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Saisons: Four beers to drink this summer

Saison Dupont Belgian ale is credited with inspiring many variations from U.S. craft brewers.
Saison Dupont Belgian ale is credited with inspiring many variations from U.S. craft brewers.
(Brasserie Dupont )

Saison means “season” in French, as the beer style of that name originated in the farmhouses along the border of France and Belgium at a time when the warming days of spring meant an end to a winter of brewing. (Without refrigeration, beer made in warm weather spoils quickly). Before their attention turned to the work in the fields, the farmer-brewers would craft one last batch of beer to last through the harvest — these farmhouse ales were a light, refreshing and restorative beverage shared with the farm crew through the summer.

In America, where craft brewers have turned to the farmhouse styles to showcase their creative impulses, today’s saisons are a blend of tradition and ingenuity. Wildly diverse, saisons can be made simply with malt, hops and yeast — most often particularly aromatic strains of yeast that saturate the brews with fruity and spicy flavors — or they can feature additions of spices, fruits or even wild yeasts and bacteria.

But the variety of interpretations available from local craft breweries or imported, mostly from Belgium, have one thing in common: They were made to quench summer thirst and to accompany meals enjoyed in the open air. Be it an evening at the Hollywood Bowl, a languid afternoon spent poolside or an outdoor barbecue, saisons are an astute choice for both beer lovers and for those who may yet become so.

Saison Dupont's Vieille Provision
Saison Dupont’s Vieille Provision
(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times )
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Brasserie Dupont — Saison Dupont

Saison Dupont is the yardstick that other saisons are judged against; it’s been a popular Belgian import for nearly 30 years, and it’s credited with inspiring hundreds of imitations from American craft brewers. Brewed at Brasserie Dupont in the Hainaut province just 10 miles from the French border, the hazy golden ale balances a refreshing hoppy bite with the complex fermentation character that’s the signature of saison beers. Expect notes of black pepper and pear, with a dry finish and lively carbonation. This saison is very versatile with food — at home at a backyard party, a picnic with cheese and charcuterie, or at brunch, where it can even sub for the Champagne in your mimosa. A variation labeled “Vieille Provision” features an additional dose of hops. Both versions are widely available in 750-ml corked bottles for around $12 at beer retailers such as BevMo, Total Wine and sometimes even the corner liquor store.

Logsdon Farmhouse Ales — Seizoen Bretta

Founded in 2009, this all-organic brewery on a 10-acre farm in Hood River, Ore., produces an assertive saison that mirrors the sprightly flavors of Dupont. Seizoen Bretta — that’s the Flemish spelling of saison — is conditioned with the wild yeast brettanomyces for further complexity. The “brett” accentuates the dry finish, adds even more effervescence, and creates a range of earthy, even musty aromas. The hint of funk is subtle, and the brew is unchallenging — though at 8% alcohol it’s firmly on the potent end of the saison spectrum. Pour Seizoen Bretta carefully into a stemmed tulip and the voluminous cap of foam perched atop the glass will catch the eye even before the aroma finds your nostrils. 750-ml wax-dipped bottles are available at K & L Wines in Hollywood for about $12.

Logsdon Farmhouse Ale
Logsdon Farmhouse Ale
(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times )

The Lost Abbey — Carnevale

Carnevale is released each year around Lent by San Diego’s preeminent crafter of Belgian-inspired beers, the Lost Abbey in San Marcos. The light and hoppy saison blends the citrus and fruit aromas of American hops with an earthy depth provided by a dose of brettanomyces introduced at bottling time. This brett bottle conditioning means the beer will evolve month to month, and where a fresh bottle opened in spring is bright and hoppy, by midsummer the citrus and stone fruit impressions fade and the brett character becomes more prominent. Off-dry and spritzy, Carnevale is a perfect match for lighter summer food such as salads and fresh cheeses. The 750-ml corked bottles are less than $10 and available at Total Wine and many Whole Foods locations.

Brouwerij West — Dog Ate My Homework

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Adding fruit to beer has lost its stigma and is now one of the hippest trends in craft brewing, and Brouwerij West — the Belgian-inspired brewery that opened in San Pedro earlier this year — is no stranger to either fruited beers or to the saison style. The tap list at the Port of Los Angeles tasting room is regularly stacked with farmhouse styles, and Dog Ate My Homework adds a gluttonous amount of blackberry puree and concentrate to a light and grainy base ale. The result is a purple-hued glass that is neither sweet nor tart but that still tastes richly of berries. Available on draft for $7 and in 750-ml bottles for $14 at Brouwerij West in San Pedro.

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