Onward and upward my friends, it's time to talk Saisons. French for season, Saisons were originally brewed in Wallonia, the southern (and French-speaking) region of Belgium. These beers were brewed during the autumn/winter in the farmhouses and stored over, aged past the spring, until the migrant pickers showed back up for the next, late summer harvest. At the end of the previous season's harvest, whatever was grown, be it barley, wheat, etc... that stuff was gleaned from the fields thrown into a mash tun, once boiled off, the yeast of the day would take over. This was way back in the olden days when the water wasn't safe to drink, so the land owners would offer Saisons to the pickers to keep them healthy and invigorated for the harvest. It is said (on Wikipedia (un-cited, naturally)) that the pickers were entitled to 5 liters of beer per workday to fend off dehydration and fatigue as well as to pack on some much needed calories. Saisons were originally brewed to be in the low single digits of ABV (like 3%-ish) so no one would be stumbling around the fields looking for their sickle, but strong enough that a hearty smile could be seen on every picker's face. These beers were different from farm to farm, farmhouse to farmhouse. Phil Markowski (in Garrett Oliver's The Oxford Companion to Beer) says these beer makers were farmers, not brewers so "the fact that they were not sold commercially is reason to believe that these Saisons were probably made with little mind too repeatability"(711). The traditional malt bill and hop profile of Ye Ol' Saisons can be seen in this vein too, Phil goes on to state "with the unpredictability of the growing season and the practice of crop rotation it is probable that these brews were made with varying amounts of different grains such as barley, wheat, rye, and spelt. In years hops were scarce, herbs and spices were likely substituted"(711). Although the total flavor package of classic Saisons is a little unknown, one thing that is widely assumed is that a delicate, funk (bordering sour) was likely present, and this flavor profile is what has carried Saisons over into the modern brewing age.
Like sands through the hour glass so is the history of Saisons. That low digit ABV has climbed steadily, most breweries that offer a Saison these days are living in the 5% to 9% ABV range, as no pickers need to stay sober for the harvest (the Farmhouse Grisette, a sessionable Saison from Breakside Brewery in Portland, OR is a lower ABV and excellent exception (thank you boys, that is a special and delicious beer)). Complete with Saison dedicated breweries (like Fort Collins own Funkwerks) the current day in American Craft beer is chocked very full of these lovely farmhouse ales. Here at New Belgium we made our first Saison back in the middle 90's and have made more than one other over the ensuing years, which brings us to the latest edition of the New Belgium Lips of Faith family, Prickly Passion Saison.
As the name suggests this beer is spiced with prickly pear and passion fruit and has been top-fermented with our house Saison yeast. The fruit is present, some sweet-tanginess is prevalent in the nose while the tongue is rich and earthy. The malts in the beer stand up to hug the spicing and the overall profile is one to be savored. Glowing amber in color and not really any hops to speak of, but at 8.5% ABV this Saison is not to be trifled with, the heat from the alcohol warms the belly and the funk warms the soul. The Saison yeast gives the beer a (not very) subtle punch to the underbelly of sour. While not a sour, the funk of Prickly Passion Saison is strong enough to be reminiscent of wild beers. Sip-able and strong, full and rich, Prickly Passion Saison is paired best with a bold cheese or maybe, a fully marbled cut of meat. 22oz bombers only and going fast
As always the availability of this beer will be short lived (like all Lips of Faith), but the distribution should be wide enough through our markets for you to find some, and it is on the shelves now. Check the Libation Locator for more details (sorry Texas, the Locator doesn't work in the Lone Star State (we didn't want to mess with Texas)).
On that note, I'm going home.