Shedding Light on the Saison Story

I’m going to try something new this time around and give some background on the beer style I am reviewing before I opine on the merits of the ale.  So what the heck is a Saison beer?  Saison is French for season because these ales were traditionally brewed in the autumn or winter for consumption during the late summer harvest.  According to Randy Mosher’s Tasting Beer the current story about Saisons coming from Flanders and being brewed to sustain workers  during the labour season is not exactly historically accurate.   Rather the term Saison was applied to the very eccentric beers of Liège as well as the beers of Mons in an area now known as the Saison region (hence the name Saison).  The Liège beers were brewed with malt, wheat, oats, spelt and even buckwheat or broad beans.  Fast forward to the twentieth century and the modern day versions may or may not contain wheat, tend to be bottle conditioned and have a higher ABV. One of the defining elements of this newly named style is the yeast, a ‘slow cranky’ strain believed to be related to red wine yeast.  This yeast is quite heat tolerant and produces lots of peppery phenols.  Spices are optional but pepper, orange, malts and grains of paradise are sometimes added.

So what do they taste like?  Pretty Things Jack D’Or is a ‘Saison American’ brewed in Westport MA.  I sampled batch 11 bottled February 2010, which has a 6.5% ABV.  This saison pours a cloudy gold with a thick creamy head.  There is a strong peppery nose with some subtle malt (or yeast) elements wafting through.  It is quite dry with a bitter hop bite lingering after you swallow.  Despite the cloudiness there is a real effervescence to Jack D’Or, the ale bubbles away in the glass long after it has left the bottle.  Speaking of the bottle I would amiss if I did not mention the amazingly creative labels that adorn the Pretty Things bottles.

Overall I would give this beer a 4 out 5

*Mosher, Randy 2009 Tasting Beer An Insider’s Guide to the World’s Greatest Drink. Storey Publishing North Adams MA.

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