I encourage beer lovers to enjoy saisons all year long, but if there were a kickoff to the saison season, this week is it. And yes, I know “saison season” is redundant because “saison” is French for “season,” but these refreshing ales are so nice that they deserve to be called out twice.
Why this week? We saw the vernal equinox come and go, marking the first day of spring and the promise of an increasing amount of sunshine and warm weather. Historically, these conditions required us to refresh after a hard workday on the farm with a beer brewed and stored in the colder months to prevent spoilage. I take my sickle to the fields only occasionally today, but who am I to let the invention of refrigerators trump tradition?
Fortunately, Tasty Beverage Co., a bottle shop in downtown Raleigh and a World Beer Festival-Raleigh sponsor, feels the same way. They’ve dubbed this entire week the inaugural “Saison-a-Thon” to “celebrate the change of seasons” by “enjoy[ing] the delightful refreshment of some very excellent beers.”
On Wednesday night, I gathered with a few friends at Jibarra, a modern Mexican restaurant next-door to the beer store, to experience the Saison-a-Thon beer dinner. Not only did Chef Oscar Diaz plan a special menu with courses not typically offered in his restaurant for the pairings, but he was gracious enough to prepare an entirely separate vegan menu for me.
Beer dinner opportunities with vegan food, unfortunately, are few and far between. A handful of chefs have been accommodating and have prepared different meals for me, but the new pairings have failed to accentuate the flavors, or I often get tasteless salads, bland pasta or the same courses with just the meat, cheese or butter removed.
Not this time. For the first course, Chef Oscar and the guys at Tasty Beverage worked together to pair a tower of diced avocados, tomatoes, cilantro, spinach, hot sauce and a healthy dose of olive oil with Ommegang Hennepin. The hoppy effervescence of this light, golden saison perfectly cut through the spicy mixture of both creamy and crisp vegetables and fruits glazed in the slightly sweet oil. (Does anyone really consider a tomato to be a fruit?)
The second course was equally divine when Chef Oscar presented a mixed greens and vegetable salad with the star of this pairing—his slightly spicy ahogada vinaigrette. Translated as “drowned” vinaigrette, this salad dressing is so light and refreshing that his family coated their greens with the stuff when he was growing up. Sean from Tasty Beverage brought out his personal favorite for this course, the 2011 Avec les bons Voeux de la brasserie Dupont. And “with the best wishes of the brewery Dupont” it was. The fruity complexity of this mild, yet rich saison enveloped the faint kick in Oscar’s family’s vinaigrette.