It’s probably my favorite style of beer, but I haven’t had a saison in quite some time.
The mostly seasonal beer is poised to come back onto shelves in the coming months, though, and brewers can be confident it’s going to win over more drinkers like myself.
It’s difficult to describe exactly what a saison is, since there’s not really a recipe. In fact, that’s part of why I like it so much – there’s so much room for variation and for exploring how different fruits, herbs or other ingredients can meld together or stand apart.
“The idea of a saison is open to a wide variety of interpretation,” said Ben Woodward, who fell in love with the style as a homebrewer before opening Haw River Farmhouse Ales in Saxapahaw. “A kolsch is a kolsch, you know, but there’s a lot of creativity with a saison.”
In general, it’s a light, dry ale with low or medium alcohol content. That’s not to say there isn’t some mad scientist out there brewing up a 12 percent ABV imperial saison, but most are a bit more inviting. All in all, it’s a middle-of-the-road beer than can be brewed relatively plainly or with more adventurous additions.
I don’t know if they’re “the next big thing” in craft beer. But being the fastest-growing style of beer in America – more than doubling from 2014 to 2015 – has to count for something, right?
Between 2014 and 2015, according to market analysis firm IRI, the sales volume of saisons increased by 118 percent – the largest growth of any style. The U.S. craft beer market overall experienced an 18.8 percent increase in sales volume and a 23.4 percent increase in sales revenue.
I’ve had saisons with everything from basil to limes, jalepenos and blueberries. Woodward said Haw River has used persimmons or a particular style of hops that he found and enjoyed. With a background in art, he compares the beer to “a nice blank canvas for all sorts of things.”
Saisons originated in Belgium, on farms. They were brewed in winter and enjoyed in the spring and summer by farmhands seeking a break from the hot, sweaty work of agriculture. The farms used whatever they had left over from that fall’s harvest – a tradition that still informs the wide variety of ingredients different breweries use in their saisons.
Woodward said that’s a tradition that still guides Haw River’s saisons, as well as other beers at the Belgium-themed brewery west of Chapel Hill in Saxapahaw.
In Raleigh, Crank Arm Brewing makes nearly a dozen different types of saisons, including several nontraditional styles.
Its sour take, the Brett Saison, was named the best sour beer at the 2015 N.C. Brewer’s Cup and also won third overall best beer at the same competition. The only one on tap right now is the atypical Right-O-Way dark saison, relatively high in alcohol and dark in color.
For those looking for a broad range to explore the style, Mash & Lauter – the new Belgium-themed room at the Busy Bee in downtown Raleigh – is holding “Saison Day” starting at 7 p.m. March 12.
Haw River will be contributing beers, as will fellow North Carolina breweries Trophy Brewing Co., Mystery Brewing Co., Southern Pines Brewing Co. and Fonta Flora Brewery, plus national craft brewers Brewery Ommegang, Allagash Brewing Co. and Boulevard Brewing Co.
Doran: 919-386-2858; Twitter: @will_doran
March 5: Raleigh Brewing Co.’s third anniversary. Local bands 1-9 p.m. and a DJ 10 p.m.-midnight. Four food trucks, free giveaways, rare beer and cake. It is at 3709 Neil St., Raleigh. Info: 919-400-9086, raleighbrewingcompany.com
March 17: Saint Patrick’s Day. You know what to do.
March 22: Beer for Water tasting event is 5 p.m. at the City of Raleigh Museum. A benefit for local nonprofit Global H20, which will help fund building a well at refugee camp in Uganda. Cost: $35 for individuals, $60 for couples. Info: nando.com/beerforwater
March 31: Kickoff for N.C. Beer Month (which is April), 5-10 p.m. at The Glass Jug, 5410 N.C. 55, Durham. Partnership with the N.C. Craft Brewers Guild. There will be rare beers from around the state. Info: ncbeermonth.com