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.
Crooked Stave Artisan Brewing Project - Surrette Sour
Chad Yakobson, the founder and director of the Crooked Stave Artisan Brewing Project, ages his beer in barrels and massive oak wood foedres crammed into a small industrial park on the outskirts of Denver. From the outside, it feels more like a storage unit – and this being Denver, the brewery's neighbors are marijuana grow rooms. The humble location is at odds with the sophistication of Yakobson's operation, which grew out of his graduate-level work studying Brettanomyces (wild beer yeast) fermentations in Edinburgh, Scotland. Yakobson brings scientific rigor to each batch of Crooked Stave beer, which he refers to as a "prototype." Surrette, named after the French word for tart, is probably the most approachable wild yeast beer we've ever tasted. Yakobson calls it a "provision saison" because it is slightly higher in alcohol than most saisons and aged two to 18 months before it's readied for drinking.
Surrette is composed of four different grains in addition to malted barley, wheat, rye, spelt, and oats. The body holds up well and the flavor is rustic, earthy, and just slightly tart, thanks to aging in large French oak foudres with Brett and Lactobacillus, another souring agent. While Brett is notorious for imparting an often off-putting, horse-blanket barnyard flavor and aroma, Surrette is remarkably clean tasting and easy drinking.