The Next Mass Market Beer: Saison?

It has been a long time since the word "slatepitch" entered our vocabulary, and the practice is now common.  For those who do not follow the minutiae of media trends, a slatepitch describes a story that takes a contrarian or counter-intuitive perspective, like "Why Sarah Palin is a closet liberal."  Slate Magazine remains the king and foremost practitioner of this tactic--thus the name--and so it's not so surprising to find this perfectly slatepitchy premise in today's edition:
Belgian beer has already provided the beer industry with one of its few legitimate breakout hits of the last 20 years: Blue Moon from Coors, inspired by the Belgian witbier style. The tart saison is a more obscure style of Belgian beer, and it could become a go-to lower-alcohol beverage for wine and champagne drinkers looking for a lighter quaff on warm summer days. A classic tart saison (or its sister style, the grisette) can be produced in about the same amount of time as a lager and deliver a crisp mouthfeel with a lightly sour and white wine–like flavor. It’s refreshing and complex, yet can deliver as little as 4 percent alcohol by volume, roughly equal to a Bud Light.  So what’s stopping craft breweries from putting out tart saisons by the truckfull?

Not actually that rare.  Source: Beer Obsessed
My first reaction was something in the contempt continuum, abetted in part by writer Pete Mortensen's many faulty assumptions and troubles with fact.  I don't know what he knows about beer, but his slugline bio reads, "Pete Mortensen is a project director and design strategist at Antedote, an innovation and insight agency based in San Francisco."

He says things like "because of the flavor problems these wild microbes can cause in conventional beers, few American craft brewers make tart saisons, and those that do, like Hill Farmstead in Vermont, tend to release them only at the brewery in limited supply at high price points."  (Craft breweries pretty much don't fear wild yeasts, and if they release beers infrequently it's because they're responding to market demand, not because they can't make more.)  And, "big brewers ... have access to the sanitation equipment required to defend barrels against wild yeast."  (All breweries have access to sanitation equipment.)  And, "Pale ales—especially India pale ales—are typically hoppy, which often translates to a strong bitterness that is off-putting to all but the most dedicated craft bros."  (No idea.)  

But here's the thing: he may very well have a point. 

Saisons are one of the styles that might appeal to a broad audience, particularly saisons with relatively subdued esters and phenols.  He's right in comparing the sensory terrain to witbier, the other style that has found a mass audience.  (The notion that mass market saisons should be made with brett and/or lactobacillus is another misfire--you can easily get "tart" from saison yeast itself.  In no possible universe does AB InBev start making a mass-market brett saison.)  A light saison with just a hint of yeast character, some nice raw graininess in the mouth, and a rich, creamy head--I could envision that selling like gangbusters.  You could even stretch the line a lot easier than you could with witbier, adding stronger saisons, hoppy saisons, and spiced saisons.  Blue Moon, by contrast, has had a hard time extending its brand past the original witbier formulation.

I have no idea whether this will or could ever come to pass.  (Mortensen's other two suggestions, that the bigs start making mass-produced barrel-aged beers and "New Zealand pale ales," I have a better idea about: nyet.  Absolutely nyet.  I can expand in comments if anyone cares.)  But it's exactly the kind of weird future we might find ourselves in.  The success of craft beer will definitely have some unexpected progeny.  Mass market witbier was the first case.  Mass market saison could become the second.