Are Amsterdam beer festivals with a beer style theme becoming a thing? The one-of-a-kind Carnivale Brettanomyces might have paved the way with its thematic focus (Brettanomyces, clearly, ‘and other wild animals’). Last year Poesiat & Kater brewers of the famed Van Vollenhoven Stout organized their first ever Stout Fest. This year, there’s a Festival Des Saisons. It’s held in a church-turned-brewpub called Anna, home to the Naeckte Brouwers. Technically this isn’t Amsterdam but with a straight tram line connection we can safely consider it part of its metropolitan region.
Long-time home and contract brewers, the Naeckte Brouwers opened their first brewery in Amstelveen in 2013 and recently added their brewpub as a second. The former catholic church also regularly hosts gigs and exhibitions and will be the stage for the Festival Des Saisons on Saturday May the 11th.
Besides two of their regular saisons, The Naeckte Brouwers brewed three festival beers especially for the occasion, collaborating with the colleagues of Poesiat & Kater, Ramses and Brouwerij Volendam. They invited a host of other breweries to showcase their saisons and/or farmhouse ales to complete a line-up of no less than 27 beers in the style associated with the Belgian countryside.
Saisons and farmhouse ales have a somewhat romanticized reputation. They conjure up images of noble 19th century seasonal workers lounging in the golden grass of Wallonian farmland, sipping on the dry, refreshing beer brewed on the farm of their employer. As with so many beer styles, however, the origins remain vague and contested. Whatever saisons might have been more than a century ago, its current manifestations take mostly after the Saison Dupont. If it wasn’t the blueprint of what a saison should be already, it inspired the new generation of craft breweries after Dupont got more widely exported to the States in the 1980s.
Following Dupont, a saison is mostly characterized by its yeast nowadays. Typically, saison yeast leaves little sugar after its done, producing dry beers, with a herbal, peppery, sometimes citrusy taste and crisp finish. ‘Beer hunter’ Mickael Jackson once called saisons ‘the most endangered species among Belgian beers’. Whatever the situation in Belgium right now, scarcity is not a thing in the Netherlands these days. As said, the Festival Des Saisons boasts no less than 27 beers in the style. Most of these are brewed in Amstelveen, Amsterdam or somewhere not too far from there. Go figure.
Just to give you an idea of what you might expect, we sampled three Amsterdam versions of the style.
Mannenliefde – Oedipus
There might be more than twenty Dutch versions on a local festival these days, saison was still little known around Amsterdam when Oedipus released it as its first commercial beer. Was it the name? The label? The taste? Today it’s a regular in the Albert Heijn supermarkets and even pops up among the stationary and underwear of the Hema warehouses. It’s a fresh, relatively clear saison. The Oedipus brewers accentuated the citrus tones with lemon grass and subtly boosted the required herbal bite with a touch of Szechuan pepper. Mannenliefde showed Amsterdam how loveable ‘obscure’ beer could be.
Osiris – Walhalla
With his previous brewery Walhalla brewer Aart van Bergen would often release saisons/farmhouse ales in the great BrouwLab series of one-offs. Some of them were relatively close to the saison Dupont standard, others were the result of taking some liberties. Walhalla’s farmhouse ale Osiris definitely falls in the latter category. It’s quite dry and the traces of the yeast are present. But unlike the murky blond of Dupont, the Osiris has a golden, orangy hue. No hayfield hoppiness here either but a firm hop bitter defining the aftertaste. Does the farmhouse part refer to all the different grains involved? Walhalla build this ‘farmhouse ale’ on barley, spelt and oats. It might not please the purists but however you qualify it, Osiris does try to balance maltiness and hoppiness in interesting ways.
Animal Space – Butcher’s Tears
Butcher’s Tears often does an interesting job twisting age-old recipes in contemporary shape. Animal Space is their ‘white saison’. It’s ‘white’ as it contains some wheat, which gives this beer a slight velvety softness. Still, it tickles with relatively high carbonation. The herbal touches of the coriander and the traces of the yeast tick some of the saison standard boxes but above all this is a very pleasant thirst quencher. If a saison qualifies as a beer you want again and again after a day of hard labour in the field, Animal Space is the thing.
Go try these and all these other saisons in Amstelveen or elsewhere. Prettig weekend!