Before the days of water purification, people drank beer. Boiling is part of brewing, so the process killed any harmful organic pathogens. Even the pious Puritans who landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620 did so, diverting the Mayflower north of their original destination because the ship's captain was concerned that there wouldn't be enough beer for the return voyage. It's in the Pilgrims' journals — read it for yourself.

It was the job of the farm wife to brew a low-alcohol beer to hydrate workers throughout the day, using whatever was on hand. If you had barley, wheat or rye, you made your beer with those. Before hops were common, beer was bitter and seasoned with a variety of herbs and spices. Even creeping Charlie — the scourge of every Minnesota gardener — was used as a flavoring. (Another name for the noxious weed? Alewort.)

Over time, farms that made particularly good beer increased output and sold it. As beer became a more commercial and industrial product, a loosely defined style gradually emerged in Belgium that we now call saison — or farmhouse ale.

Saison is still a somewhat squirrelly style with many variations. It is generally a very dry and highly effervescent beer defined by a pepper and citrus fermentation profile. Bitterness is medium to high, and alcohol is typically in the 6 to 8% range.

Beyond this basic profile, some versions may exhibit the character of grains besides barley or a variety of complementary herbs and spices. They may be barrel-aged, or funky and sour from wild fermentation. Both higher and lower alcohol examples can be found.

Once a popular style with many great import and domestic styles available, the selection of saisons in the Twin Cities has diminished as consumer tastes have changed. But it's a style worth checking out, and there are still several good ones to be had.

The benchmark for the style is without a doubt Saison DuPont Vieille Provision from Brasserie DuPont in Belgium. Saison DuPont is one of the only imported saisons still available locally. It features loads of lemon and orange citrus countered by a forceful black pepper spice. A bit of honey malt sweetness up front quickly fades to a very dry, bitter finish. This is one of the world's greatest beers and one of my all-time favorites.

Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale from Boulevard Brewing Co. in Kansas City is another favorite. Tank 7 emphasizes the fruity side of saison. Juicy orange and pineapple notes take the lead, relegating the pepper to a diminished, but not forgotten, second place. The upfront sweetness is lower than other examples, making the finish seem that much drier.

Funkwerks, based in Fort Collins, Colo., is one of the rare American breweries specializing in saison. Their basic saison is also fruit-forward, but not as intense as Tank 7. There is a delicacy to the profile, with bright, fresh lemon as the dominant note. A low, grainy malt sweetness melds with and supports faint, yeast-derived banana. Bitterness is low, and the peppery spice stays well in the background.

Tropic King Imperial Saison is a stronger version from Funkwerks that features tropical American hops. Imperial is a relative term here, as its 8% alcohol is only about a point higher than saison. The aroma explodes with tropical fruit — mango, banana and passion fruit. The flavor follows suit with an abundance of mango and passion fruit. The fruit is balanced by a sharp pepperiness; lingering fruit gives a sweeter impression in the finish.

Goose Island Brewery of Chicago has a longstanding line of Belgian-style beers that includes some great saisons with varying degrees of wild fermentation. Sofie is a basic saison brewed with orange peel and fermented with Brettanomyces — a semi-wild alternative to traditional brewers yeast. Peppery spice works in tandem with the barnyard funk of Brettanomyces to give this delicate beer an earthy grounding. Sitting atop it are orange citrus, soft malty sweetness and touches of sweet green apple. It finishes with the characteristic saison dryness.

Gillian takes a step even further toward the funk. This cider-like saison is full-on red fruit. Deep notes of red pomme and apple skins are joined by a blend of dark cherries and bright-red pie cherries. Background hints of lemon give it some lift. It's all enhanced by a bit of lactic sourness. Low-level caramel malt and Brettanomyces barnyard provide a sturdy base. Faint peppery notes get stronger as you sip. Several vintages of Gillian are available around town; the one I tried was 2017.

Funk Factory Geuzeria in Madison, Wis., is a small brewery focused on making traditional, Belgian-style lambic and geuze using spontaneous fermentation. That means the brewer relies on the wild yeast and bacteria in the air to ferment the beer rather than adding a cultured brewers' yeast. Hundreds of organisms work together to create beers of extraordinary complexity.

DH Apricot Saison from Funk Factory is all about wild-fermented funkiness. If you are a fan of sour beers, this might be for you. It is very sour with both lactic and acetic acidity. Aged on 3 pounds of apricots per gallon of beer, it also displays intense fruitiness that only increases as the beer warms. The apricots provide a little sweetness to balance the sour. Dry-hopping with Rakau hops brings strong background notes of tropical fruit and juicy oranges. Faint traces of that saison pepper still manage to come through. While there is a lot to love in this beer, it was ultimately too sour for my palate. A little less acid would make it a lovely and complex sipper.

Michael Agnew is a certified cicerone (beer-world version of sommelier) and owner of A Perfect Pint. He conducts private and corporate beer tastings, and can be reached at