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Monday, August 29, 2011

Farmhouse Ales

Those astute readers who recently noticed our list of upcoming Brewer's Choice beer styles knows that the next one up is a Saison (French for "season"), also known as a Farmhouse Ale. Your first reaction might have been, "Cool!" shortly followed by "What's a saison?" Saison's originated in France and Belgium, and were made popular in the Flemmish region. They were the origianl working class beer - made on farms so that the workers would have beer to drink after long days of toiling in the fields. Every farm brewed it's own and it was made from seasonally available ingredients (hence the name). While saisons were originated in Europe, their popularity there has waned over the years as stronger Abbey style ales have become the popular drink of the region. It's the American craft brewer that has been instrumental in reviving the styles. It's becoming more common, especially on the East Coast, to have a couple of these beers in your lineup, whether seasonal or year round.

So how is the style best described? This is one of the hardest styles to nail down. Perhaps you've had one before, but just because you've had a couple doesn't mean you're close to having a grasp of what to expect. When Farmhouse ales were small batch brewed with what was on hand at the farm the beer itself would run a gamut of flavors with each batch being different than ones before it based on what was available. Typically they were lower alcohol beer as they were meant as a good thirst quencher after a hard day of labor in the fields. The beer tends towards a dry crispness that gives a palate cleansing finish. The flavor can sometimes have a peppery, or coriander spiciness to it. A lot of that character comes from the yeasts that are used to ferment the saison. Since the original style was brewed before there was an understanding of yeast, the yeast was a wild strain that would be fermented at the ambient temperature which would go fairly high in the summer, much higher than one would traditionally ferment even most style of ales. These higher fermentation tempatures led to the production of lots of phenols which is where the spicy character comes from. Some modern brewery will add their own blend of spices to compliment the dryness of the beer. Some Saisons tend towards a golden straw color while others might be an amber or light brown. It will depend on the malts that the brewer used. Some of the darker malts can add a subtle sweetness, or very light caramel flavor to give a balance to the dryness. Some of paler styles of this beer will finish out bone dry and can give a bitter perception that some describe as crisp, or tart.

Here at Rogues Harbor we've been inspired by a Belgian-esque style of Saison. We selected Belgian malts and European hops along with a Belgian strain of yeast to makes ours. The fermentation will be uncontrolled; unlike with our other beers we're just fermenting this one at whatever the natural temperature of the brewhouse. These elevated temperatures along with a bit of fluctuation will help create the unique spicy character. The yeast will ferment out nearly all the sugars in the beer leaving it very dry, and lighter body. This beer will be very easy drinking, but have a depth of complexity to it that will keep you examining each and every sip. Look for this beer to arrive early in September.