While working in Manchester a couple of years ago, I spent an evening tasting a selection of Saison beers at the rather excellent Beermoth brewmongers.
The main lesson I learned from the evening is that, unlike Scott, I don’t particularly enjoy Saison brews. That’s not a particular hardship, as I tend to enjoy most other beer styles!
Saison beers, (sometimes called ‘farmhouse ales’) traditionally, were brewed in the winter to be enjoyed by farm workers in the summer months. The style originated in Wallonia, the French speaking part of Belgium and the word ‘Saison’ – you won’t be surprised to learn – is French for ‘Season’. It’s the beer counterpoint to France’s ‘Biere de Garde’ which was traditionally brewed in the summer for consumption over the winter.
Interestingly, Michael Jackson, in 1991 wrote “The integrity of several Belgian beer styles is in danger and some could vanish. Perhaps the most endangered is the Saison. This style is not widely known outside its region of production of Hainaut, in the French speaking half of the country.”
Well, the intervening years have rectified that, most craft breweries have attempted their own Saison, no mean feat as it’s an unapologetically complex brew. K. Florian Klemp, in an article in ‘All About Beer’ in 2009 wrote “Spice additions may include peppercorns, coriander, ginger, anise and bitter orange, but are not limited to those. Given the nature of the yeast, it is often hard to tell which have been spiced. Faint clove, vanilla and banana may also be present, reminiscent of German weissebier. Often a mild citrus, lactic, or acetic tartness accompanies the aromas.”
The acknowledged classic Saison (the benchmark) is Saison Dupont (I must try and source a bottle for review), but recently Saison is fast becoming the new Pale Ale – with all the permutations that implies.
Today’s brew, which came in a Beer52 case, is a prime example – a black Saison beer from Firebrand Brewing in Cornwall.
Firebrand were founded in early 2014 in Launceston, Cornwall. Cornwall, you might recall, is the peninsula that sticks out into the Atlantic Ocean in the far south west of England. Launceston sits on the border of Devon & Cornwall, which is the point where the peninsula narrows. Firebrand’s mantra is “We produce bold flavoured beers using plenty of US hops, along with experiments in unusual ingredients and barrel ageing to create an ever changing range of great beers.”
Their claim for their Black Saison is that it “combines great British and Belgian beer heritages to make a beer that takes elements from British stouts and Belgian farmhouse saisons…. with complex funky fruity flavour that complement the rich malt notes.”
It pours a very dark garnet, with a rich off-white head. The nose? Well initially you get that sour bready nose that screams ‘saison’, with some cocoa and white pepper in the background.
It takes me several sips to get past the dry, peppery ‘saison’ flavours, to the rest of the flavours. There’s dark chocolate and a few hints of orange, not too many ‘funky fruits’, maybe some over-ripe plums or mulberries.
I’m not sure that a dark ‘saison’ is really justified, but this is okay; it’s refreshing, with complex flavours that reveal themselves with each sip, much as Klemp suggested.
As I said from the outset, Saison is not my favourite beer style, and I doubt I’d order this again, but it’s worthy of three Brewclub Stars.