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.
Funkwerks' Nelson Sauvign
The Fort Collins based Funkwerks landed on the brewing world's radar by taking a gold medal for their flagship saison at the Great American Beer Festival in 2012 and walking out with the title of Best Small Brewing Company to boot. Their saison is an authentic take on the style in the tradition of Saison Dupont and we'd have placed it on this list if we hadn't tasted their even bolder saison Nelson Sauvign.
Nelson Sauvign takes its name after the variety of New Zealand hops that Funkwerks utilizes in the beer for flavor and aroma. The Nelson Sauvign hop is a classic love-it-or-hate-it ingredient that inspires passionate arguments among beer drinkers. It imparts bold and pungent aromas and flavors that are reminiscent of white wine. The funky aroma overwhelms most beer styles, but Funkwerks has found a perfect home for it in the saison style which is often already subtly vinuous with a gentle acidity. Funkwerks plays into the strength of these attributes by doubling down with an addition of grape must for extra fermentability and a dry finish. It's not for every palette, but it's a tremendous accomplishment