A dusky Saturday evening finds me in Port Street Beer House in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. An escape from the Champions League final, and respite from the constant threat of cloudburst. A usual warm welcome and conversation turns to Dark Star’s Saison, which their own website describes as “Nothing like what English beer should be”. That sounded like a challenge, and a delightful 568ml later I’m tending to agree with them.
The name Saison (French: season) refers to a style of seasonal pale ales traditionally brewed in farmhouses in the French-speaking Belgium countryside for the farmers and field workers at harvest time. The brews were distinctive as each farmhouse produced their own version, but all were strongly hopped (for preservation) and low in alcohol (to keep the workers hydrated & refreshed, and the harvest on track).
This West Sussex brewery’s take on the “Belgian-style Farmhouse Ale” has produced a very refreshing and even more drinkable pale ale. With a slightly spicy aroma, overtones of pepper, the beer sits there hazy, rather than cloudy, yellow, looking like a distant cousin of the fuller wheat beers from further east. Saaz, Styrian and Belgian Goldings hops are awakened by a Saison yeast which gives the brew a dry and refreshing taste. There’s a distinctive citrus streak running right through the glass, and the whole experience is reminiscent of a Paulaner-with-lemon-wedge, but much more subtle and balanced. The flavours are alive right to the end, with even the last sip as dynamic as the first.
Saison is not an English beer, and nor is it what an English beer should be. It’s a great modern take on a traditional style of ale, just as Dark Star is a modern take on a traditional and multi-faceted brewery. Just as it provided respite for the field workers from the harvest heat and toil, so Saison has provided me respite from the football frenzy and fall of rain. Would I have another? I’m already on my way to the bar.
Brewer: Dark Star
Style: Belgian Farmhouse Ale
Words by by DJ Adams – http://www.pipetree.com/qmacro/