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.
Situated on the picturesque grounds of a former hop farm in Cooperstown, New York, Brewery Ommegang certainly fits the profile of a traditional Belgian farmhouse brewery. Their connection to Belgian brewing tradition runs deeper than their appearances though. Ommegang was founded by Don Feinberg and Wendy Littlefield, the owners of beer import company Vanberg & DeWulf who introduced the Dupont beers to the American market. They've since sold their share of Ommegang to Duvel Moortegaat, but the breweries commitment to making world-class belgian inspired beers is unchanged.
Hennepin is Ommegang's flagship saison and it's a standout of their lineup. They incorporate ginger, orange peel, and a spice called grains of paradise. The spicing integrates well with the base beer and the resulting beer is a more full-bodied take on the style with aggressive fruitiness and spice character. At 7.7 percent it's more alcoholic and slightly sweeter than many others on our list but it still boasts a long dry finish.
Ommegang named the beer after Father Louis Hennepin, the Catholic priest widely credited with discovering Niagra Falls. The label fancifully imagines the moment with a silhouette of the priest standing in the prow of a canoe. He is pictured holding a chalice of beer up to the light as his canoe approaches the lip of the falls.