Saisons originated in the Wallonia region of southern Belgium during the 19th century. Meaning ‘season’ in French, Saisons were typically brewed during winter months, and stored until summer months when they were given to farm workers as a form of hydration when water wasn’t suitable for drinking. Brewing in the winter provided farmers with work during an otherwise slow time of year. Also, spent grain from brew days was used for animal feed, providing livestock with nutrients when grain was unable to grow, making brewing beneficial to multiple aspects of farm life.
In order for the beer to last through the season without becoming infected, Saisons were brewed to have a dry flavor profile and hops and spices were usually added for their bacteriostatic properties. Because they were not brewed in aseptic environments, multistrain fermentations took place giving the beer a ‘wild’ flavor and adding to its complexity. Since each farmhouse had individual recipes, brewing techniques, and microflora, beers were vastly different from farm to farm. What defines these beers as a style are an extremely high attenuation and a spicy flavor profile due to the unique yeast strain.
As beer became more readily available and competition from imported lagers increased, many farmhouse breweries closed and Saisons became a dying style. Thankfully a number of farmhouses made the switch to full time breweries, and a resurgence of interest in Saisons, especially in North America, have made them popular as specialty beers today.