So, I recently decided to brew a Saison to have on tap for the second half of summer. It seemed, at the time, to be a good style selection for the hot July and August days. Then I was having a discussion with some friends to came to stay with us. They brought some Colette Farmhouse Ale by Great Divide Brewing Company (they are from near Denver so … big surprise there). We said “what is farmhouse ale exactly?”, followed that question with some speculation and basically left it at that. But this morning I decided I needed more knowledge on that subject, so here we go.
As it turns out, my instinct to brew that Saison was a happy accident. Farmhouse ales, although not exactly a style on their own, were typically brewed and stored during the winter months to be not only enjoyed in the summer months, but to provide hydration and nutrition to farmers and farm hands. From one farm to another, or even from batch to batch on the same farm, the ale could be quite different. This was due to the fact that each farmer has slightly different resources. Some grew wheat, others rye, others barley. Trades could be made on ingredients but equipment and technique was also varied. Hops that may not have grown in as anticipated may have been substituted with other balancing flavors – juniper, pine, tart fruit – and each farmer probably had a different source of water to make it even more interesting. Often it was well water, and the only way to make it drinkable was to transform it into beer. Natural yeast, which would have also been very different place to place, would have been used for fermentation.
But, as time as moved on, equipment got better, access to ingredients was easier, recipe documentation and replication improved and two actual styles were born of the “farmhouse ale”. Biere de Garde (knowledge for another day) and, of course, Saison. So I hope this has demystified the Farmhouse Ale for you. But, at the very least, my Saison (not brewed at a farm) is in the keg and should be ready for Sunday dinner with our friends. And sharing is what home brewing is all about!