The saison beer style originated in farmhouse breweries along the border of France and Belgium's Wallonian region. The rustic ales were part of the compensation offered to the seasonal workers or "saisoniers" who would bring in the region's harvest. Since beer was often safer to drink than water, the brewing of saison was an integral part of the local economy. Each farm would brew the beer during the slow winter months and then store it for use over the course of the summer. Larger farms would have their own breweries and smaller breweries would often utilize a community brewery. The grain from leftover from each batch would make ideal feed for livestock, furthering the beer's utility.
Modern saisons are brewed year round and they're generally a bit stronger than their historical progenitors, but the emphasis remains on light and refreshing beers with rustic notes such as pepper, clove and often a gentle tartness. The beers we chose here represent the best of what we've found in the saison style. They range from classic examples by century old farm breweries in Wallonia to wild and aggressive interpretations by upstart American breweries experimenting with new hop varieties, barrel aging, and wild yeasts. Collectively they're the best saisons on earth.
Brasserie Dupont's Saison Veille Provision
Brasserie Dupont began brewing saison at their farm brewery in Tourpes, Beligium in 1844 and they're one of the few authentic producers of saison that survived the two world wars and competitive pressures that wiped out so many of their neighbors over the last 170 years. The brewery has more than just history on its side though. Their saisons are exquisite and they define the genre in much the same way that Guinness defines stouts.
Dupont's most famous beer is Saison Dupont Veille Provision (Old Provision). At 6.5 percent ABV, Saison Dupont has gained some strength over the years, but it's still made in the traditional manner with high fermentation temperatures and is refermented in the bottle. The beer is a slightly murky golden color with a thick white head and robust carbonation. Its rustic flavors are bright and spicy with a brisk blast of hoppy bitterness at the dry finish.
Saison Dupont is served on draft as well as in corked and caged, green 750mL bottles with a yellow and white checked label. In addition to their classic saison, Dupont also sells Avril, a lower strength "table saison" at 4.5 percent ABV; Foret, a slightly stronger organic saison at 7.5 percent ABV; and a year-end brew named Avec Le Bon Veux ("with the best wishes of the brewery"), a powerful "super saison" that weighs in at 9.5 percent ABV. All four are fantastic, but the original remains the classic, imitated by breweries around the world.