As craft beer matures as an industry in America, so too do the ways in which we celebrate the suds. Beer festivals of the past relied on random assortments of breweries — whose beers were often being poured by event volunteers — while today’s festivals are celebrations of specificity. Look no further than Juicy Brews, Extreme Beer Festival, and Schlafly’s Stout and Oysters Fest for evidence.
Another such example occurred on April 14th of this year, as it has for the past five years: Saison Day. Hosted by Allagash, it’s a celebration of the historic style of beer, born from the field of Belgium. The event, however, has less clear origins.
“As far as we can remember, there’s no one person at Allagash behind Saison Day,” Allagash Brewmaster Jason Perkins said. “The idea just kind of came up from our collective love of the style, and the urge to see it gain more mainstream appreciation.”
Other breweries jumped at the opportunity.
“We’re big fans of Allagash, so when they asked us if we wanted to host a party with them that celebrates one of our favorite styles of beer, it was a no brainer,” Jay Goodwin of Berkeley, California’s The Rare Barrel said.
Twelve breweries nationwide officially partnered in the Allagash-inspired day, from the brewery’s Portland neighbors at Oxbow Blending & Bottling to Off Color in Chicago to The Rare Barrel in Berkeley.
All of the breweries that participated in Saison Day poured Allagash’s beer alongside their individual interpretations of the style. According to Perkins, Saison Day allows breweries to express what makes them unique.
“We quickly found common ground with fellow breweries and the idea really began to take off,” said Perkins. “Now, we’re celebrating with twelve different breweries across the country. We have beer lists for some of these events that stretch to 30+, 40+ different saisons.”
The nuance of this traditional style attracts a diverse audience. The saison is a very large tree with multiple branches extending away from it, from farmhouse ales to kvass to biere de garde. They can be funky or sour or spicy. Beer drinkers of all tastes can find a saison amenable to their palette.
“Farmhouse ales are unlike any other styles because of their bountiful and intriguing aromas,” said Goodwin. “Saisons pair so well with so many ingredients. That’s what makes it a great style to showcase in a celebration like this.”
In a beer world dominated by boldness, and where beer acquisition is accompanied by hype and weighted by likes, Saison Day is a reflection on subtlety and nuance. At Oxbow, at least, we didn’t pound through the “next best thing.” We spent the day admiring a historical style of beer without the implied need for affirmation we were doing it “right.” We need more days like this.