyoto-brewing-ichigo-ichie-by-kyoto-brewing-company/
2) Shiga Kogen Indian Summer Saison Blonde
- The Bottom Line: If you like them, then you’ll be happy with this effort. I thought it was a good introduction to saisons and it is not going to be too potent for newcomers.
- The Full Review: http://beertengoku.com/2014/08/27/shiga-kogen-indian-summer-saison/
3) Yo-Ho Boku Beer Kimi Beer
- The Bottom Line: Yo-Ho Boku Beer Kimi Beer is definitely a worthy addition to your beer supplies and one of the best saisons I’ve had for a long time.
- The Full Review: http://beertengoku.com/2014/10/30/boku-beer-kimi-beer/
1) Baird Saison Sayuri
- The Bottom Line: Baird Saison Sayuri is a distinct example of a saison; it doesn’t fit into any other styles but what it does, it does well.
- The Full Review: http://beertengoku.com/2015/01/29/baird-saison-sayuri-baird-beer/
2) Shiga Kogen Yamabushi Saison
- The Bottom Line: Tamamura Honten Yamabushi Saison One is a pricey purchase but it is a really nice saison and worth trying at a bottle share event if you can.
- The Full Review: http://beertengoku.com/2016/05/01/tamamura-honten-yamabushi-saison-one/
3) Yorocco Saison
- The Bottom Line: Yorocco Saison is definitely one of the best beers from Yorocco Beer – get it before it sells out.
- The Full Review: http://beertengoku.com/2016/04/13/yorocco-saison-yorocco-beer/
Let’s be honest – if you’re going to try a style of beer, then it’s also worth trying out some of the beers from overseas. Here’s some saisons we also recommend. Like all beers, fresh is best and with Japan being somewhat a distance from Belgium and the USA, that can be an issue. Check out the label on the bottle to see when the beer was bottled, and also ask how the beer was imported. Was it in a cold chain from start to finish? Was the beer stored in a chilled environment in store? If the shop assistant can’t, or doesn’t know the answer, then give it a miss.
Saison Du Pont (Belgium)
Fantôme Saison (Belgium)
The Bruery Saison Rue (USA)
FunkWerks Saison (USA)