Updated on April 27, 2023
On Saturday, April 29, 2023, for the tenth year in a row, saisons will take center stage. Brewers and beer fans nationwide will celebrate this unique and wide-ranging beer style by enjoying a few of their favorite farmhouse ales.
Allagash Brewing Company invented Saison Day in 2014. Today, Allagash continues to serve as the host brewery for this annual event. No single person launched Saison Day. Brewers and other staff at Allagash simply decided that saisons deserved a day of their own and invited some of their favorite fellow breweries to join the celebration.
The spirit of variety has been baked into this holiday from the beginning. Allagash partners with a handful of breweries across the U.S., shipping a few kegs from its Portland, ME, headquarters to each location. This way, folks from different areas can enjoy a few of Allagash’s magical saisons that would not normally see national distribution.
“In the spirit of community and mutual admiration for this historical beer style, Allagash is sending its favorite saison creations to brewery partners in multiple states and will also offer a variety of saisons at its home-base tasting room,” noted a press release on this year’s event.
The list of participating breweries, as are the beers, is always different yearly. “We’ve been doing it with multiple breweries; it’s switched up every time,” says Brett Willis, marketing specialist at Allagash. “That’s kind of been the fun of it, showing up in different places.”
First of All, What Exactly is a Saison?
Let’s step back and talk a little about what makes saison such a beloved beer style.
These beers originated on farms throughout the South of Belgium, also known as the French-speaking Wallonia region. Brewed seasonally (saison is a French word that translates to season) during colder months, saisons are aged and enjoyed in the summertime.
These small producers made beer with ingredients they had on hand or available locally. Grains included wheat, rye, spelt, and others in addition to barley.
Over time, expectations developed for what defines a saison. A variety of grains, both raw and malted, adds to the spicy, rustic quality of the drinking experience. The Belgian yeast imparts a distinct peppery flavor with a bit of fruit.
They’re usually quite crisp and effervescent, with a dry finish that keeps you coming back for another sip.
What are the Current Trends in Saison Brewing?
Beyond the essential traits, the saison style is delightfully open-ended.
Averie Swanson, the founder and beermaker at Chicago’s Keeping Together, an all-mixed-fermentation craft beer brand, calls it “a blank slate of all the different styles that exist out there, the one that has the most-permeable membrane. You can add various things to it, and stylistically it’s still within the parameters according to the powers that be.”
Saisons can be light- or dark-colored, clean or funky/sour, sessionable or imperial-strength. Brewers frequently add fruit, spices, and more. Additionally, saisons work well with barrel aging and dry hopping. But the simpler and more traditional ones are great, too.
In this sense, they’re more of a worldview than a fully defined style. “For [us], saisons tend to represent the purest form and most romanticized idea of what brewing can and should be,” says Todd Boera, co-founder and creative director at Fonta Flora Brewery in Morganton, NC.
Saison brewing harkens back to nostalgic feelings about simple ingredients and processes. Although modern brewers are more than willing to experiment, they continue to draw inspiration from these Belgian farmhouse-inspired traditions.
“Traditional saisons are a dry, spicy, fruity, and complex style of beer that we love here at Allagash,” says Allagash Brewmaster Jason Perkins. “Beyond the tradition, the style also contains a lot of room for experimentation and creativity: They can be light, dark, malty, yeast-forward, or even funky. And we’ve found that within the brewing industry, it’s a style that a lot of people love but don’t necessarily get to brew that often.”
He continues, “By creating Saison Day, a made-up holiday, we were hoping to create a reason for more of our friends in the industry to create saisons of their own while also making a specific time for beer fans to celebrate saisons and even potentially discover them for the first time.”
Where Can I Celebrate Saison Day This Year?
Allagash hosted the official Saison Day celebrations virtually in 2020 and 2021 before returning in person for the first time last year. In years past, Allagash’s neighbors at Oxbow Brewing Company (also located in Portland, ME) have served as the local hosts for the event. You can find Saison Day parties at both this year, plus a few more breweries nationwide. Allagash and friends can’t wait to continue the real-live fun on Saturday, April 29, 2023.
Here’s the full list of participating breweries:
- Urban Roots, Sacramento, CA
- Oxbow, Portland, ME
- Threes Brewing, Brooklyn, NY
- Green Bench, St. Petersburg, FL
- Off Color, Chicago, IL
- Allagash, Portland, ME
Which Saisons Can I Try at These Locations?
