Saison Beer Style and Baking with Spent Grain Explained

Presented by Brübakes IV

If you’re here with us at Brübakes IV today, we thank you for attending and for your interest in learning more about the foundations of our event!

Saison Beer History

The early history of Bière de Saison (beer of season) is fuzzy because documentary evidence is scarce until the late 19th century. Since the beer originated from the farmlands, urban writers didn’t pay much attention to it and farm brewers didn’t keep many records.

The current understanding is that the style dates back to at least the 18th century in the French-speaking Belgian region of Wallonia (also known as the Walloon Region). It was primarily imbibed by the farmers and seasonal workers (saisonniers) during and after they toiled in fields during the warmer months.

The brewing of saisons served multiple purposes:

  1. The beer was brewed during the winter months when the fields were idle.
  2. It would be ready in time as a refreshment for the workers in the fields during the warmer months.
  3. The spent grain would be used as livestock feed.

The ingredients in the beer would probably vary from farm to farm and year to year based on what was available and often including herbs and spices. Additionally, the mixed strains of yeast were likely shared and swapped among farmers/brewers, depending on what worked best.

Since the original saisons were designed to be “laid down” for some months, it is thought they were highly hopped and had an alcohol by volume (ABV) of 7% or higher to help with preservation. Then when it was time to be consumed, the beer was either diluted or blended to a lower ABV before being consumed. It probably would not be prudent to provide farmhands a strong beer when they are expected to be productive in the fields and wield sharp tools. Additionally, the tax system of the time favored lower-strength beers.

A map of the Walloon Region within Belgium and within Europe
A map of the Walloon Region within Belgium and within Europe

Saison Style Characteristics and Recipe Formulation

The saison style is fairly open to interpretation and can have a range of characteristics. Some recipes may include herbs and spices, or dry-hopping additions for flavor and aroma. Darker versions of the style will have more malt characteristics. Meanwhile funkier versions exhibit mild sourness and tartness.


The aroma of the saison style should be fruity and spicy. Typically a saison yeast strain will produce phenolic (spicy), fruity, and earthy notes when fermented at 80-90°F. Spicy notes will be typical of black pepper, and not clove. Common fruity notes are citrus, pome, and stone fruit.


Saisons are typically pale gold to deep amber in color. They should have a long lasting, dense, ivory head.


Saison flavors are a balance of fruity and spicy yeast, hoppy bitterness, and grainy malt with moderate to high bitterness and a dry finish. Due to the high attenuation of the yeast strain, saisons do not have a sweet or heavy finish. A bitter, spicy aftertaste is noted.


Saisons are light to medium-low bodied with very high carbonation.

Recipe formulation

  • Base malt - 2 row, pilsner, munich
  • Cereal grains - wheat, oats
  • Hops - noble, styrian, east kent golding (earthy, spicy, black pepper, fruity)
  • Optional sugary adjuncts - belgian candi sugar, honey, etc
  • Yeast - spicy-fruity belgian saison yeast

Common style misconception

Which is it? Saison, or Farmhouse Ale, or both?

As the name suggests, Farmhouse ales have their humble origin from homegrowing grain-to-glass on the family farm. However in the modern market, the name has become a descriptor for a beer with characteristics and flavors that mirror the types of beers historically brewed on these farms in France and Belgium, sometimes using traditional methods.

Today, Saison and Farmhouse are often used interchangeably when describing a beer, as they are now brewed all over the world in and out of the farm. In a historical context, all Saisons are Farmhouse ales, but not all Farmhouse ales are Saisons.

Farmhouse is a larger umbrella category that includes many other types of regionally brewed beers, including:

  • Saison (strong, pale beer from Wallonia region of Belgium)
  • Bière De Garde (“beer for keeping”, Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France)
  • Bière de Mars (low alcohol last runnings of lambic wort, Belgium)
  • Grisette (low alcohol subset of Saison, brewed for local miners)
  • Sahti (Finish origin raw ale with juniper branches and baker’s yeast)
  • Gotlandsdricka (viking era beer from island of Gotland, Sweden, smokey)
  • Keptinis (baked, raw ale from north-eastern Lithuania)

Some of these styles can share similar characteristics, but with each differentiating themselves from their neighbors with certain key flavors, mouthfeel, origin, and brewing methods evolving into their own regional styles. Some are funky, some are sweet, some are smokey, some are effervescent, some are tart, some aren’t even boiled. The list goes on. Understanding what makes a Saison a Saison can easily set them apart from their fellow Farmhouse ales.

Hof ten Dormaal Winter 13
Hof ten Dormaal Winter 13

Baking With Spent Grain

What is spent grain exactly?

Spent grain is the byproduct of brewing that contains barley grain husks and insoluble residues such as wheat or maize. It may be a beer product, but it is actually healthy due to the presence of fiber and protein in every grain. We also can’t forget the low carbohydrate count spent grain possesses.

Fiber is essential for lowering sugar levels, monitoring total calories, and maintaining proper body weight.

Take a look at some diseases fiber can combat:

  • Hypertension
  • Obesity
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Take a look at some of the benefits that proteins offer:
  • Burns calories and fat faster
  • Boosts muscle mass and overall strength
  • Improves appetite and decreases hunger levels
  • Regulates proper weight loss

Spent grain has LITTLE TO NO CARBS at all. A low carbohydrate diet can improve insulin sensitivity and reduce the possibility of having cardiovascular diseases.

Proper storage of your spent grain is key!

You must make sure your grains are 100 percent DRY if they will be stored. You may achieve this by either storing in the freezer immediately which will remove the moisture. Alternatively, you can use a dehydrator or an oven at a very low temperature for 7-8 hours. If you would like to use your fresh spent grains “wet” in a recipe, you must account for the extra moisture.

Now you can process your grains into spent grain flour. Grind your grains into flour using a blender or a grain mill attachment to a stand-up mixer. Store in an airtight container. Something to note - this is not a one-to-one comparison with regular flour. It will be a smaller component of the recipe.

What can I do with my grains?

You could add the grains to your recipe directly, or you could mill them. Below are examples of how they can be used.

  • Spent Grain Flour
  • Spent Grain Banana Bread
  • Spent Grain Sourdough
  • Spent Grain Pretzels
  • Spent Grain Pie Crust
  • Spent Grain Pizza Dough
  • Spent Grain Granola
  • Spent Grain Granola Bars
  • Spent Grain Crackers
  • Spent Grain Muffins
  • Spent Grain Cookies
  • Spent Grain Pancakes
  • Spent Grain Dog Treats
  • Spent Grain for Chickens
  • Spent Grain Horse Treats
  • Spent Grain Compost
Spent grain
Spent grain
Handful of dried spent grain from a distillery, 2017
Handful of dried spent grain from a distillery, 2017