What are Saisons?

There are plenty of rad craft breweries that brew saisons. Coming from the French word for “season,” saisons are not seasonal…unless they are.

I’ve noticed that non-frequent beer drinkers are confused by what a saison actually is, and that makes them shy away. Instead I say embrace the unknown and drink! Or read the rest of this and learn, then drink.

Defining the Saison

First: pronounce the word as say-sone, or say-zone. I spent a lot of time researching this since everybody has their own pronunciation (sort of the like the word “flanger” in music, but I digress).

Now as you read the rest of the article in your head (or out loud if you swing that way), you can be sure that your brain/ears are hearing the word correctly.

So, a while back I said that we can basically lump every beer into two groups: lager or ale. The infamous saison is actually a type of pale ale, but with a twist.

“But wait, I thought they were farmhouse ales.”

If you just said that to yourself, you’re also right since there are literally MILLIONS of subshoots and genres in beer, none of which have strict definitions. Gold star.

Saison beers originated in Belgium, specifically in the farmhouses of the Wallonia region. For anyone that’s been to Belgium, you know that they either speak French or Flemish – this region is French-speaking (hence the French word for season).

These beers were also only brewed in very specific, cool-temperature months. Or as some might say, a specific season…but that’s probably completely unrelated.

Great, there’s the neat backstory on saisons. On to the good stuff.

What Makes a Saison a Saison?

Saisons are going to have tons of carbonation, meaning a bigger head and bubblier drinking. I’ve always like to think of it as the champagne of beer, literally only because both are pretty bubbly (and French named).

These bad boys also make use of fruits and spices, giving them a neat flavor over the common hoppiness of a pale ale. Generally speaking, modern saisons are going to have an ABV of around 5.5-8%, but brewers do all sorts of crazy stuff nowadays so how can we even generalize like that.

The color of siasons ranges depending on the malt used, but don’t expect to be finding many (if any) saisons that have a dark, porter looking color to them. Typically, the color is going to be lighter, much like a pale ale or a lager.

What else makes siasons the way they are? Well, they come in bottles, for the most part! You know, those cool, 750 ml bottles you’ve seen at Total Wine that have a cork and a metal-twisty thing to keep the cork in? Yup, that’s what many saisons come in.

TLl;DR: Say-sones are pale ales/farmhouse ales that are highly carbonated, use fruits/spices and have a lighter color probably. They have a French name but they hail from Belgium. They remind me of champagne.

Thomas Short
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