vagabund brewery

Beer Style Guide: SAISON beer

Rory Lawton

Bierstil Saison, hier vom Heidenpeter

Heidenpeters Saisonnière is a – guess what – Saison made in Berlin (Foto: StP)

The SAISON beer is for you if you:

  • spend all day working in the field and are looking for a dry but refreshing thirst-quencher
  • enjoy a spicy, phenolic yeast complexity in your beer, but only trust regular brewer’s yeast
  • want to beat the trends and are looking for the next big style after the IPA

Style History

The Saison beer (sometimes called Farmhouse Ale) is a traditional Belgian Ale style, originating from Wallonia, along the border with France. It was brewed during the winter months, when farm hands (“saisoniers”) had less work to do in the field and in preparation for the spring and summer months, when the warmer temperatures made brewing impractical. Local yeast strains were used and shared between farms. Fermentation usually took place over an extended time before the beer was consumed. The finished beer would be pale blonde, with a peppery spiciness and an extremely dry body. Although it almost died out towards the end of the 20th century, there has been a rediscovery of this beer style, mainly driven by the U.S. craft beer enthusiasts. Modern interpretations tend to be higher in alcohol than the traditional versions and brewers in the U.S. now often add spices, especially ginger, in order to complement the character of the yeast profile. More recently, adventurous brewers have started to add Brettanomyces yeast during fermentation, in order to accentuate the barnyard/funk character, even though this is not a traditional component of the style.

Beer Style Guide

Appearance:Pale straw to light amber. Sometimes cloudy
ABV:Traditionally 3-6% ABV, but now up to 8%
Aroma:Peppery spiciness, with mild ester fruitiness and a hint of wild ‘barnyard’ character. Sometimes a mild sourness in the aroma.
Flavour:Round, distinctly ‘Belgian’ pear fruitiness from the esters. Mild pepper, clove and/or coriander. That comes through more as the beer warms. Mild bitter finish.
Body:Usually dry and refreshing. Saison yeast attenuates very highly and the brewer sometimes dries the beer even more by adding up to 10% sugar.


Recommended Saison beer examples

  • The flagship: Saison Dupont (Brasserie Dupont srl). Available for example at Herman Belgian Beer Bar in Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin.
  • Modern interpretation: Brooklyn Sorachi Ace (Brooklyn Brewing Company). Wonderful, big interpretation of a Belgian Saison with a distinct lemongrass note from the underused Sorachi hop from Japan..
  • Locally brewed: Szechuan Saison (Vagabund Brauerei). The seasonal Szechuan Saison is brewed with Szechuan peppercorns, adding a slight citrus and mild numbing heat to the wonderful spiciness from the yeast. Delicious. Unfortunately, only a seasonal on tap at Vagabund Brauerei, Berlin 
Vagabund Brauerei's Szechuan Saison was voted best beer on Berlin Craft Bier Fest in May 2014 (Foto: StP)

Vagabund Brauerei’s Szechuan Saison was voted best beer on Berlin Craft Bier Fest in May 2014 (Foto: StP)