Every two months Northbridge Brewing Co. hold their Beer Club on a Wednesday night up on their skydeck, the top floor of the venue overlooking Northbridge Piazza. $25 gets you a seat at the tasting session which is hosted by the head brewer, Ken Arrowsmith, and features up to 8 beers.
The first Beer Club was held in February to officially launch their limited release American IPA. Ken guided the audience through a range hop driven beers like Stone & Wood Pacific Ale and Mash Copy Cat alongside his own American IPA. Last week’s edition of Beer Club focused on farmhouse ales to coincide with their limited release Saison.
“Hops are not the hero here,” Ken said in his introduction, “what is the real hero of this style is the yeast.”
So, Saisons … what are they all about?!
Saison, meaning “season” in French, originated in Hainaut which is in the south west of Belgium (French speaking). As far as styles go, compared to others, defining the exact characteristics of a Saison is not easy.
Saisons fall under the category of farmhouse ales, together with biére de garde, and are so called because they were brewed, you guessed it, on farmhouses. They were brewed in winter because a) there isn’t much to do on a farm in winter and b) with refrigeration but a distant future, brewing was only really possible in the winter cold. Brewed in winter to keep farm workers employed and enjoyed in summer to keep farmer workers refreshed. Not a bad employee retention plan if you can get it.
“The style is doubly elusive: examples are not always easy to find; not can a Saison be defined with precision.”
Michael Jackson’s Great Beers of Belgium, 6th Edition
The reason for the elusively that respected beer writer Michael Jackson refers to is that each Saison would have differed from farmhouse to farmhouse depending on location and what ingredients were available at the time. The fact they were being brewed by farmers, not professional brewers, also accounts for the lack of knowledge on this style.
“In other words, these farmer-brewers made their Saisons with whatever was at hand. This legacy lives on in the variations – on a rather loose theme – that define modern Saison”
The Oxford Companion to Beer
Our night with Ken and saisons kicked off with the one we were all there for – Northbridge Brewing Co. Saison.
“Is the first beer out yet?” Ken asked the crowd
“Yep!” we replied happily.
“Well, where is mine?!” and once Ken had a beer in hand we were ready to go …
Brewer Ken Arrowsmith hosting the Northbridge Brewing Co Saison Tasting for Beer Club
I really enjoyed the Northbridge Saison, it was clean and bright with an aroma that reminded me of freshly baked banana bread. It was herbal, grassy and straw-like with a dry citrus finish.
Next up we had New Zealand’s 8 Wired Saison Sauvin, an interpretation that mixes the tradition of a French Saison yeast with a new world approach of more malt, more booze and a lot more hops. The smell was lemon sorbet and the taste smacked you in the face at first with pineapple and citrus and showing its 7% ABV. This was one of my favourites from the night.
8 Wired Saison Sauvin | New Zealand | 7% ABV
Third on the list was the Stockade Saison that I believe comes out of Dandenong, Victoria but other than that I don’t seem to be able to find much more information. The nose on this one was banana and lemon dominant and the flavour light and well rounded with spice, grass and bready notes.
“It’s a small town or a large village,” Ken described Silly, Belgium. The Silly Saison’s appearance was much darker than many other saisons and it was sweeter than the other beers in the tasting. “This beer characterises the contradictions of this style,” Ken remarked and he was right. The citrus, grassy and spicy flavours in the previous beers made way instead for sweet toffee, nuttiness, brown sugar and tropical fruit.
Next we came back a little closer to home with the Bridge Road Brewers Elderflower Chevalier from Melbourne. This was another stand out for me. Elderflower, apricot, lemon and a soft funky sourness buried in a light but dank body.
The second last beer took us back to Belgium or more precisely to the Brasserie du Bocq – Saison 1858. This one was a little too lemony for my liking, bursting with lemon and sherbet to the point of tingling. The finish was spicy and dry.
The final beer was Saison Dupont, the gold standard of saisons and it wouldn’t be a saison tasting without it. Brewed at the Brasserie Dupont in Belgium, the brewery has been in the Dupont family since 1920.
“By itself, this beer is obscene; with food, it is a miracle,”
Garrett Oliver, The Brewmaster’s Table
The nose reminded me of bread dough, something I don’t remember thinking when I’ve had this in the past. The flavour is spicy upfront, grassy and citrus with a beautiful lemon finish. I’ve never had a Saison Dupont and not loved it. Ken put it perfectly: “This is the benchmark. This is Saison Dupont.”
Thank you to Northbridge Brewing Co for inviting me along to this event