With each new season comes a new excuse to try new craft beers. So what should you be drinking this spring? The answer is always clear: Belgian and Belgian-style saison (French for “season”) farmhouse ales. Here are eight prime examples of these rustic pale ales—sometimes spicy, sometimes sour—which are some of the best table beers imaginable. While generally hefty enough for a chilly night, these brews are refreshing enough for a warm day.
BFM (Switzerland) – √225
Switzerland’s idiosyncratic BFM brewery produces a rich sour ale called Abbaye de Saint Bon-Chien, promiscuously aged in just about any spent spirit and wine barrels it can get its hands on. Once dumped of Bon-Chien, these barrels are refilled again with a modestly alcoholic saison dubbed √225. Attractively rustic, the aged, lightly acidic result yields beautiful stone fruit notes.
Dupont (Belgium) – Saison
The archetypal Belgian saison, Dupont’s is one of the most consistently excellent beers one can find on shelves with relative ease. In fact, many U.S. farmhouse producers’ house yeast strains are originally derived from dregs of Dupont bottles. To best enjoy Saison Dupont’s bouquet, track down 11.2-oz. brown bottle 4-packs (green glass tends to allow undesired UV rays through, irreversibly skunking the contents). When fresh, these bottles perfectly house the beer’s grassy, spicy, yeasty pleasures.
Forest & Main (Ambler, Pa.) – Hapi
Forest & Main is releasing some of the most engaging farmhouse beers in the U.S., balancing the tightrope of historical inspiration and contemporary experimentation. Their frequent bottled releases are always a treat for the palate and eyes in equal measure, adorned with lovingly illustrated label artwork. Of their recent releases, Hapi is a particularly enjoyable dry-hopped/barrel-aged saison—a turbid, fruit-forward delight.
Hof ten Dormaal (Belgium) – Blond
Located in Tildonk, Belgium, the Hof ten Dormaal farmstead is in a class of its own, environmentally speaking. Because it brews with well water, grows its grain and hops, cultivates its own yeast strains, and even powers the brewery with rapeseed oil it produces, it's a truly self-sustainable operation. For an entry point into its terroir-driven traditional Belgian ales, try the Blond—a seriously quaffable offering with terrifically simple floral notes.
OEC Brewing (Oxford, Conn.) – Tempus
OEC produces antique ales with a passion for historical fidelity, and Tempus is one of its exciting, lasting projects. Each numbered bottling is blended, to taste, from a variety of barrel fermented and/or aged beers. While its stock of Blend #5 is low (35 percent year-old saison in wine barrels, 35 percent year-old spontaneously fermented lambic style ale in wine barrels, 30 percent younger saison lagered in wine barrels for four months), Blend #6 should be ready by the end of April. And while each blend ultimately packs a unique flavor profile, the beer series has always seemed to exude a note amazingly reminiscent of Haribo Peach Gummi Candy.
Oxbow Brewing (Newcastle, Me.) – Crossfade
For those in search of an almost punishingly dry table beer, Oxbow’s blended farmhouse brew Crossfade is a gem. Generous hopping contributes citrusy bitterness, which balances out the beer’s underlying funk character. Light in alcohol and body without feeling glib, this effervescent joy is an accessible crusher.
Stillwater Artisanal Ales (Baltimore, Md.) – Cellar Door
Brian Strumke of Stillwater Artisanal Ales approaches brewing with the sensibility of a graphic designer or even a conceptual artist. Cellar Door is one of his earlier creations, recent batches of which are tasting better than ever. A wheat saison with white sage, the beer has a dreamy tangerine note that beckons you further down the rabbit hole.
TRVE Brewing (Denver, Colo.) – Life’s Trade
Where most stateside producers of Belgian-style saisons veer into the super acidic style of brewing, TRVE went impressively authentic with Life’s Trade. Named after the Samothrace album of the same name (with corresponding label artwork inspired by David D’Andrea), this beer was the first to come out of TRVE’s new facility, the Acid Temple. Fruity, grassy, rustic—it’s an oak-fermented treat that is one of the more accurately “Belgian” U.S.-produced saisons available.