Saisons have an interesting history. The style emerged centuries ago in the French-speaking regions of southern Belgium, around Wallonia. Not much is known of the earliest saisons, only that they were considered farmhouse ales, intended for farm hands. It was brewed in the cooler months and saved until the hot days of summer.
Modern saisons, especially those made by American brewers, are probably much stronger and richer in body than the early versions. A new limited release beer from Tyranena, named Prom Date Cherry Saison, is one such modern take on the style.
What is it? Prom Date Cherry Saison from Tyranena Brewing Company of Lake Mills, Wisconsin.
Style: "Saison" is the French word for season. This style of farmhouse ale was created well before the advent of mechanical refrigeration. Its low alcohol and light body likely proved refreshing to farm workers on hot days. Those workers are said to have been limited to five liters (that's about 1.3 gallons) per day.
Saisons are associated with low to medium malt aroma and a light to mild, yet crisp, bitterness. The hoppiness can be assertive but shouldn't be overwhelming. These brews can have spicy and fruity character, with a balanced amount of sour or acidic flavors. Among spices used in the recipe are grains of paradise and black pepper. Saisons range from 4.5% to 8.5% ABV.
Background: Tyranena owner and brewmaster Rob Larson likes to reward regular brewery visitors with unannounced, limited, draught-only and one-time batches. "It's a matter of if we have a slot in our production schedule and enough kegs sitting around to do something," says Larson about his approach to limited one-off batches. "We're always looking to do something different and see how it goes, he adds. "If it goes well, it becomes part of the Brewers Gone Wild Series [limited release beers distributed in four-packs of bottles] or may be its becomes a seasonal" he says.
Prom Date Cherry Saison gets its fruity aroma and flavor accent from Oregon cherries, which are added as a puree into the fermenter. There's also a firm spicy-yeasty background that comes from the farmhouse ale yeast that is used in the brewing process. The beer has some strength at 7% ABV.
The beer is likely to be served in the Tyranena tasting room through August, where it sells for $4/pint and $8.50/growler (refill). It's also available in just a few Madison tap houses. The Malt House has a keg of it waiting to be tapped. It's also slated to be offered at a Great Taste Eve pre-party hosted by Tyranena at the Come Back In on Friday, August 9.
- Aroma: Light yeastiness with a hint of cherry.
- Appearance: Clear copper, though with a soft bubbly head that has a light pinkish-tan color.
- Texture: Medium and bubbly.
- Taste: A yeasty start. Some light spicy tones, with a dryness that builds in the finish. There is a light cherry flavor that lingers on the palate; as you drink it, you'll begin to notice more of the cherry.
- Finish/Aftertaste: A light, fruity cherry flavor, but the crisp dryness seems to stand out more.
Glassware: The curved body of a stemmed tulip glass will show off the bright amber-copper color. The flared lip supports the soft white head and allows the aromas of yeast and hints of cherry to gather under your nose.
Pairs well with: Saisons are versatile beers for food. Prom Date is particularly great for outdoor meals. Its light cherry accent is nice with salads and light seafood.
Rating: Four Bottle Openers (out of four)
The Verdict: This was a surprising find on a recent stop to the Tyranena tasting room, since Rob Larson is more known for his hoppy Bitter Woman IPA and the smooth warmth of barrel-aged Rocky's Revenge. Prom Date Cherry Saison has rich yeasty body, with a hint of fruit and a lingering dryness. Alcoholic warmth is a reminder that this is no summer session beer. Rather, it is a solid saison with just enough cherry to make the style appealing without overdoing any fruity sweetness.
The cherry is a soft accent found early in the aroma, and it lightly lingers into the finish. The fruit doesn't overshadow that saison-yeastiness, nor does it compete with the crisp dry finish of a good saison. It all works here, so I'm hoping Prom Date will not be a one-and-done experiment. This beer needs to find its place in Tyranena's seasonal line-up, perhaps in the early spring when the warmth from its 7% ABV would be better suited to a cool but sunny day.