Saison: A heavily carbonated dry pale ale that is yeast-driven in flavor; commonly brimming with notes of fruit, spice, and funk. Although the actual definition might vary due to the beer style’s well-tenured Belgian history, my definition is what one might find on tap in Orange County. Although Saison isn’t nearly as popular as IPA (what is?), I find it’s fast becoming my antidote to the state of turbid IPA hop bombs that are more perishable than milk at the grocery store. Saisons can not only enhance rich food such as cheese, shellfish, and game; they are extremely refreshing. And best of all, if you find an old bottle on the shelf, chances are it’s a better version of itself as bottle conditioning can mature the style over time (depending on ABV/fruit addition).
Must Try First: The OG Standard, Saison DuPont has been brewed in Belgium for hundreds of years and is considered the de facto standard. It’s delightfully farmhousey, with notes of citrus zest, hay, and even a bit of freshly cut grass. Many American brewers use “the Dupont strain” (White Labs WLP 565) yeast to make their Saison, which is notorious for stalling out mid to late fermentation, and find it best to let temperatures rise to completion, which not only lets the beer dry out, it adds significant complexity. Find Saison DuPont at any Total Wine & More, Bevmo!, or Total Wine & More in the walk-in cooler.
When The Bruery first opened in 2008, one of the core beers I first tried was Saison Rue, and I recall it being quite the flavor conundrum. “This beer reminds me of funky cheese on a freshly toasted biscuit,” is a note I jotted down, trying to figure it out. Turns out, the strain of Brettanomyces yeast they used to ferment the beer has that funky quality. Although The Bruery/Terreux has made at least 40 Saisons over the years, Saison Rue still holds up and is worthy of rediscovery.
Barley Forge isn’t a brewery that comes to mind when thinking of Saison, but their foeder-aged beer, Harry Tuttle, is actually a menu highlight. Although it changes in complexity from week to week due to the ever-changing mixed fermentation, during a recent trip I noted some pleasant tropical notes, such as pineapple and coconut … and that’s without any fruit added!
I first tried a precursor to Costa Mesa’s Gunwhale Ales’ Saison back when co-owner Justin Miller was executive chef of Pizzeria Ortica. I’m not sure how they did it, but the brewery’s branding is matching the rustic nature of Saison with foodie beach culture, something I can certainly identify with as an Orange County dude. Majordomo, their fruity-zesty Saison, sits nicely at 7.5 percent and is dry as a bone. And don’t miss the petite Saison when it’s on draft.
Meanwhile, over in Santa Ana on Fourth Street lies The Good Beer Company, which seemingly has a Las Vegas shoe-deck of Saisons, willing to deal you a blackjack hand of the funky beer style upon any visit. They specialize in oak-aged beer, some with fruit, some just straight up yeast funk. It’s hard to point to any single one to try, so make sure to say, “Give me a flight of your farmhouse ales, please.” I find their draft list a little hard to break down.
Gunwhale Ales: 2960 Randolph Ave., Costa Mesa
Barley Forge: 2957 Randolph Ave., Costa Mesa
The Good Beer Company: 309 W. Fourth St., Santa Ana
Bruery Terreux: 1174 N Grove St., Anaheim