Why Every Restaurant Needs a Saison on Their Menu
Saison is perhaps my favourite style of beer, which is precisely why there are several beers (entire breweries even) in our portfolio that pay homage to the style. I love these beers for their affinity with food: A good Saison can awaken the flavours of very simple meals such as roast chicken or pork. They are great in the hot summer, with salads and fish, and they are often complex enough to stand up to hearty winter meals also.
Originally a lower-alcohol beer, Saison is simply a name that was applied to categorize seasonal farmhouse beers of a similar style, as were traditionally brewed in the winter and drank in the summer in Wallonia, Belgium. Refreshing and wholesome, they often contained many local and individual interpretations – incorporating different yeast as well as the occasional use of spices, herbs, and flowers (practices which actually pre-date the use of hops). For the most part, Saison is still all of those great things, however it is now available year ‘round in most countries.
Saisons are simply terrific with food. In fact, pretty much any simply prepared dish can shine beside Saison. As a Certified Cicerone and founder of Serious Beer School, Chester Carey says “Saison is the perfect beer for any menu. It is effervescent and light with a peppery, herbal depth and complexity. It’s carbonation allows it to cut through oily, fatty or spicy dishes like ancho-glazed salmon or a plate of charcuterie and cheese. But, it also has a lightness that allows it to shine with delicate foods… it is fantastic with spot prawns grilled with olive oil and lemon.” Few beverages display such versatility, as Carey says “the pairings are endless.”
Today, Saison can be a broadly interpreted style. As such, some beers that say “Saison” on the label may incorporate aspects that would have been uncommon in the old country, such as heavy spicing, the use of non-traditional ingredients (American-style Hops, for example) or high alcohol levels. While these are often still terrific, and may work splendidly on your menu, the following guidelines are likely to help you in selecting one of the more versatile examples:
Balance – A Saison is nothing if not dry. The balance should always be towards the brighter, snappy side. It truly should be palette-cleansing and refreshing, never sweet or cloying, and with vivacious carbontation (La Brasserie de Blaugies “Saison D’Epeature” is always a terrific, yet explosive, bottle of beer!).
Freshness – While many Saisons are hearty beers that can often withstand cellaring of a year or more, they can occasionally fall victim to oxidation, autolysis and skunking. Store them in a fridge, out of the sunlight for best results. And if they might be older don’t buy them without tasting first.
Intrigue – Yeast, spices and ‘other’ ingredients can make or break a Saison. It’s the nuances of an individual beer that make for the most outstanding pairings. Upright “Seven” undergoes an open fermentation which provides a tart finish that rounds out the malty-sweetness that exists mid-pallete. This makes for a killer pairing with any pork dishes. Look for delicate peppery and floral notes that invite and awaken – they shouldn’t be overpowering. Often the latter character comes from the yeast and hops alone, not floral or spice additions.
Examples: Some examples that have more traditional flavour profiles are Saison Dupont “Vieille Provision” (6.5% ABV), which we do not import, and Upright Brewing’s “Four” (4.5% ABV) and “Seven” (8.5% ABV), and De Ranke’s 2010 Seasonal (5.5% ABV), all of which we do import.
For the record, Chester also recommends that you pair a Saison with “olive oil and black pepper-rubbed rib eye and micro greens”. I concur.