The Allagash taproom will feature seven of its saisons, showcasing this style’s wide range of possibilities. As for its partner breweries, they’ll decide whether to include all or a subset in their Saison Day celebrations. As Willis notes, “We say, ‘Here are the saisons. You can pour all or some.’ It’s up to the location.” Allagash’s local sales reps in these regions also work with the breweries to support the events. In the past, they’ve made T-shirts, banners, and other merch and décor.
Here Are the Eight Allagash Saisons Offered on Saison Day 2023*
Saison – Allagash’s classic saison recipe, back again! Notes of citrus, pear, and peppery spice accompany the pleasant malt character.
Once Upon an Orchard (Peaches) – A wild saison aged for four months on fresh peaches, creating an enchanting sour beer with notes of apricot, peach pie, and spice.
Allagash White – The brewery’s iconic Belgian-style witbier and the one that started it all.
Shiro’s Delight – This ruby beer’s base ferments with two yeast strains: saison and Brettanomyces. Aged on Pluerries (a combination between a plum and a cherry) and plums for a flavor that mixes tart cherry, plum, and tropical fruit with hints of spice and oak.
Coolship Red – Spontaneous beer aged on fresh, local raspberries for six months in oak wine barrels. Allagash uses 100 pounds of fresh Maine raspberries per oak barrel for a beer that turns out bright red and tart with a little oaky aroma.
Coolship Resurgam – Lambic-style blend of one-, two-, and three-year-old un-fruited spontaneous beer. The name comes from the motto of Allagash’s fair city, Portland, ME, meaning “I shall rise again.”
Interlude – Two yeast strains—a saison yeast and Brettanomyces—impart notes of pear, apricot, and bread crust into this tart, wine barrel-aged beer.
*Editor’s Note: These descriptions come courtesy of Allagash.
Alongside these offerings, expect each participating brewery to pour some of their favorite farmhouse brews.
If I’m Celebrating Somewhere Else, What Are Some Good Saisons to Try?
We’re glad you asked! There are a ton of great breweries producing awesome saisons. We’ve put together a diverse list of traditional powerhouses and new-school gems.
Saison Dupont – Brasserie Dupont
Tourpes, Wallonie Belgium
Saison Dupont is Belgium’s best-known and most popular saison. And for a good reason. It’s a smooth-drinker with an incredibly soft and dry mouthfeel and the complex flavors of Dupont’s legendary yeast. At 6.5% ABV, it’s not too heavy or too light. Saison Dupont is just an incredibly refreshing beer and a near-perfect beverage.
As a bonus recommendation, try Brasserie Dupont’s Avec Les Bons Voeux (9.5% ABV), a strong blonde-saison hybrid.
I Am Because We Are – Keeping Together
Remarkably, Keeping Together is pretty much a one-person operation, and Averie Swanson is one of the game’s most thoughtful and inventive saison brewers. Swanson brews I Am Because We Are with honey and lavender-smoked barley (courtesy of Indiana’s Sugar Creek Malt Co.).
In conjunction with East Kent Goldings hops and mixed-culture house yeast, the beer’s flavors remind Swanson of a mezcal margarita. She describes notes of “lime pith, limey acidity, floral background, and then, of course, the smoke.”
Swanson participated in Allagash’s virtual Saison Day in 2021, and we highly recommend checking out the video of her and four other brilliant brewers talking about their passion for saisons. “I’m interested in the longevity and sustainability and balance of what I do, and I think many other saison producers would argue the same,” says Swanson. “Saison offers a point of connection for a lot of people in the beer world.” And for a lot of drinkers, too!
Saison de Banc Vert – Green Bench Brewing Company
St. Petersburg, FL
Green Bench Head Brewer and Co-Founder Khris Johnson considers this beer the brewery’s “Green Bench Saison.” Paying humble respects to the farmhouse ale and saisons, Saison de Banc Vert takes advantage of its house farmhouse yeast strain to produce those characteristic fruity, spicy esters. Saison de Banc Vert drinks simultaneously tart and dry for a crushable beer in the hot Florida weather, even at 6.58% ABV.
