Why the 'Family Meal' of Beers Pairs With Everything

A certified cicerone explains why her favorite saison should be on every beer menu.

<p>barmalini - Getty Images</p>

barmalini - Getty Images

In restaurants, family meal is not prepared for guests or offered on the menu. It’s what the staff makes, often riffing freely on the recipes. This freedom to experiment applies to saison beer, the farmhouse ale that was historically brewed for workers on farms in the French-Belgian region of Walloon in the early 19th century.

“Saison is kind of like a catch-all style,” explains Anne Becerra, a certified cicerone exploring essential beer styles at the 2024 Food & Wine Classic in Aspen. “It becomes a part of the farmhouse ale family, and what that means is ale brewed for consumption on the farm. It's also very common for the saisonniers, seasonal farm workers, to come and have a daily allotment of beer as part of their wages.”

Without guidelines for brewing method or flavor, saisons developed three qualities:

  1. Hefty: Reminding us that the Old-World style was brewed before refrigeration, Becerra says types of yeast can make beer that withstands stresses and even improves flavor with conditions like heat. “They needed to be sturdy — sturdy enough to last a hot season.”

  2. Refreshing: A clean, dry finish from acidity or bitterness can achieve this. ”You have tired, hot farm workers, and they need their thirst quenched.”

  3. Robust: “They needed a very strong yeast strain. What was so great about that is that this type of yeast strain would impart these really incredible fermentation-driven flavors. So you're like, when you smell, there's fruit salad, there's pepper, a little clove, a little cinnamon, banana. There's so much going on that comes from this particular type of yeast. As well as a really explosive carbonation not unlike a glass of Champagne.”

Saisons also tend to be hoppier than other Belgian styles, because hops are a natural preservative. Wild yeast like Brettanomyces can result in the “earthy farmhouse funk” associated with saisons, which can have sourness and tang.

Related: Meet the Centuries-Old Belgian Beer Style That's a Warm-Weather Refresher

Becerra’s all-time favorite bottle is Saison Dupont, which Food & Wine named one of the 25 essential Belgian beers. “Robust, refreshing, complex, it has all of those elements working in tandem, along with the actual flavors, which are just so good,” she says, recognizing its diverse food compatibility as another benefit.

“It goes pretty much perfectly with everything at the Thanksgiving table,” she says. “I don't know a lot of beer that can do that. It works with the caramelized, cooked flavors of a roast turkey. It's refreshing enough to cut through fatty mashed potatoes and butter. It balances with bitter greens really well. It's dry enough for candied yams and the sweetness of desserts and pies. It's very, very versatile. Every restaurant should carry this. It works with everything.”

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