Earthy, herbal, fruity and spicy flavors. Rustic aroma of hay and pepper. Pillowy head of white foam. Golden appearance like a sunrise over a French wheat field. Dry and crisp in finish. An overall complexity mirroring a passage from Proust.
Anyone else need a cigarette?
Those sultry adjectives can only describe the saison, a style of beer originating in French and Belgian farmhouses dating back hundreds of years. After nearing extinction following two world wars in the mid-20th century, the saison is making a fierce comeback as it seduces 21st-century beer lovers with its tantalizing array of flavors.
The saison has come a long way since its agrarian inception. French and Belgian farmers brewed saisons with rustic equipment, using the grains they had on hand. The exposed wort picked up natural yeasts in the air, imparting barnyard flavors to primitive saisons. Typically brewed in early spring, these refreshing beers were enjoyed by farmhands throughout the growing season.
On Saturday, the saison takes center stage as Oxbow Brewing Co. and Allagash Brewing Co., two of Maine’s best Belgian-inspired breweries, team up to celebrate National Saison Day. The event takes place at Oxbow Blending & Bottling on Washington Avenue and features an incredible lineup of 11 saison-style beers, nosh from Duckfat, DJ-spun music and an Oxbow-Allagash collaboration grisette, dubbed Rivulet.
Before we delve into what happens when two giants of Belgian-style beers join forces to make a new brew, let’s take a closer look at the other beers that will be on draft Saturday.
Oxbow will be pouring five offerings. The meager inches of this column cannot do justice to the beautiful flavors of each farmhouse beer, so here are the highlights: Farmhouse Pale Ale, a Maine institution for saison lovers; Crossfade, a highly lauded hoppy saison blend, and Barrel-Aged Farmhouse Pale Ale, a saison aged in oak barrels.
Allagash is bringing four beers to the party. These include Allagash Saison, a dry and citrusy saison; Interlude, a barrel-aged saison with Brettanomyces yeast, and Astrid, a saison aged in Scandinavian Aquavit barrels.
To round out this saison dream team is Saison Dupont from Brasserie Dupont. The Belgian saison is often credited with saving the saison style from disappearing in the 1970s.
To take this year’s Saison Day to interstellar heights, Oxbow and Allagash collaborated on Rivulet. Together they devised a grisette recipe using pilsner malts, wheat and oats. The hops include two French hops, Aramis and Mistral; a German hop, Grundgeist, and the classic noble hop, Czech Saaz. It was fermented with Oxbow’s house saison yeast.
A grisette is brethren to the saison, originating in the same geographical region in northern France and southern Belgium. While the saison was typically given to farmers, the grisette was enjoyed by miners. In the grisette tradition, expect Rivulet to have a golden body, a moderate alcohol content and a drinkable complexity of flavor from the hops, yeast and brewing know-how of Oxbow and Allagash.
In speaking with Jason Perkins, head brewer at Allagash, and Tim Adams, head brewer and owner of Oxbow, it’s clear that Rivulet was born out of a deep mutual respect.
“We’ve been friends for a long time. We’re big fans of their beers, and they’re awesome people,” Perkins explained.
When I asked Adams what it was like to brew with Allagash he said, “Four words: a dream come true.”
Saison Day is certainly a dream come true for saison lovers like me. Dig into Saturday’s lush saison list to get intimate with one of the beer world’s most celebrated styles.
WHO: Oxbow Brewing Co. and Allagash Brewing Co.
WHEN: Noon to 8 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Oxbow Blending & Bottling, 49 Washington Ave., Portland
WHAT: Eleven saisons from Oxbow, Allagash and Brasserie Dupont, including Rivulet, a collaboration grisette from Oxbow and Allagash, along with fare from Duckfat and music by a local DJ
MORE INFO: On Facebook
OTHER BEER HAPPENINGS
Mott the Lesser release at Tributary Brewing
Noon to 7 p.m. Saturday, 10 Shapleigh Road, Kittery. On Facebook
If you have yet to try Tributary Brewing Co.’s highly celebrated Russian imperial stout, make it a point to grab a bottle or a draft pour from this weekend’s release. Mott the Lesser is aged in four different barrels and blended to create an imperial stout with some of the most beautiful, complex flavors you will ever find in a beer. There are notes of chocolates, currants, caramel, apple brandy, licorice, whiskey — the list goes on and on. Get to the Kittery brewery early to secure your spot in line.
Foundation’s Epiphany IPA Wins 4th Annual Maine Madness Beer Tournament
After six rounds and thousands of votes, Foundation Brewing Co.’s Epiphany is the official winner of the Maine Madness Beer Tournament. Epiphany by no means had an easy road to victory, taking down the juggernauts Allagash Curieux, Maine Beer Co. Lunch and Austin Street Neverender. With its luscious tropical fruit hop flavors, clean grain profile and world class finish, Epiphany is a deserved champion. With its second victory, Epiphany will now be retired from the tournament and enjoy the esteemed title of champion emeritus along with fellow two-time champion Maine Island Trail Ale from Rising Tide Brewing. Stop by the Industrial Way brewery to enjoy Epiphany, and be sure to congratulate the Foundation team on the impressive win.