The saison, or farmhouse, style is a classic style from Belgium, in the French speaking region called Wallonia. The word "saison" means season in French. This correlates to a time before refrigeration and the brewing of beers stopped at the end of the cool season. The beer needed to be strong enough to last until the next brewing season, but yet light and refreshing enough for working class citizens in the heat of summer. This style almost became extinct, but much revitalization has pumped life back into the style in Belgium and is becoming very popular with American brewers. I've also read that drinking saison in the summer was also for health reasons. Those reasons being that regular water could kill you, and fermented beer wouldn't.
I will start with bottle packaging. Saisons from Belgium will typically come in very heavy champagne style glass bottles that are corked and caged. A few American brewers are doing this as well, but many are doing their packaging in 22 oz bombers. They are almost always undergo a second fermentation in the bottle. Bottle conditioned beers will many times have sediment in them or suspended yeast. Most brewers don't want you to pour that in your beer, but it won't kill you if it does.
The pour on the majority of saisons will be a sight to behold. A non-aggressive pour will reveal a huge rocky head that will likely last the entire beer and will leave sticky lace all over your glass. The color will range from a pale or golden orange color to a rustic amber red color. The true greatness of the saison style is in the nose and flavor. Brewers can use a whole range of aromatics and additions to saisons to range in flavor from peppery, fruity, bitter, sweet, acidic, and earthy. Many times you can taste all of those flavors at different times in the same beers progression. My favorite saison is from Fantome and each bottle is always slightly different, and keeps me looking forward to the next time I get to have a bottle.
Why are these beers so amazing to me? It is in their versatility. The saison can be paired with just about any food that you can come up with, but I particularly enjoy it with very spicy foods. All of the earthy, spicy, sweet, sour, and bright flavors that are found in spicy food are matched by the saison style. This is also a wonderfully refreshing beer to have for outdoor grilling as well. It can elevate chicken, ribs, steaks, and even sausage. This is truly one of the most versatile beers that you can find with it comes to food and beer pairings. If you are ever going to a dinner party and want to bring a bottle of something that will work on everyone with just about any food then choose the saison.
My favorites in the style that are available locally: Fantome Saison, (It comes in a big green bottle with a ghost on the front of it) Saison Dupont, Boulevard's Saison Brett, Goose Island Sofie, Ommegang Hennepin
Not available locally: Surly Cynic ale, Jack D'Or from Pretty Things, Anna from HillFarmstead