Well, it’s more of a branch of beers than a styles.
I have been seeing Farmhouse Ales everywhere lately, so I wanted to take a bit of time to talk to you about what a Farmhouse Ale is and where it comes from.
I saw that New Belgium shared a picture on Instagram of their new farmhouse ale that is coming out very soon. It’s an exciting time of the year because summer beers are coming out. It’s a time for fruity and hoppy flavored beers. Beers are going to pop and come alive for the summer. This is a time where we come together to celebrate all the summer activities
(Side note: one of my favorite summer phenomena is the summer blockbuster movie season. More specifically, Marvel Cinematic Universe’s releases every summer.
Topically, I’m really excited for the release of Ant-Man, the weekend of July 17th. [2015 if you’re reading this past this year. If that’s the case, look at you! Being an awesome reader of my blog and looking to the backlog! Thank you.] Let me know what you thought of Ant-Man and how Paul Rudd portrayed Scott Lang. I want to say I’m worried, but if James Gunn loves the movie I’m sure it can be alright.)
Now that my tangent is over, let’s get back to Farmhouse Ales. I will admit right now that fruity beers are not as big to me as a hoppy beer. But as it is summer and no longer anywhere near Easter, I should slow down on the hops (sorry).
Where It ALL Started
So, the number one word to remember when we’re talking about a Farmhouse Ale (and its offspring Saison and Bière-de-Garde) is individuality. The second most important word is necessity. That’s because historically these beers are incredibly individualistic and have very few commonalities between beer to beer or region to region.
When you think of Farmhouse Ale historically, it’s more of an idea than a specific type of beer. According to my research, European Farmhouse Ales were literally brewed in a farm house. The beer style is credited to have originated in Wallonia region of Belgium. This region speaks primarily French because it is very close to the French border. Farmhouse Ales were started in as early as the eighteenth or nineteenth century in the Wallonia and Flanders regions of Belgium, but the idea quickly spread to Northern France. Landowners in these regions did not have the ability to refrigerate the barrels of beer that they were storing, so it was necessary in the winter and spring to make something that could last and heat of the farmhouse. The goal was to help satisfy your farmhands and family that worked on the farm with whatever you had or could get your hands on to make your farm’s special brew. After that, the farmer would take their crops in the fall harvest, brew, and leave for the winter to ferment and store so that they could be ready to drink while working in the fields in the spring and summer. It is also speculated that a reason that the beers were brewed in the cooler months is that it would be the main time that permanent farm staff would have no fieldwork to busy them.
(Side note: Doing some research for this post, I found that there is a village in the Wallonia region called Spy, which is amazing to me. I wonder if anybody uses their real name there, or is everyone just generally distrusting of others. Also, in a cave in that village, paleontologists found two nearly perfect Neanderthal skeletons which proved the existence of Neanderthals in 1886.)
Ingenuity is How the Best Stuff is Created
Well, picture yourself as an eighteenth or nineteenth century farmer in the discussed regions and you have a few workers that have been tending the farm all day, or your family that has been working really hard and everyone needs a break. Europe has always been known for things like afternoon long breaks and a love of wine, spirits and beer. This begot the tradition of farmers and farm hands taking breaks in the day or getting together after the work day is over and cracking open a barrel of the farm’s special ale. The farmer didn’t want the workers to get drunk off of the brew – so normally these would be 2 to 3.5 percent ABV to prevent that. I mean they just wanted to have a light refreshing drink. Think of it as a Belgian/French sports drink so they’d be ready to work again. (Not really, but close enough.) Additionally, this was a sort of payment to the workers as many farm.
I hear you asking: “What makes a Farmhouse Ale more of a genre of beers than a specific type of beer?”
Let’s continue to pretend that you’re a French or Belgian farmer. Say your wheat crop was great this harvest, so you trade with your neighbor who had a great barley crop that year. Maybe you try to get around using hops and use a substitute like juniper. Maybe you had some sage that you thought would give the next batch some savory flavor. Throw that in there and see what you could come up with. You can put anything that will give it the flavor and preserves to get it to last through the fermentation and storage time period. That type of change is exactly the reason that Farmhouse Ale descendants have always been.
A Bit about Saisons
This is the most popular drink that comes from the Farmhouse Ale family. Saison is French for season, which is a historically accurate name that described this branch of Farmhouse Ales. This branch was named and pursued by the Belgian farmers and characterized is by a Pale Ale base-style that uses a low amount of pale malt It is also very low in hop flavors. Belgian farmers tended to use a Noble strain of Belgian hops that they grew themselves or they traded for from adjacent farms. There tends to be a citrusy or coriander-esque tone to the style, and that has been seriously emphasized as Americans have modernized the style.
Historically, these were brewed to a 2 to 3.5% ABV, but American-style Saisons have raised that average to 4.5 to 6.5% ABV. The low and pale malts were perfect for lowering the levels of sugar that would be created in the barrels during winter to reduce the chances of bacteria attacking and causing a skunkiness in the beer for next summer. The citrusy tone and low alcohol level allowed the farmhands to have something refreshing to drink without GETTING DRUNK.
(Side note: In actuality, Saison beers are not extremely common in Belgium, and are much more common in America utilizing modern brewing methods and year-round production.
Example of a Saison That I’d Reach For:
Beer Name: Cucumber Saison
Brewery: Cigar City Brewing Company
A Bit about Bière-de-Gardes
This is the lesser-known French style of Farmhouse Ales. Translating to “Beer for Keeping”, it is extremely similar to Saison style Belgian counterparts. A major difference between these and their Belgian counterparts is that Bière-de-Gardes have more of a malt-focus and less spice and tartness. While Saisons are highly spiced, the Northern French farmers tended to add more malt. A large similarity is that they both tend to use Noble hops. These tend to be a cellar-esque taste and have a high carbonation – again, for the refreshing mouth feel of something like a carbonated soda in the middle of a workday. These are much more rare to see American brewers to adopt, because there is not traditionally as many ways to throw different spices into the mix as there is with Saisons. That difference is a detriment to this style of farmhouse ales.
Example of a Bière-de-Garde That I’d Reach For:
Beer Name: Domaine DuPage French Style Country Ale
Brewery: Two Brothers Brewing Company
I hope you learned a little something about this old branch of beer that has made a huge impact on the American craft beer industry. I know many people that solely drink Saison style beers. Thanks to that style they actually are able to get into the world of craft beer because they cannot handle the bitter of a hoppy beer. Please check out all of the beers I linked. I’m not sponsored, but they are just really great beers. If you have, let me know what you thought. Also, let me know if you’d like me to go in deeper with one of the two styles in another post.
Alright, that’s my time, and as always, if you liked this post, please follow. And if you didn’t, please follow anyway. And please leave me a comment where I can see your opinion, because you probably know more than I do.
Don’t forget to check out my Instagram, where you can keep current on all my beerscapades.