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Question: What is Saison? How do I make one?

Answer: Saison is on of those light refreshing seasonal beers, which go really well on a hot summer's evening. Be careful, though, some of them can be pretty strong. So make sure you've finished mowing the lawn first.

Saison is a beer that originated in the French-speaking region of Belgium known a Wallonia. Traditionally, this was the last beer brewed March before the weather got too hot for further brewing. The stronger version would keep better in the heat. The breweries would make enough to last until the fall cooling made it feasible to brew again.

Categorically, according to the BJCP, Saison is in the group of beers known and Belgian and French Ales, category 19d. Also included in the group are some of the lighter-bodied Belgian beers such as Witbier and Belgian Pale Ale.

Saison differs from other Belgian beers in that it is one of the few that features a hop aroma. Most Belgians are quite the opposite; the brewers go to great lengths to avoid aroma. The aroma is usually contributed by a Noble variety such as Saaz or Tettnang. Some Saison recipes call for dry-hopping. In addition to the hops, the aroma will have a complex estery nose from the yeast and generally warm fermentation temperatures. The aroma of coriander or other spices is often present too.

The flavor profile calls for a fairly light malt balance, contributed mostly by pale Belgian malt, with smaller amounts of Munich malt or crystal malt. Often, a bit of wheat malt is added as well. For the stronger recipes, Belgian candi sugar is added. When you plan out the malts, aim for a starting gravity of about 1.055. Then use candi sugar to boost to gravity as desired. Since the style is light, an all-malt would be too full-bodied at the higher end of the gravity range (which can go up to 1.080). The bittering level should be moderately high, but not overwhelming. Plan on using 35 to 40 IBU's

The flavor should also exhibit the estery profile and some higher alcohols characteristic of Belgian yeasts. A good yeast choice would be While Labs Saison yeast (WLP 565). Coriander (about ½ oz per 5-gallon batch) is often added to spice up the flavor profile. Other spices such a orange zest are typical, and may be accompanied by a mild acid bite.

The appearance should be orange in color (6-12 SRM), and is sometimes slightly cloudy. The head should be rock-solid, aided by the wheat malt and a high carbonation level.

Saisons can be brewed with a typical step-infusion process or using malt extracts. (See Craig's recipe on page xx). The boil typically goes for 90 minutes. Spices are typically added at or near the end of the boil. Fermentation is generally conducted on the warm side, so it is a good choice for brewing in these warmer months. The estery notes will be enhanced with the higher temperatures. Saison is best when bottle-conditions, since the yeast character creates complexity during aging. Remember to keep the amount of priming sugar high to create carbonation level of 2.5 to 3 volumes of CO2.
To get a feel for what Saison tastes like, some commercial examples are Saison DuPont and Saison Silly. Tim Bardet and Craig Corley will both have Saisons on tap at the June meeting.

Vital Statistics for Saison

Style Starting
Bitterness, IBU Color, SRM Hop Aroma
Saison 1.055-1.080 1.010-1.015 20-45 6-12 Medium