Monday 25 July 2011

Is Saison the New Citra?

Lucky bastard Rob from is in Rome, from where he posts this little video snippet. It's a great little snippet in lots of ways - on one hand, he's largeing it on holiday, and so he's already having a laugh at our expense. It's also great because he's responding with a video to something that he's read a few moments ago on Twitter - this conversation about saisons. We'll gloss over the fact that Baladin Nora isn't actually a saison - it's a spiced ale - the point is that Rob saw an opportunity and grabbed it with two hands, even though one was holding a brimming TeKu glass.

It's cool, it's now, and maybe this is the future of social media - people responding by video to things that they've seen a few moments earlier. This could be the birth of something big - rather than arguing in text, we could now do it with video, saving us the trouble of meeting up and getting drunk together. The misanthrope in me thinks that maybe this is the way forward - I recently had a request from Simon at Real Ale Guide for a 4-way Skype beer review. It didn't happen, but maybe a bit of video panel-drinking might be fun? I must give it a try - maybe it will be like going to the pub, or maybe it will be like sitting at home feeling slightly creeped out - only experience will tell.

Anyway, for me, the interesting question in that Twitter conversation is from Chris (@NorthernWrites on Twitter) - "Is saison the new citra?". It's a good question, coloured by Chris' unabashed dislike of what he sees as bandwagon-straddling me-too citra-infused pale golden ales. The short answer to this is, of course, no. But the long answer provides some insight into where the beer world may be headed in the next few years.

As International IPA Day draws close, what we are going to see is on August 4th is, I believe, a celebration of a style of beer that could do for beer what Australian wine did for wine in the late 80s and early 90s. IPA is a style that is easy to understand, easy to enjoy, and has the potential to draw more drinkers into the category. A citra-heavy IPA may not be the most sophisticated beer in the world, but damn, it's easy to enjoy, and I'm not sure how that can be a bad thing.

Contrast that open, easy-drinking appeal with the tart, tightly-wound, sometimes musty and dusty complexity of a saison, and it's clear that saisons are forever going to be marginalised. Saison is the riesling of the wine world - loved by those in the know and in the trade, but largely ignored by everyone else. Good riesling smells of diesel, wet stones and lime blossom. Good saison smells of hops sacks, old wooden spice racks and cellars.

Saison, like riesling, will always be a minority taste, but the future tastes of citra-laced IPA.



  1. It would see that as hip as Citra is in the States right now it's impact is bigger where you are.

    Curious, given that so little of it is grown (113 acres in 2010 - 215 strung in 2011).

  2. Agreed Stan, whereas Cascade led the revolution in American brewing in the 1980's, Citra will lead the re-invention of English-made IPAs, today.

  3. Stan - that would explain why the new harvest is already sold out in the UK, at least on a commercial scale.

    Craig - I don't know if it is so much re-inventing IPA as opening up the sector to a new group of drinkers. Citra can produce such alluring, fruity flavours and aromas that even people who claim not to like beer can be seduced into trying some with just one sniff. It's interesting that at a time when "beer for women" is such a big story (well, over here currently, at least, with the launch of Molson Coors Animée), nobody has thought of planting a county's-worth of citra and making a delicate tropical fruit-bomb with that.

  4. A homage to your videos from Rome which were no doubt one of the reasons me and Esther chose to return to the capital opposed to another city in our beloved Italy.

    Nora was on the menu as a saison and it's closer to the style in my eyes than Wayan.

    Open Baladin was great and I'm sure we'll return tomorrow evening. The selection was great but I say only a third of the pumps were in use and most "specials" hadn't been replaced.

    I wanted to do a few videos while in Rome and Baladin seemed to he the right place to pop that cherry. I wanted to do a mini review of Baladin/Stone colab Super Arrogant but it had gone.

    I then saw Chris' comment about Saison and selected am appealling farmhouse-style ale from the chalkboards on the wall. Chris and Jick are friends on mine and it seemed like a nice way to chip into their convasation and also say "look where I am" ;-p

    I've done skpye reviews with Peter from Denmark (Themasterofhoppets) and had a really fun time drinking and chatting about beer.

    Expect a video from Ma che siete venuti a fa? later today. I noted they had a few saison on too, one Italian and one Danish. But the two styles that seem to be exciting the Italians are IPA and sour/lambic?

  5. Let me know when Citra-hopped Saisons are the new Citra-hopped Black IPAs and then I'll get excited!

    We should look at Google+ for the possibility of multi-person videos - they allow 10 people to video chat at the same time. I'm not sure if you can record the conversation but I'm sure there's a way.

  6. As soon as Nick rolled out a list of brewers currently making Saison, I instantly knew there was a hook there by which to get - rightly or wrongly - a diverse debate going about the plethora of varieties of a particular style of beer that is heading to the wider market.

