Flathead Lake Brewing Company, Woods Bay, Bigfork and Missoula

Story and photography by Lido Vizzuti

Bring on the days of summer. Let the sun evaporate the lingering storms of spring. An impending feeling of excitement and possibilities nags at the soul, although so does the anticipation of laziness. Let the days be free of responsibility and full of lounging on the grass.

These are the days when we itch to cool ourselves in the deep waters of Flathead Lake, and our palate craves fruits, spice, and lightness.

Flathead Lake Brewing Company’s Swimmer’s Itch is a brilliant option for such days. Brewed in the style of a saison, this lower-alcohol ale touts itself as an ode to summertime on Flathead Lake and hits all the notes we need in a summer beer. It is highly drinkable and complex in flavor.

“What I really like about (this beer) is novices and craft beer drinkers can drink this and enjoy it,” said Tim Jacoby, head brewer. “For some reason a lot of people don’t like the Belgians because they’re too strongly flavored. They’re just too weird. But this one is not.

“It dances with summer, it’s connected to our sun and our way of life. Even though it’s a Belgian beer, it’s connected to everyone who lives here and who travels here because this lake is our mainstay.”

Classically brewed, the Belgian yeast produces a cornucopia of fruity esters – naturally created in fermentation – predominantly banana with some strawberry in the forefront, while orange peel and coriander add notes of citrus and spice. A big, white, lacy head tops this highly complex ale.

Lounging lakeside, it’s easy to look past the beer’s origin as a seasonal worker’s sustenance.

Saison – meaning “season” – originated in the French-speaking Wallonia region of southern Belgium during the 19th century. Typically the ale was brewed in the fall, allowing for fermentation throughout the winter, and served to seasonal farmhands during the summer. Known as farmhouse ale, workers relied heavily on the drink because potable water was either rare or not available.

Originally brewed at a low ABV of about 3.5 percent, the beer provided necessary calories, hydration, and relief.

After dwindling in popularity, the past decade has seen a resurgence. It’s easy to understand why. It’s a very appealing brew.

“It’s not a wimpy beer. It’s got a lot of flavor so craft beer drinkers can love it because it’s different,” said Jacoby. “And your regular drinkers like it because it’s not offensive. It’s got really great flavor.”

“I could drink this all day,” he added, sitting back and holding up a small taster of the straw ale to let the sunlight filter through. “I’m quite proud of this.”

Style: Saison

IBUs: 20

ABV: 5.5%

Malts: Pilsner, wheat, Munich and Vienna

Hops: Tettnang hops, also coriander and orange peel

Yeast: Belgian

Appearance: Cloudy straw

Description: A classic Belgian ale with notes of banana, orange peel and coriander. Light bodied with complex fruit flavor and spice with a white, lacy head.

Thanks to the brewery’s expansion, Swimmer’s Itch Saison may be found year-round and not just seasonally. Look for it on tap at Flathead Lake Brewing’s Missoula Pubhouse at 424 N. Higgins, at the Woods Bay Brewery at 26008 E Shore Rte. along the east shore of Flathead Lake, or at their new brewery and pubhouse in Bigfork at 116 Holt Dr., Suite A. Check local taps for availability and visit www.flatheadlakebrewing.com for contact information and locations.