Saison & Olives

Ah, the lovely saison in springtime! What a good choice for bright days with breezes. Saisons span a very wide territory as far as styles go. Some are simple, table beers, some are very yeasty, fruity or spicy, some are even sour. There’s a lot of options for pairing–cheese is a great example, and spring vegetables are a good choice too. But today I’m interested in particular in pairing a light-bodied, non-wild saison alongside olives. Pick high-quality olives for this one, something from an olive bar with a range of flavors and brines–kalamatas in oil, castelvetranos, herb brined, cheese-stuffed–your choice. They all work in slightly different manners.

Three Reasons Why This Pairing Works

1. Lemony notes. Many saisons have a light lemony note, from either yeast or hops (or both). Many olive brines have lemon juice, zest, or a wine vinegar added, and thus the two flavors intermingle and are friendly.

2. Fruitiness. Don’t forget, olives are a fruit! You might not find fruity elements in all cured olives, but some in particular bring out a greenness or a figgyness that is unique. Saison’s light sweetness and crisp finish can help highlight olives’ fruity notes.

3. Palate cleansing. Most olives are extremes: they are very salty, briney, flavorful, and intense. A light-bodied beer like a saison washes away the intensity of olives, leaving your palate feeling clean and ready for more action. You would find this with any light beer, but saisons have enough character of their own not to be entirely subsumed beneath the pairing.

For this pairing I used a homebrewed saison with a fairly wheaty malt profile, but you should be able to find many local examples of saisons coming out now or over the summertime. The Commons in Portland has a lot of great examples, if you’re in the Northwest. Great Divides Colette Farmhouse Ale is a bigger, fruity saison that would likely work alongside kalamatas and oil-cured olives. North Coast’s Le Merle is also another great choice.

Don’t forget to get creative with additional foods too–a crusty fresh baguette with nice butter would make this an excellent spread!

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