Simply seeing the word “saison” on a beer label these days tells us less as beer drinkers than it has at any point in the past, because this particular style of American craft beer has never been more varied. There was a time that “saison” implied something very classical, very Franco-Belgian—dry, spicy, phenolic, with a bit of funk. Today, though, who knows? It could be hop-forward. It could be fruit-infused. It could very well boast in-your-face tartness. “Saison,” even with no other modifiers, can mean a whole hell of a lot.
This, combined with the fact that I’ve never sampled a beer before from San Francisco’s Almanac Beer Co., had me going into tasting their Saison Dolores with what amounted to a completely blank set of expectations. The brewery describes its aesthetic as “farm-to-barrel” brewing, with selections of “the best in locally sourced fruit” and other agriculture. It sounds indicative of the current zeitgeist of locality and culinary collaboration thriving in the American craft brewing landscape, but the description belies a beer that, in reality, isn’t terribly complicated. Saison Dolores falls well on the more simplistic side of American saison, but the flavor profile it hits is a well-chosen, delicious one.
Aromatically, this saison is complex but subtle, with notes that take a little time and effort to pick up and identify. Light citrus and mild tropical fruits are the easiest to pick out, along with an exotic spicy note—white pepper is probably the best descriptor. There’s a very light, underlying graininess as well, but in general the beer isn’t intensely aromatic, despite being dry-hopped.
On the palate, however, Saison Dolores begins to shine more strongly, with a punch of citrus and a bit of classical Belgian funk. It drinks easily—extremely easily, and far lighter than the stated 6.8% ABV. There’s both wheat and rye in the grist, but the wheat comes through more strongly in the flavor, lending some of its lightly doughy flavors and smoother texture. Any of the rye’s telltale spiciness is tougher to pick up. It’s predominantly dry, but with a hint of juiciness that lends the citrus and light tropical fruit flavors a bit of zip. It’s an excellent balance.
All in all, Saison Dolores would no doubt be a fabulous summer beer, although it’s currently a year-rounder for Almanac. Its lighter body might almost make you think you’re drinking a grisette, but it’s hard to argue with a well-constructed and extremely refreshing flavor profile. A bit more spice and funk might help give it some more complexity in the flavor department, but on the lighter side of saison, it’s something I can envision myself reaching for again and again as a poolside beer or food pairing. And of course, it certainly makes me curious to try some of the more assertive beers in Almanac’s farm to barrel series. Hopefully we’ll have that chance sometime soon.
Brewery: Almanac Beer Co.
City: San Francisco
Style: American saison
Availability: 22 oz bottles, year-round
Jim Vorel is Paste’s news editor, and he has no aversion to a hoppy saison. You can follow him on Twitter.