Saison Cazeau is brewed with the usual beery ingredients, with one exception: elderflowers. But to say use of this ingredient is not traditional wouldn’t be quite correct; once upon a time, it was not uncommon for Belgian saisons to integrate local ingredients for bittering and spicing the brew, including flowers. And since beer has been made at this farmhouse brewery since at least 1753, you might say that just about anything they do is traditional, if only because they’ve been at it for so long. Yet another traditional element to Saison Cazeau is the seasonality of the beer. These days, you can get saisons any time of year, but back in the day, saison was only available at the end of the cool season to last through the warmer months, before refrigeration was common. This beer is only made once a year during the three weeks from mid-May to mid-June when Brewmaster Laurent Agache’s elderflower tree is in full bloom. According to Laurent, “the flowers are cut on the morning of a brewing day and then put in at the end of the boil.” Pours a pale yellow color, with lots of haziness, capped by a thick, cottony, brilliantly white head. Now, we’ve already enjoyed a few pints of the stuff, so we can give the heads up that its monster head laces brilliantly, making for one handsome empty pint glass. Look for floral, even lemony notes in the aroma, with plenty of characteristic Belgian saison spiciness. Notes of orange pulp also leap out (a bit reminiscent of Orangina soft drink), along with a flutter of fresh, vibrant continental hops and suggestions of fresh cut ginger. It’s all supported by a clean, caramel malt base, making for a well-balanced nose. All in all, a nice, if not straight up saison aroma, at least initially (i.e. straight out of the fridge). But upon first sip, you’ll notice something different; a mild spiciness grabs the palate first, followed by an unexpected tartness courtesy of the elderflowers. Their influence also helps contribute a prominent white wine like quality, which really sets this saison apart from its peers. A backbone of slightly honeyed malts helps support the very intriguing blend of floral, citrus, wine and spicy flavors, while a minor note of earthen barn stable dustiness hammers home the authenticity. Overall, despite its complexity, this beer remains light and crisp, and exceptionally thirst-quenching. Finishes with more notes of fermented white grapes (think chardonnay instead of champagne), spiked with mildly bitter hops that hang on long into the pleasant aftertaste. The ginger notes (in the aroma and the bitterness) from the hops will grow considerably as the beer warms, so, use that to sculpt your preferred flavor profile. Perhaps it’s their proximity to France that led the brewers to create such a wine-like beer, but whatever the reason, it works very well and offers a truly unique experience in a marketplace where saisons are becoming more and more prevalent. A great partner for the dog days of summer, a mixed fruit and cheese plate, and lemon pepper chicken Caesar salad. Let that sun blaze, you’ve now got the tools to get through it!
Note: this month’s original line up of Rare Beer Club beers also features a domestic Saison brewed in Maryland, which gives us an opportunity to offer side-by-side tasting notes comparing and contrasting this Belgian version from Brasserie de Cazeau with Stateside Saison from Stillwater Artisanal Ales. If you’re prepared to fully geek out with us, check out the newsletter for the latter beer, where we’ve swapped out our usual Murl’s Rant column with those side-by-side tasting notes (we’re sure Murl will rant on us pretty hard about that decision, but that’s ok, we like when he gets all fired up—makes for good reading).