Today is April 8, Saison Day, a fake holiday created for the beer community because if Hallmark can pull it off why can’t we?
I often poke fun of such occasions on Twitter, but with consideration, perhaps today *is* a good time to recognize the style, full of life in its effervescence and yeast-driven flavor. In many ways, saison is an ideal beer for where we currently find the American beer industry. Its malleability presents brewers with plenty of ways to approach its final product, creating something as simple and refreshing as a table beer or as hoppy as our beloved IPAs.
Which is why, in terms of “trends,” saison may be a fun one to watch.
Let’s be clear for a moment: when we talk “trends” in beer, it’s more an echo chamber than anything. People keep talking about sour beer as a trend – just like they’ve been doing going back a decade. We get hyped for more session beers as if Americans haven’t already been chugging sub-5% lagers for decades.
Which is why it’s safe to position the specifics of a trend within beer, because in a way, it’s likely already been taking place.
Saison is no stranger to the U.S. beer scene, but the reinvigorated interest from a mass audience kinda is. You may have noticed an increase of the style at your local grocery store – a sure sign of popularity if it’s appearing at the large chain where you also buy ingredients for tonight’s dinner and your toilet paper.
In 2016, IRI-tracked craft saison/farmhouse ales grew 44.1% in sales compared to 2015. Across 27 beer categories followed by the market research company, that growth rate was only passed by golden ales, which grew 48.2% in sales. Hell, even in convenience stores, a place where saison didn’t even exist a few years ago, sales growth was at 100.8% 2016 vs 2015, almost double the No. 2 style in that channel.
Those are Big Deal numbers, even if they’re buoyed by the sheer fact of saison simply showing up in those locations. Sales don’t happen unless people are interested. But the spot where we should really be paying attention isn’t just our grocer’s beer aisle, it’s at our favorite restaurant.
In the last year, saison has been the fastest growing beer style to appear on restaurant menus, increasing 23%. That’s higher than double IPA (19%) and IPA (16%). This change makes great sense, as saison’s qualities and variety of flavor profiles can be paired with a range of dishes, making it applicable to nearly any kind of restaurant. This fact was essential in creating the initial popularity of Saison Dupont, the defining example of saison.
As a category of beer, saison is perfect for higher-end restaurants, presenting characteristics servers can sell as on par with wine and with just as much variety to match whatever a customer’s preferred drinking experience may be. And wouldn’t you know it, fine dining is the biggest potential area of growth for craft beer at the moment.
This is all taking place at a time when higher-priced beers are driving sales. Premiumization is now a big draw and the “high-end” cost segment grew in volume by 6.6% 2016 vs. 2015, the fastest among four categories tracked by Beverage Marketing Corporation.
When pitting a style against the behemoth that is IPA, just about anything pales in comparison, which is why noting these small changes, often taking place within certain areas of the industry, are worth noticing. Saison is not the “hot, new trend” in a broad sense, but it is finding its place among an increasingly muddled industry.
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac