He must be obeyed or there will be… trouble.

 I am presuming that “lupulin tendencies” is a metaphorical allusion to my not-so-secret love of beers with lashings of hops (Humulus Lupulus) rather than an assertion that I literally resemble Lupulin, the glandular powder off the strobiles [1] of the hops plant.

This week’s topic is the Saison style and, by a remarkable coincidence, Malthouse has a higher than average number of Saisons available at the moment.  Precisely defining what is a Saison is difficult, even the illustrious Oxford Companion to Beer struggles, but it is generally agreed they are descended from the farmhouse ales of France and Belgium (particularly Wallonia). The Oxford Companion notes:

“Farm brewers would spend the cooler months building a stock of ‘provision beer’ to drink during the entire year, particularly the summer season.  The practical goals in brewing Saisons were threefold: to refresh the seasonal workers in summer, to make work for the full-time farm workers during the winter (a period of ‘unemployment’ on a farm), and to produce spent grain which served as quality feed for the livestock in the winter…

Modern Saisons defy easy categorisation. They can be as contradictory as they are uniform. Most are light in colour, a few are dark and some are in between. A few are full-bodied and sweet, many are extraordinarily dry and fruity. Those who like their beer styles neatly arranged in narrow categories will find attempting to pigeonhole Saisons an exercise in frustration.  To others, this elusive quality is precisely their allure…”

However, the chapter does conclude that “generally speaking, most modern Saisons” are dry, highly carbonated, fruity, 5%-8%, 20-40 IBUs and re-fermented in the bottle. [2]

The first beer today is a bona fide World Classic Beer and the first Saison I ever tried back when I was going through my Belgian fascination period – Saison Dupont (6.5%), an unfiltered Belgian farmhouse ale. This sometimes hazy golden beer has complex notes of citrus, apple, lemon, pepper, spices, a little funk and elusive hints of sourness.  Finally, there is a bone dry finish which is distinctively Belgian and quite different to the hop bombs I’m usually salivating over. 

A modern, local interpretation is produced by the huggable crew down in Invercargill Brewery. Their Invercargill Sa!son (6.5%) is now a regular seasonal beer coming out in autumn and there is a stock of bottles. It uses the classic French Saison yeast but brings in local flavours through Kiwi hops (Rakau, Riwaka) and Gladfield malts. Sparkling in the glass there are notes of passionfruit, spice, orange peel, hay, cloves and barnyard. It is a highly regarded Saison, scoring 96 on RateBeer. [3]

While Saison Dupont has been produced since 1844 and Invercargill has been working on Sa!son for around five years, the next beer is brand new. Fork Brewery Back to Black (5.2%), a rare black Saison which was launched in April. [4] While still using the trademark yeast, Black Saisons utilise dark speciality malts to change the colour and bring in sweeter, roasted flavours. Back to Black has one more twist – the addition of herbaceous and spicy Guinea peppercorns. This beer, available on tap at Malthouse, has notes of yeast, coffee, pepper, hay, herbs then a dry, astringent finish.

Two of the biggest brewing influences on Dave and Tom from London’s Brew by Numbers brewery were New Zealand hops and Belgian yeasts. It seems appropriate then that they have made a range of Saisons highlighting the judicious use of our hops. [5] There are bottles of two of the lad’s New Zealand hopped Saisons in the fridge.

Brew by Numbers 01/06 Motueka and Lime (5.5%) combines a solid hit of Motueka hops (punchy, fruity, bitter), lime zest (zesty lime, obviously) and traditional yeast (funk and just a hint of gumboots from the farm). 

Making the bold claim of being the “Saison for all you Pale Ale lovers out there”, Brew by Numbers 01/07 Nelson Sauvin (6%) is almost certainly the hoppiest Saison featured today. It showcases plenty of Nelson Sauvin hops (gooseberry, tropical fruit and a splash of white wine), shredded wheat and proper yeast. I might have to see if it lives up to its boast. 

The Norwegian nomads at Nogne o [6] have designed their Nogne o Saison (6.5%) to be refreshing and quenching. It sure looks pretty – a slightly hazy straw colour with strong bubbles and a fluffy collar of foam. There are notes of oranges, spices, pear, hay, lemon and pepper. While there are still hints of yeast and sourness, it is a cleaner Saison than most. 

Nogne o has done a series of “North South” collaboration brews with Australia’s Bridge Road Brewery. Nogne o/Bridge Road India Saison (7.5%) brings Australian hops (Galaxy and Stella) into the mix. The resulting beer pours golden (sometimes hazy) and throws a huge, appetising nose. India Saison is dry and balanced with notes of orange, yeast, pepper, hay, grape, pine and a hint of cloves. Easily the best collaborative Norwegian/Australian Saison I’ve researched this year.

Next time, we drink to the Mighty Maroons for their impending State of Origin series win. 

[1] Strobiles are, as everyone doubtless knows, the cone-like fruit of the hops. Who says reading about beer cannot be educational as well as entertaining?  It should at least be one of the two. 

[2] It is telling that the authour feels the need to use both “generally speaking” and “most” to qualify this sentence.

[3] Saison Dupont gets 99 on RateBeer so the Invercargill beer is in very fine company.

[4] Fork Brewery is the new name for the beers coming out of the Fork & Brewer brewpub.

[5] The Brew by Numbers boys also make beers with less conventional ingredients such as cucumber, juniper and hibiscus flowers.

[6] Apologies. This blog cannot handle the appropriate Norwegian symbols – in fact, it often struggles with English.


Neil Miller
Beer Writer
Beer and Brewer Magazine
Cuisine Magazine


Brasserie Dupont – http://www.brasserie-dupont.com/dupont/en/6967-saison-dupont.html
Invercargill Brewery – http://www.invercargillbrewery.co.nz/
Fork & Brewer – http://www.forkandbrewer.co.nz/
Brew by Numbers – http://www.brewbynumbers.com/
Nogne o – http://www.nogne-o.com/
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