Style Details

Strong Bel­gi­an Ale
BJCP Style Code
25 B
Pale ver­si­ons are often a distinc­ti­ve pale oran­ge but may be pale gol­den to amber in color (gold to amber-gold is most com­mon). Dar­ker ver­si­ons may run from cop­per to dark brown. Long-las­ting, den­se, rocky white to ivo­ry head resul­ting in cha­rac­te­ristic Bel­gi­an lace on the glass as it fades. Cla­ri­ty is poor to good, though haze is not unex­pec­ted in this type of unfil­te­red beer. Effervescent.
Quite aro­ma­tic, with frui­ty, spi­cy, and hop­py cha­rac­te­ristics evi­dent. The esters can be fair­ly high (mode­ra­te to high), and are often remi­nis­cent of citrus fruits such as oran­ges or lemons. The hops are low to mode­ra­te and are often spi­cy, flo­ral, ear­thy, or frui­ty. Stron­ger ver­si­ons can have a soft, spi­cy alco­hol note (low inten­si­ty). Spi­cy notes are typi­cal­ly pep­pery rather than clove-like, and can be up to modera­te­ly-strong (typi­cal­ly yeast-deri­ved). Subt­le, com­ple­men­ta­ry herb or spi­ce addi­ti­ons are allo­wa­ble, but should not domi­na­te. The malt cha­rac­ter is typi­cal­ly slight­ly grai­ny in cha­rac­ter and low in inten­si­ty. Dar­ker and stron­ger ver­si­ons will have more noti­ceable malt, with dar­ker ver­si­ons taking cha­rac­te­ristics asso­cia­ted with grains of that color (toasty, bis­cui­ty, cara­mel­ly, cho­co­la­te, etc.). In ver­si­ons whe­re sourness is pre­sent ins­tead of bit­ter­ness, some of the sour cha­rac­ter can be detec­ted (low to moderate).
Medi­um-low to medi­um-high frui­ty and spi­cy fla­vors, sup­port­ed by a low to medi­um soft malt cha­rac­ter, often with some grai­ny fla­vors. Bit­ter­ness is typi­cal­ly mode­ra­te to high, alt­hough sourness can be pre­sent in place of bit­ter­ness (both should not be strong fla­vors at the same time). Atte­nua­ti­on is extre­me­ly high, which gives a cha­rac­te­ristic dry finish essen­ti­al to the style; a Sai­son should never finish sweet. The frui­ty cha­rac­ter is fre­quent­ly citru­sy (oran­ge or lemon), and the spi­ces are typi­cal­ly pep­pery. Allow for a ran­ge of balan­ce in the frui­ty-spi­cy cha­rac­te­ristics; this is often dri­ven by the yeast sel­ec­tion. Hop fla­vor is low to mode­ra­te, and gene­ral­ly spi­cy or ear­thy in cha­rac­ter. The balan­ce is towards the frui­ty, spi­cy, hop­py cha­rac­ter, with any bit­ter­ness or sourness not over­whel­ming the­se fla­vors. Dar­ker ver­si­ons will have more malt cha­rac­ter, with a ran­ge of fla­vors deri­ved from dar­ker malts (toasty, brea­dy, bis­cui­ty, cho­co­la­te, etc.) that sup­port the frui­ty-spi­cy cha­rac­ter of the beer (roas­ted fla­vors are not typi­cal). Stron­ger ver­si­ons will have more malt fla­vor in gene­ral, as well as a light alco­hol impres­si­on. Herbs and spi­ces are com­ple­te­ly optio­nal, but if pre­sent should be used in mode­ra­ti­on and not detract from the yeast cha­rac­ter. The finish is very dry and the after­tas­te is typi­cal­ly bit­ter and spi­cy. The hop bit­ter­ness can be res­trai­ned, alt­hough it can seem accen­tua­ted due to the high atte­nua­ti­on levels.
Light to medi­um body. Alco­hol sen­sa­ti­on varies with strength, from none in table ver­si­on to light in stan­dard ver­si­ons, to mode­ra­te in super ver­si­ons. Howe­ver, any warm­ing cha­rac­ter should be fair­ly low. Very high car­bo­na­ti­on with an effer­ve­s­cent qua­li­ty. The­re is enough prick­ly aci­di­ty on the ton­gue to balan­ce the very dry finish. In ver­si­ons with sourness, a low to mode­ra­te tart cha­rac­ter can add a refres­hing bite, but not be pucke­ring (optio­nal).
