I always ask for a deluge of books for Christmas. I love giving and receiving books for birthdays or the holidays. They’re little bundles of knowledge that enrich the life of the giftee. Which is to say get ready for a couple book reviews over the next few weeks. Farmhouse Ales and Wild Brews have both been on my must read homebrewing list for a few years so I was stoked to receive them both as gifts. Farmhouse Ales ended up on the top of the pile of books so we’re tackling that first, look forward to Wild Brews soon!
To start us off here’s the publisher’s description:
Farmhouse Ales defines the results of years of evolution, refinement, of simple rustic ales in modern and historical terms, while guiding today’s brewers toward credible—and enjoyable—reproductions of these old world classics.
I’ll start with my short, simple, and far more accurate description of this book: an extremely deep dive into bière de garde and saisons. If you don’t have a love of saisons or bière de gardes, or if you don’t have an interest in brewing them, you can stop reading right now. If you do lust for a tasty saison or want to master the techniques of brewing an “authentic” bière de garde then read on and go buy a copy of this book.
Ok, why’d you just use quotes around “authentic”?
I’ve always suspected that we don’t know what many beer styles tasted like back in the day. And by back in the day I mean before World War 1. Farmhouse Ales makes clear that what we think of when we have these two styles is not what they used to taste like. The brewing guidelines and recipes are based on what we have today which has been strongly altered by modern tastes and innovations, like lagering. There are guesses at the way things used to be but farmers didn’t write down their recipes so we can’t be sure exactly what they did.
The book is cleanly cleaved in half between the two styles of bière de garde and saison. For both styles you get their history, ingredients, brewing and fermentation techniques, what purpose they served on the farms, and plenty of recipes to brew your own. That may sound like a short list but each item is given a significant, dare I say daunting, level of coverage. I’m not going to dive very far into either style since that’d spoil the book for you but will share a few bits.
Bière de Garde
These are still a somewhat uncommon style in the United States, at least compared to other styles from that area like Belgian triples, lambics[footnote]Technically you can’t make a lambic in the US has it has to be brewed in the Pajottenland in Belgium… not that that’s stopped many Americans[/footnote], or saisons. If you haven’t had one before then the book describes the style as toasty malt forward with light herbal hop flavors and a low Belgian yeast character.
Cincinnatians are lucky in that Fifty West has Biere de Garde Rail as a spring seasonal. As far as I recall MadTree is the only other local brewery to make a bière de garde, named Ruck Stop, but it was a one-off. If reading this makes you feel the urge to drink one now you should be able to find Two Brothers Domaine DuPage French Country Ale around town. If you want a more authentic French version check out anything from La Choulette, though you may have to go to a bigger bottle shop for that.
While the book talks about biere de garde having a slightly acidic note the author makes multiple strides to point out that saisons were, historically, quite similar to a gueuze. This fact set my heart a flame and decided the course for my next few brew outs. From what I gathered in the book and a few other places it seems like saisons were made with a mix of saccharomyces and brettanomyces (you can learn more about brett, my favorite microbe, here). My plan to kick that up a bit is to make a brett saison and blend in some lambic!
Cincinnati beer enthusiasts are luckier when it comes to saisons than bière de garde. Both Moerlein and Blank Slate brew saisons, Le Grange and RYEsing Up respectively. Le Grange is a draft only spring seasonal but you can walk into Blank Slate today and get RYEsing Up on draft there. As with all things Blank Slate RYEsing up is not a typical saison. They add rye and peppercorns to mix things up. Brooklyn’s Sorachi Ace is my personal favorite saison but Saison Dupont Vieille Provision is the authentic go to.
There’s a lot more in this book then what I’m mentioning here but it gets so singularly intense it’s hard to summarize. Like I said initially, if you have a love of saisons or bière de garde or want to brew them yourself then Farmhouse Ales is a must own book.