    It very much reminds me of the Hollywood approach to film making; where the big summer blockbusters are often takes on the same theme but from slightly different angles - forgive the hazy, early morning memory but did Platoon, Full Metal Jacket and Hamburger Hill come out in the same year or in subsequent years?

    I've only realy sat on the periphery of the beer drinking world for a couple of years now - basically since my involvement with twitter blew up. In that time I've seen a run of beers that clearly started with a Jewish mogul crafting together an idea somewhere up in the LA hills. They then spoke to a casting director, who spoke to an agent, who spoke to a crew team, who then spoke to another casting agent - over an ice, cold beer - who then spoke to a director; who in an instant got on the phone to his mate, Brew Goldman. Brew Goldman saw this idea as too good an opportunity to pass up and decided to put the feelers out to see if his customers would be interested in shooting such a beer.

    From that we had two studios making a Citra IPA, then a Black IPA, then a particular style of Porter, a double IPA, an American style mixed hop pale, a red rye, southern hop (pacific) etc etc.

    Issue some may have with me holding this view, is that it clearly reads as though I am making accusatory stabs at people for merely copying – or as Zak, Simon Johnson and Rob Derbyshire have alluded to here and in other places (on my very own beer label for one) bandwagon straddling. The issue is not necessarily whether I am right or wrong, but whether I should accuse the beer industry of doing exactly what the movie world, fashion world, restaurateurs do all the time? This is an industry much like those, where fashion dictates tastes in a large scale (this doesn’t necessarily mean we all adopt fashion, it just directs some to reconsider how they present themselves). If brewers sit still, and don’t evolve – then they get as much flak for producing stagnant, brown ale (only for the accusatory amongst us to then be up in arms if they rip the heart out of their heritage – Carlsberg Tetleys).

    Where the pointy figure of naivety will remain to be directed, is at the brewers who are constantly playing catch up – constantly surfing a hop wave – never actually leading the charge over the top of the bar. Are they phoning up their clandestine hop dealers and getting word as to what everyone else is buying up? Maybe Zak and I need to go to a car park somewhere under the cover of dark and make false claims about Pork Bellies, Orange Juice and Saaz – for you know it is only a matter of time before the Craft Brewers decide that the Pilsner is the beer du jour for next summer (if it’s not already in the pipeline to crash down this year).

    There are a lot of great brewers, doing their thing – and much like how blue tits pick at milk bottle tops or builders decide a pyramid is the most regal design for their masters at precisely the same time – they get thrown in to this melange of “popularity is king” view when they quite clearly shouldn’t. Though it will be interesting to see on IPA Day how many opt for the safe hands of the Citra laced or Black IPA – and how many really go for it; throwing caution to the wind and produce an IPA that we’ve never considered before – just pray this then doesn’t open the floodgates of “outrageous replicant” IPAs in the future!

    (Quick note to say I was at the launch of Avery Brown Dredge and remember Zak claiming advice was given to throw Citra hops in to the final boil for the Double Pilsner. I for one am glad they stuck to their guns and opted to ignore this professional advice)

  7. I'm looking forward to trying and comparing the different Saisons that are coming from UK brewers over the next few months. The Summer Wine ones sound fascinating, and as Dean says he's getting the first lot delivered to Mr Foleys at the end of this week. I'll probably also make a special trip to The Midnight Bell try the Leeds one.

    Regarding Mark's comment, one hybrid beer of note is the Flying Dog In De Wildeman "Farmhouse IPA", which is classed as a Saison on Ratebeer: "An unfiltered American IPA hopped with Citra and fermented with Saison yeast."

    I even had (and enjoyed) this in the bar in Amsterdam and forgot that it was a Citra-hopped Saison! So that's old hat already, then...


  8. Nobody will be planting a county's worth of Citra because it is patented and grown only under license.

  9. Tried the first of the Summer Wine Saisons last night - very good it was too- reminded me abit of Urthel Saisonnere. Some of the Belgian brewers are starting to use the saison style for playing around with hops which is an interesting development. And one of my very favourite Dutch beers is De Schans Saison - simply wonderful and now part of their core range, too.

    John Clarke

  10. Zak I had a pint of Leodis Saison at Brewery Tap Leeds last week, Its been brewed with Celia, Amarillo and Hallertau with additions of Rosemary and thyme. Its fermented using Champagne yeast, tasted very refreshing at only 3.5%. I think the carbonationation in the beer is helping the flavours come out very well. Waiting to try the cask version of it at Midnight Bell as its going to be cask conditioned compared to the one at Brewery Tap


  11. Just on the subject of Citra - I don't get the love. I've had a few decent beers that use it as a late addition, but I've also had a few where is just tastes too raw, limey and harsh.


