Generally brewed in the cooler months for summer drinking on the farm, the saison season now extends year-round due to modern production methods. For me it’s a great fall beer to transition between summer and winter: not thin and light like sessionable summer lagers but not too dark and heavy like the hearty winter stouts. There are a number of sub-categories of saison like French or Farmhouse but I’ve tried to provide general expectations below for the more casual, non BJCP, beer-drinker.
On first impression, saisons will present somewhere in the golden-to-orange spectrum and may be slightly cloudy with significant head. The aroma will often have light fruit, hops, or spice notes and maybe even a bit of tartness.
Brewed with pale malts, wheat and light/medium hopping, most saisons will be balanced and typically have a noticeable yeast component. Because they were traditionally made on farms with local ingredients, spices and the yeast blowing in the air, there can be a significant variation in flavors. In many cases the yeast or other local ingredients produce fruit, sour or spice notes and some of the farmhouse styles contain flavors that many describe as “barnyard” or “earthy”. While most saisons brewed in America will come via a keg, the traditional method involves a secondary fermentation in the bottle and a relatively high level of carbonation.
While flavorful, saisons typically avoid the extremes; not hellaciously hoppy, puckeringly sour, thickly malty or boozy. Given the variation in flavors, I would suggest trying several different styles from several breweries before making a decision on whether saisons are your thing or not.