When it comes to saison beers I am a bit of a novice. Saisons originated in French Flanders and the French-speaking parts of southern Belgium. They were typically brewed to be kept for the summer months when it was difficult to brew beer due to a lack of refrigeration. They are also known as farmhouse beers and they can vary greatly in both taste and strength although they are typically crisp, tart, dry, refreshing beers. British brewers are producing saisons now in greater numbers and I had my first taste of one last year and hated it. It was very tart and sour, very very dry and generally not a pleasant experience. I won't mention the beer or the brewer here but it was actually a local brewer that changed my opinions on this beer style earlier this year and I have since come to find them much more enjoyable as you will see here.
Langham Brewery - Saison (3.9% ABV)
I first tried this beer in the prototype stage and I was quite impressed. There was a slight sourness to it that I experienced on my first venture into saisons and the aroma from the Belgian yeast was fairly typical and which I don't always find appealing. However, when the finished beer was available at a Meet The Brewer event in the Chichester Wetherspoons I was absolutely knocked out by it. It has a mega abundance of hops which blend with the German malts to give an amazing deep bitterness that I absolutely loved. A strength of the bitterness comes from the fact that I had a pint of their Hip Hop (4.0% ABV) afterwards. This is normally a very hoppy beer but on this occasion it seemed quite tame in comparison to the bitterness of the saison. Flavours of bitter orange, a little spicy hoppiness and that very long dry bitter finish all combine to give a beer that is sensational. This is actually the best cask beer I have tried so far this year and the easiest 10/10 I have ever scored in 2014.
Ilkley Brewery - Siberia (5.9% ABV)
When trying out a new beer style for the first time I generally go for brewers that I know produce superb beers. This is the case with all of these saisons. This beer from Ilkley Brewery was a collaboration with top beer writer Melissa Cole and it is absolutely gorgeous. At the time of buying this one I was still not sure about saisons and I have never been a fan of fruit beers but it seems that the saison style lends itself perfectly to odd ingredients as you will also read later. The rhubarb flavour is evident but the tartness is balanced superbly by the sweetness of the malts. There is a nice spicy edge to the finish too to give a lovely zing to the refreshing dry bitter finish. This beer scores a healthy 9/10 from me.
Bristol Beer Factory - Saison (6.5% ABV)
Bristol Beer Factory is another brewer that only seems capable of producing fantastic beer. This saison is the strongest of the ones here at a very robust 6.5% ABV and this comes through in the taste although it is also dangerously easy to drink with a lovely smoothness. It has a lovely deep golden colour and the aroma is typical for a saison. This beer is actually very fruity with a nice sweetness balancing the usual tartness and there is an abundance of spicy hoppiness too which gives the beer a lovely dry, bitter finish. This beer also scores highly and gets a 9/10 from me.
Burning Sky - Saison L'Ete (4.4% ABV)
Burning Sky began brewing last year and is the brainchild of Mark Tranter, formerly of Dark Star Brewing Co. The brewery is located in a Sussex barn at the foot of the South Downs and they have already built themselves a fearsome reputation for brewing first class beers and they have quite a range of saisons in their portfolio. This particular summer saison is a classic. It has a lovely pale colour and it is a little hazy in the glass as with all traditional saisons. This beer is brewed with elderflower and after fermentation it is aged over a bed of gooseberries. The elderflower is quite evident but it is not a strong flavour so it simply gives it a lovely refreshing zing which results in a fantastic slightly tart, refreshing beer which is very dry in the finish. A real thirst-quencher and perfect for those long hot summer days. This scores a good 9/10 too.
Burning Sky - Saison Le Printemps (4.2% ABV)
For my second saison from Burning Sky I chose the one for spring (my 'O' level French is coming in handy here). This beer is much darker in colour than the summer one and probably the most complex of all the ones here. The aroma is quite medicinal and not very pleasant which probably comes from the addition of nettle tips after fermentation. I have no idea what nettle tips taste like but the beer has good flavours of bitter citrussy orange along with a spicy hoppy bite with hints of nutmeg and cinnamon. The balance between sweetness and bitterness is good and the finish is again quite long, dry and bitter. I prefer the summer saison and this one I will give a score of 7/10 but the beer is still very interesting and enjoyable.
Saisons can be challenging but they are well worth getting to know. The variety of flavours and strengths does mean that you may not like all of them so keep trying them if you do come across one that isn't to your taste. What you will generally find though is that they are very dry refreshing beers perfect for the summer months when you are looking for something to quench your thirst and if you want to begin your journey into this beer style then you could do a lot worse than trying one of the ones reviewed here.