  12. Re the diesel notes in Riesling:

    Remember reading this a while back but forget where until after lunch = checking through google.

    Re Citra - I think it struck a chord as a clean, refreshing pint at a time when brewers were going mad with producing really hoppy beers. Where it is flawed is when brewers think it doesn't need balance, and that they want that fruity taste to flow all the way down the back of the throat. Just a prime example where single hopping loses some of the magic.

  13. Rob - don't mind me - I didn't get where I am today without being a nit-picky pain in the arse! But more seriously, I think that it was an interesting development in the use of social media, to read a tweet and then post a video response - very slick.

    Mark - I'm not sure if this is more or less appealing than a twissup. It's got all the hallmarks of being either the best or worst of both worlds, I just can't tell which

    Chris - I admire your curmudgeonly devotion to cynicism, and inherent distrust of anything popular.

    beerprole Nick - I heard about that beer the other day, and immediately though "I HAVE TO TRY THIS" in capital letters.

  14. Stan - that would put the brakes on it fairly significantly, I guess.

    John - the perverse wretch in me is secretly hoping that it will be on at Mr Foleys on IPA day

    Matt - I MUST also try this - I'm sort of planning a herb-garden saison homebrew later in the year, hopefully with the addition of some grapes from the vine on the garden.

    Mark - I guess that applies to quite a few varieties, really, but I know what you mean.

    Chris - that's an interesting opinion piece on riesling, but I'm not particularly swayed by it. Brett is more of a problem in wine for me, and genuinely IS a flaw. And I'm not sure that single-hopping is a problem in itself - my guess is that your dislike is more about the lack of balance between early and late additions rather than anything to do with only using one hop - but it's just a guess, of course :)

  15. I think the multiway beer reviewing is a good idea and wouldn't replace a twissup. Its a good way for people like me to get involved in a group activity without trying to get across the water. Also multi-country collaborations would be cool.

    As for saisons, they have a lot more scope for being individualistic than citra IPAs so looking forward to seeing more and getting to try them.

  16. There's often a giant in the driving seat of a bandwagon. Some UK brewers chose to collaborate with giants. Some stood on their shoulders. Some tweeted for tips.

    Others just blindly brewed the same achingly average beers that they had beforehand, only with Citra chucked in somewhere. They are the bandwagon-straddlers. They cheapen the name of innovation.

    Saison, on the other hand, is a completely different kettle of wort. In the indeterminable game of brewing poker, where everyone seemed to bluff along in the Citra round, it's going to take balls of steel and a true flair for skilful brewing to win the saison pot. I can't wait for the showdown.

  17. I think that what a lot of people are forgetting (of course I would say this being an anonymous commenter) is that Saison is actually not really a beer that's easy to pigeonhole. Belgian examples such as Saison de Silly which is a sweet Belgian ale that pours quite a light reddish colour with a heavy fruity malt taste is quite different from Saison Dupont which is light, farmhouse-y and lemony. I get the feeling that lots of breweries are going to start to use Saison as an excuse to make a beer that doesn't really fit into any real category and want to make themselves seem more interesting to the discerning drinker. Just a thought……

  18. Steve - like a lot of things people get up to in the privacy of their own homes, I'm sure they are fun, but perhaps not suitable for sharing with an audience.

    Simon - ever the analyst. Very perceptive.

    Tysons - of course, but that wouldn't have elicited a conversation, would it?

    Anon - I'm familiar with Saison de Silly, and despite it being labelled as a saison, it's perhaps notable for being the least saison-like beer to bear the name. I think like all beer styles (oh god, here we go), it has a clear meaning, even though there may be outliers that bear the name. So given that the term has huge potential to be debased, maybe saison is actually the new IPA?

  19. See you all in 6 Months for the launch of Duchars Saison.....(Sorry couldn't help myself). I'm just a little worried that there may be many beers bearing the name Saison that bare no actual resemblence to what we know and love about a classic style of beer is all. And for the record I do think the best Saison i've ever tried was the Ellezelloise one but alas it's seemingly impossible to get it anywhere!

  20. A great post this Zak. It inspired me to write about the Leeds Brewery Saison here: which is worth a try but not particularly exciting, and lacking a little depth. It is tasy and refreshing though so perhaps more 'on style' than i'm giving it credit. I also reference you in the piece, credit where credits due and all that!

    I'm growing to really like Saisons. They take a bit of getting into but seem to be worth the extra work.

  21. Anon - exactly my point - it's a style, with a definite archetype, but that doesn't stop people brewing whatever they want and sticking saison on the label/pumpclip

    Neil - thanks, I enjoyed your piece too.


Sorry about the word verification - the blog was getting spammed to bits.