Apex Predator – Off Color Brewing
This Midwestern brewery does a few different takes on the saison, but it all started with its Apex Predator. And a little bit of Mother Nature. To brew this one, Off Color pitches the yeast cold, turns off the temperature control, and lets the magical mixing of beer and yeast go to work. You get a cloudy, luscious mane of fruity, dry beer in your glass. This beer doesn’t really bite at all like a lion, but it does undoubtedly roar.
Table Beer – Threes Brewing
Don’t sleep on the simply named Table Beer, evoking a style that trends lower in ABV so you can drink a few around a table with friends, the idea being you can linger for hours over good food and beer.
We can get on board with that! For Threes’ version, they add New York State hops and Red Fife Heritage Wheat from Gianforte farm, fermenting everything with a house saison yeast.
Conditioned in the can, Table Beer pops with a bubblegum and lemon zest effervescence, followed by layers of peppercorn, banana cream pie, and more lemon!
Saison Dell’Aragosta – Oxbow Brewing Company
Kind of a legend in Maine, Saison Dell’Aragosta includes an unusual addition—live Maine lobsters! The sea creatures add a slight salinity to this classic stainless-aged farmhouse ale for a beer that Oxbow calls a “seaside saison.”
Mizzenmast – Urban Roots Brewing & Smokehouse
Try Mizzenmast from Urban Roots in Sacramento, CA, for something less traditional. Collabing with Fords Gin, Urban Roots aged this saison in Fords Gin Officers Reserve Casks for sixteen months before infusing the farmhouse ale with Meyer lemons and juniper berries. An additional six months for bottle conditioning means this beer gets a whole lotta love. The wheaty, lemony base is the perfect foil to take on some juniper qualities from the barrels and berries. Consider Mizzenmast a saison with an edge and an example of pushing the new frontier of these ales.
Saison de Lis – Perennial Artisan Ales
St. Louis, MO
Saison de Lis drinks like a classic saison with a couple of twists—first, Perennial brews this saison with chamomile flowers, which provide exciting tea notes. Second, dry hopping gives it some fantastic hop flavor and texture. Saison de Lis is an excellent beer if you’re in the mood for some pleasantly strange flavors but not necessarily something overly funky.
Saison D’Epeautre – Brasserie de Blaugies
Blaugies, Wallonie Belgium
Pouring a cloudy, orangey blond, this is another classic saison from the South of Belgium. The aroma is funky, peppery, and citrusy. The flavors are more eccentric: earthy, woodsy, and maybe even a bit brothy, but in a good way. Despite the heavy flavors, this beer sits at just 6% ABV and finishes even lighter than you’d expect.
La Vermontoise – Brasserie de Blaugies and Hill Farmstead Brewery
Blaugies, Wallonie, Belgium x Greensboro, VT
La Vermontoise is a collaboration between Blaugies and the highly regarded Hill Farmstead out of Vermont. There are a lot of great old-world-meets-new-world vibes here. It has the sweet malt/candi sugar aroma of a Belgian tripel, but thanks to Amarillo hops, it drinks a bit more tropical and bitter than a classic Belgian saison.
Carolina Gold – Fonta Flora Brewery
Brewed with local malts from Riverbend Malt House in Asheville, NC, and heritage rice from Marsh Hen Mills in Edisto Island, SC, Carolina Gold is fermented with saison yeast and then lagered at super cold temperatures for several weeks.
The ingredients, yeast character, and extended lagering period mean that this beer “drinks snappier, drier, and crisper than most actual lagers,” says Boera. This authentic beer-drinker’s beer has been “celebrated by beer writers and crushed by fellow brewers for years now,” says Boera.
According to Boera, the inspiration for this beer “came from drinking Euro saison and feeling very convinced that many brewers were using lager yeast” to make it. (“Though I have no proof of this,” he laughs.)
Named after the rice that Boera uses in the beer, Carolina Gold is part of a series of Fonta Flora beers focusing on different heritage grains. “The bottom line for us is always starting with a base of local grain, and with saison, we definitely take it very seriously,” says Boera.
La Merle – North Coast Brewing Company
Fort Bragg, CA
This one beckons you with its clear golden amber color and nice lacing. La Merle is not a fruited saison, but there is a pleasant raspberry note up front, followed by a casual hop bite on the finish. A hint of booziness shows up post-sip, but this beer disguises its 7.9% ABV with crisp carbonation and a nice balance of dry and sweet flavors.