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What Is a Saison?

First, a French Lesson

“Saison” is French for “season.”

The style originated in the farmhouses of Wallonia, the French-speaking region of Belgium. It was brewed in the winter for farmers to quench their thirst in the warmer months, so saisons were historically light in body, low in alcohol and highly drinkable. They often use wild, top-fermenting yeast and a variety of local ingredients based on availability.

Saisons are full of complexity. A soft malt character supports spicy and fruity notes. And while the hop’s presence is pronounced, it’s not overwhelming. The acidic sourness, high carbonation, and dry finish contribute to a nuanced and satisfying brew.

What Is the Difference Between a Saison and Session Ale?

Because the two words look similar, many believe “saison” is another word for “session,” which is not true.

Saison is a specific style of Belgian beer, while “session” beers can be of any style. A session ale refers to a beer that is low in alcohol content and easy to drink.  And while a traditional saison was brewed to have a lower ABV, some variations today experiment with higher ABV.

A session beer should never exceed 5% ABV. As a result, many saisons are sessions–but not all. And not all session beers are saison–they are two different things.

What Should a Saison Be Paired With?

With so much going on in the aroma and flavor, a saison can complement a variety of dishes – especially BBQ! The spicy notes enhance the flavors of foods that pack a punch. It’s also an excellent choice for shellfish and many types of seafood, particularly mussels.