REVIEW: Ovila Saison from Sierra Nevada Brewing

Quick Characteristics
Brewery: Sierra Nevada Brewing Company
Location: Chico, CA
Style: Saison / Farmhouse Ale
ABV: 7.5%
IBUs: 24
Hops: Summit, El Dorado, Styrian Golding, Mandarina Bavaria
Malts: Two-Row Pale (Estate Grown), Wheat, Caramel
Appearance: Light Amber-Orange, Blemished Gold, Creamy Head
Aroma: Fruit & Spice, Pepper, Subtle Hoppy-Hay
Flavor: Farmhouse Funk with Bready Notes; Apple & Citrus
Availability: Limited
Pairs With: Fish, Curried Dishes, Poultry, Camembert Cheese

I’m pretty excited about this one. It is a collaboration between Sierra Nevada Brewing and the Trappist monks at the Abbey of New Clairvaux in Vina, California. These efforts first started in 2011 and the first release was an Abbey Dubbel.

Part of the proceeds from these shared brewing endeavors goes to fund an ongoing building project on the monastery grounds. In 1931 the monks’ old chapter house was dismantled by the Hearst family, stone-by-stone and shipped from Spain to America to be used in the construction of a mansion.

These plans fell through and the sacred stones remained unused and scattered until ownership was returned to the Abbey. Slowly but surely the old chapter house is being rebuilt, funded by contributions and joint undertakings.

This recipe is a slight reworking of an earlier Ovila Saison and boasts mandarin oranges and peppercorns. A pound of mandarin oranges are used per barrel of beer (barrel equals 31 gallons). All the oranges are locally grown including a portion from the Abbey orchards, handpicked by the monks.

The Pour and Aroma

“In mandarin bunch and peppercorn punch, a muse did contrive to woo, the crafting of a farmhouse brew.”

The Ovila Saison pours a color between very light amber-orange and a dark blemished gold. It is beautifully clear, a surprise for the style and reminds me instantly of sparkling cider. Excited white foam builds an impressive three finger head, drops a bit, but maintains a creamy rich surface covering fed by nicely active carbonation.

Aroma is one of fruit and spice; hints of earth, pepper, and a subtle hoppy-hay character. As for the fruit… citrus is present, but not as strong as expected, instead a very pleasant ripe but delicate apple character comes through.

Mouthfeel and Taste

Mouthfeel is medium, creamy, and carries a refreshing sharp, crisp carbonation. A mild tartness animates the crisp freshness further.

Ovila Saison

Bready notes, apple, and citrus in the form of orange and lemon flash through the requisite, farmhouse funk flavor that makes a Saison special. The “funk” doesn’t seem as bold and overwhelmingly funky as in other Saison beers I’ve tried. Sierra Nevada has a well-known love of the hop and it may be this love that has created a nice balance between the funk, the sweet, and the bitter.

Alcohol is well hidden, even at its 7.5% ABV. As the beer warms the alcohol does start to come through more and more, even to a point of being a little off-putting. Drink this one cool but not cold to get its full profile.

The ending is an enjoyable combination of a peppery kick and hop bitterness. This plays through nicely to a semi-dry finish and an aftertaste with a pleasantly peculiar sense of Saison funk.

Finishing The Impression

The Saison beer style is one of the most unruly you may come across, at least in the sense that there are no hard and fast rules governing the brewing ingredients and quantities. Unlike the German brewers to the east — who follow a very strict set of brewing rules called the “Reinheitsgebot,” which states that the only ingredients that can be put in beer are barely, water, yeast, and hops — Belgians have few qualms about what they put in their beer. The one thing that makes a Saison is the yeast. Without the right yeast there is no farmhouse funk and no farmhouse ale.

This is a fine representation of the style. The contribution of the monks lends crispness to each sip. It sits beautiful in the glass and has character complexity that won’t go unnoticed. True lovers of the Saison may find this one a little mild and have a tendency to be disappointed, but those that have never tried a Saison may find a nice introduction to the style here. It is a refreshingly sippable beer. One for a hot summer evening where both a newbie and a proclaiming Saison Snub can sit, find some common ground, and enjoy the funk that makes the farmhouse ale special.


More Beer Reviews:

Nick Carr

About Author

Nicoli Carr has been tinkering with homebrewing for over 10 years and graduated from the American Brewers Guild (CBA) Craft Brewers program in 2014. When he’s not busy freelance writing, he is likely out foraging wild brewing options, writing, or hunting stillness in remote places. You can contact him through his website

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