Serious Eats: Drinks

Ask a Cicerone: The Best Saisons

Editor's Note: Ask a what? A Certified Cicerone®. That is, a beer expert who has passed a particular certification exam administered by the Craft Beer Institute. Curious about beer certifications? Read more here.

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[Photo: Adam Barhan on Flickr]

Did reading our guide to Belgian beer styles leave you craving saison? We can't blame you; these farmhouse ales are pretty darn delicious, with their citrusy scent and floral and peppery flavor. But which specific beers should you seek out? We asked our crew of beer experts for their picks: the best saisons on the market today, domestic or imported.

Here are their recommendations, along with ideas for food pairings.

"Brasserie Dupont's 'Vieille Provision,' commonly known as Saison Dupont is to the saison style category what The Wire is to episodic TV, Jay-Z is to rapping, Jordan is to basketball and Ali is to boxing."—Sayre Piotrkowski (Hog's Apothecary)

"Saison Dupont is the best classic example of a true Belgian saison. It beautifully displays noted of citrus and pepper flavors with a hint of farmhouse funk aroma and finishes extremely dry. Since saisons are traditionally farmhouse ales they respond wonderfully to the addition of wild yeast strains (in particular the ever popular brettanomyces) that allow the beer to develop spicy, funky, sour and even tropical fruit flavors and aromas. Among my favorite examples of these types of "wild" saisons are Crooked Stave Surette, Prairie 'Merica, and Lost Abbey Saint's Devotion. My go-to food pairing for saison is a simple Caesar salad topped with parmesan, croutons dusted with herbs, and grilled salmon or chicken."—Tyler Morton (Taste of Tops)

"Logsdon's Seizoen Bretta out of Hood River, OR has been my go-to saison for several years now. Seizoen Bretta is a classic interpretation of the style with lemony esters and peppery phenolics, the beer finishes dry with a decent amount of brett funk that separates it from the rest. As far as pairing goes, saison can be paired with almost anything, but if you want to stay traditional go with seafood, maybe moules frites."—Ryan Spencer (Bailey's Taproom)

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"Stillwater Stateside Saison embodies everything I love about saisons: the spicy hops, the dry finish, and the slight funkiness imparted by the farmhouse yeast. Not surprisingly, several Belgian breweries make exceptional saisons and my favorite is Brasserie Jandrain-Jandrenouille's IV Saison, with a light fruitiness and dry peppery finish that is so refreshing. Saisons pair wonderfully with vegetables and stinky cheeses, so keep it fresh and funky."—Judy Neff (Pints & Plates)

"Boulevard Brewing is making some of the very finest saisons foreign or domestic right here in Missouri. Tank 7 Saison is an orangey golden hued beauty with billowing head, light citrus notes and peppery phenols from real Belgian ale yeast. At 8% ABV it packs a sneaky wallop for the unsuspecting drinker. What's more, Boulevard annually releases a special version of Tank 7 spiked with wild Brettanomyces yeast. Called Boulevard Saison Brett, the beer has an added layer of funk with plenty of sweaty, horse-blanket aroma and flavor to please saison and sour lovers alike. Both beers are extremely versatile for pairings too. Despite their considerable strength, neither will overpower lighter fare such as salads or white fish. They will also work well with chicken dishes, lobster, pork tenderloin, and creamy cheeses."—Chris Kline (Schnuck Markets)

"One of my favorite saisons is a seasonal brew from the Maui Brewing Co, Lemongrass Saison. During a collaboration with The Lost Abbey, a traditional saison recipe was enhanced with the addition of Maui-grown lemongrass. The soft mouthfeel of the beer with the delicate flavor of locally grown lemongrass, matched perfectly with the Champagne-like effervescence of the beer."—Bill Carl (Southern Wine & Spirits of Hawaii)

"I love new school saisons, creative saisons like the pinot noir barrel aged Bellwoods Farmageddon, or super funky saisons like anything from Fantome, but for me it always come back to Saison Dupont. I think it's the best example of the style and is one of the most delicious drinks I've ever had. I always try to have a bottle or two on hand. It's great to drink on its own, but it's also one of the most versatile food beers out there. It can go well across the board with charcuterie, fish 20140302bamuse.jpgdishes, roast pork, spicy Thai food, washed rind cheeses, Thanksgiving dinner... I enjoyed a bottle with the better part of the tasting menu at Eleven Madison Park and it was fantastic."—Jesse Vallins (The Saint Tavern)

"The saison style is as varied as are the stories about how the style came to be. No matter how the modern incarnation of the style was developed, there are a wide range of great flavors and beers that we call saison. Jolly Pumpkin Bam Bière deliciously delivers the slightly sour "farmhouse" side of saison, while Lift Bridge Farm Girl is a great example of the everyday refreshment found in saison. Ommegang Hennepin is a great example of saisons with higher ABV, yet great, crisp drinkability. For a great pairing with saisons I love soft, earthy cheeses like Camembert or brie."—Dan Parker (Better Beer Society)

"Enegren Brewing Company's Golden Spur Saison is on the top of my long list of favorite saisons. Crystal clear and brilliant gold with airy aromas of citrus and hints of banana, this brew is full of bright fruity esters balanced by a complex peppery finish and a sparkling carbonation that dries the palate and leaves you needing just one more sip to quench your thirst. At a local tap takeover, Golden Spur was paired with Spur-battered onion rings and a matching Spur-spiked Dijon mustard, which both married together in flavor and simultaneously cut through the richness of the fried batter thanks to the effervescence."—Becki Kregoski (Bites 'n Brews)

"Saison Bernice by Sante Adairius is a fabulously rustic and soulful saison with an earthy brettanomyces funk. I recently did an interview with Tim Clifford, Sante Adairius's co-owner and brewer, which you can check out here. Why not eat like the Middle Ages French farmers who brewed these spontaneously fermented farmhouse beers? Back then it was inexpensive farm fresh food, but today it's still simple to grab a fresh crusty baguette, tomatoes, olive oil, herbes de provence, and a rich double or mild triple cream cheese to spread."—Chris Cohen (San Francisco Homebrewers Guild)

"I've really been enjoying domestically produced saisons lately. They are also more likely to be fresh than imports, which makes a huge difference. Two stick out in my mind as must haves: North Coast's Le Merle and Pretty Things Jack D'Or. For me, Le Merle is just perfectly balanced in flavors with a prominent but not overpowering yeast pepperiness, light effervescent body, and a great dry finish. Jack D'Or is heaven. It's got a stronger malt presence in body, with a great spice from the rye and a nice hop flavor. For something outside the normal saison, I really enjoyed Stone Brewing Co's 'Matt's Burning Rosids', which is an imperial smoked saison. The smokiness comes off as more of a singed oakiness to me, but that lovely saison yeast still shines through. It's unexpected, and I like that. Locally to me in Cincinnati there are a few breweries producing excellent saisons: Rockmill Brewery, Blank Slate, and Rhinegeist all get gold stars."—Lindsay Bohanske (Love Beer, Love Food)

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