Over­all Impression
Most com­mon­ly, a pale, refres­hing, high­ly-atte­nu­a­ted, modera­te­ly-bit­ter, mode­ra­te-strength Bel­gi­an ale with a very dry finish. Typi­cal­ly high­ly car­bo­na­ted, and using non-bar­ley cere­al grains and optio­nal spi­ces for com­ple­xi­ty, as com­ple­ments the expres­si­ve yeast cha­rac­ter that is frui­ty, spi­cy, and not over­ly phe­n­o­lic. Less com­mon varia­ti­ons include both lower-alco­hol and hig­her-alco­hol pro­ducts, as well as dar­ker ver­si­ons with addi­tio­nal malt character.
Typi­cal Ingredients
Not typi­cal­ly spi­ced, with the yeast, hops and grain pro­vi­ding the cha­rac­ter; but spi­ces are allo­wed if they pro­vi­de a com­ple­men­ta­ry cha­rac­ter. Con­ti­nen­tal base malts are typi­cal, but the grist fre­quent­ly con­ta­ins other grains such as wheat, oats, rye, or spelt. Adjuncts such as sugar and honey can also ser­ve to add com­ple­xi­ty and dry out the beer. Dar­ker ver­si­ons will typi­cal­ly use richer, dar­ker malts, but not typi­cal­ly roas­ted types. Saa­zer-type, Sty­ri­an or East Kent Gol­ding hops are com­mon­ly used. A wide ran­ge of herbs or spi­ces can add com­ple­xi­ty and uni­que­ness, but should always meld well with the yeast and hop cha­rac­ter. Brett­anomy­ces is not typi­cal for this style; Sai­sons with Brett should be ente­red in the Ame­ri­can Wild Ale category.
A pro­vi­si­on ale ori­gi­nal­ly bre­wed in Wal­lo­nia, the French-spea­king part of Bel­gi­um, for con­sump­ti­on during the acti­ve far­ming sea­son. Ori­gi­nal­ly a lower-alco­hol pro­duct so as to not debi­li­ta­te field workers, but tavern-strength pro­ducts also exis­ted. Hig­her-strength and dif­fe­rent-colo­red pro­ducts appeared after WWII. The best known modern sai­son, Sai­son Dupont, was first pro­du­ced in the 1920s. Ori­gi­nal­ly a rustic, artis­a­nal ale made with local farm-pro­du­ced ingre­di­ents, it is now bre­wed most­ly in lar­ger bre­we­ries yet reta­ins the image of its hum­ble origins.
Varia­ti­ons exist in strength and color, but they all have simi­lar cha­rac­te­ristics and balan­ce, in par­ti­cu­lar­ly the refres­hing, high­ly-atte­nu­a­ted, dry cha­rac­ter with high car­bo­na­ti­on. The­re is no cor­re­la­ti­on bet­ween strength and color. The balan­ce can chan­ge some­what with strength and color varia­ti­ons, but the fami­ly resem­blan­ce to the ori­gi­nal artis­a­nal ale should be evi­dent. Pale ver­si­ons are likely to be more bit­ter and have more hop cha­rac­ter, while dar­ker ver­si­ons tend to have more malt cha­rac­ter and sweet­ness, yiel­ding a more balan­ced pre­sen­ta­ti­ons. Stron­ger ver­si­ons often will have more malt fla­vor, rich­ness, and body sim­ply due to their hig­her gra­vi­ty. Alt­hough they tend to be very well-atte­nu­a­ted, they may not be per­cei­ved to be as dry as stan­dard-strength sai­sons due to their strength. The Sai­son yeast cha­rac­ter is a must, alt­hough mal­tier and richer ver­si­ons will tend to mask this cha­rac­ter more. Often cal­led Farm­house ales in the US, but this term is not com­mon in Euro­pe whe­re they are sim­ply part of a lar­ger grou­ping of artis­a­nal ales. 
Com­mer­cial Examples
Elle­zel­loi­se Sai­son, Fan­tô­me Sai­son, Lefeb­v­re Sai­son 1900, Sai­son Dupont Vieil­le Pro­vi­si­on, Sai­son de Pipaix, Sai­son Regal, Sai­son Voi­sin, Bou­le­vard Tank 7 Farm­house Ale
Ori­gi­nal Gravity
1.048 - 1.065 SG
Final Gra­vi­ty
1.002 - 1.008 SG
5 - 22 SRM
3.0 - 9.0 %vol
20 - 35 IBU