I was recently asked a question regarding the Libertine Autumn Leaves Saison that I really couldn't explain exactly... What is a Saison? Well, it's kind of complicated I guess. Traditionally Saison designated a type of farmhouse ale brewed indoors during winter in the French speaking area of Wallonia, Belgium. These beers were low ABV and tended to be a refreshing drink for Summer while or after working in the fields.
But what does that mean? What does it taste like? What is the commonality that defines the modern style? All good questions that again were kind of hard to pin down.
Modern Saison's trace their roots to a few traditional Belgian brewers who took the rustic farmhouse ale and upped the ABV a little bit and made the beer mainstream. Most famously Brasserie DuPont from Tourpes, Belgium.
Cloudy pale gold with strong head retention, foamy almost cloud like. The nose is fruity with a barnyard funk and earthiness, finishing citrusy with lemon zest and sour orange hop notes. On the palate the beer is light and fizzy, refreshingly similar to a heifweizen without the banana and Bazooka Joe. Orange Peel, Coriander, and a hint of clove offer great complexity leading to a crisp bitter finish.
Modern beers began to emulate this style, but being the craft beer world, experimental exploration would create hundreds of other beers that really can't be defined, and no longer emulate the classic Saison as we know it. So what is a Saison? Well, it's different, each brewery tends to do it a little differently and it's usually pretty darn tasty. Generally though a Saison will always be...
An Ale (top fermented) that leans on it's yeast strains for complexity. Most will contain herbs and spices (commonly Coriander, Cloves, Orange Peel), and most will be close to dry with little residual sweetness, some may have a slightly tart component from wild bacteria. That is about as close as you can get to classifying the category.
To me, a saison is a fun beer when you're in a Belgian mood, but a sour is too tart and a Tripel or Quad might not be the best idea.....