DRAFT PICKS: A refresher course on farmhouse ale

One of the beers being reviewed this week is a Farmhouse Ale.

Beers in the Farmhouse Ale genre are interesting and by-and-large exceptionally tasty.

Longtime readers may remember limited discussions of this type of beer before, but hopefully this column will be both a refresher to some, and an education to others.

Keep in mind, however, that I write in generalities in an attempt to make sometimes complex issues palatable to the largest number of explorers.

Farmhouse ales are often also called saisons - or seasonal beers.

Not all seasonal or saisons are farmhouse ales, and vice versa as well.

The style of beer developed in Belgian and parts of France. This beer was brewed late in the year and stored, or cellared, in order to be served to workers who expected a decent serving of brew as a negotiated part of their daily salary.

Traditional and practically, saison beers and/or farmhouse ales are brewed in autumn and winter in order to store them in cooler months in anticipation of the field work season. Keep in mind, there was no refrigeration back in the day.

As a result of this cool cellaring and the aging, farmhouse ales — which often are a touch sweeter than other brews — today pack a bit more punch, (although they originally were a bit less potent so that farm workers weren’t getting plowed (pun intended!) during the work day.

There were a limited number of seasonal, or farmhouse ales, brewed in the springtime that were generally blended with the older brews. This blending also acted to cut down the amount of alcohol by volume. Generally speaking, farmhouse ales are mild tasting, while still being full bodied.

Different farmhouse ales are not necessarily the same. They do not necessarily share similar characteristics. To wit, one farmhouse ale may be your next “favorite” beer, but one out of a different brewery may have you scratching your head and wondering , “What the heck???”

Farmhouse ales are a great way to introduce novice craft beer explorers to a new and wonderful world. They are most generally not as aggressive as some ales, not as malty and certainly not as hoppy as some brews.

Farmhouse ales and saisons really reach across most beer drinking boundaries and offer a little something for everyone.

According to the good folks at Beer Advocate, the top 10 popular Farmhouse Ales include:

  • Hennepin — Brewery Ommegang
  • Saison Dupont - Brasserie Dupont
  • Sofie — Goose Island Beer Co.
  • Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale — Boulevard Brewing Co.
  • Saison-Brett — Boulevard Brewing Co.
  • Brooklyn Sorachi Ace — Brooklyn Brewery
  • Fantôme Saison — Brasserie Fantôme
  • Jack D’or — Pretty Things Beer & Ale Project
  • Pepe Nero — Goose Island Beer Co
  • Saison Du BUFF — Stone Brewing Co.

I have tasted or seen all of them in our area except Jack D’or.

In the meantime, enjoy these suggestions.

Four Witches

New Holland Brewing Company

Holland

Having suggested this farmhouse ale to a number of people, it’s interesting to find there were as many opinions about this brew as there were people tasting it!

Some loved it. Some didn’t. Some are still trying to figure it out!

Four Witches pours a deep, dark brown that I find rich and inviting in brews of this sort. There is a decent light brown head that really complements the appearance and stays around just enough time to lend a bit of help in the scenting.

There is a surprising lightness to the aroma. It somewhat contradicts what one might expect when pouring an ale this dark. There is less a sense of maltiness, but a more pronounced fruitiness than one might expect - or than I expected to be exact!

This is wonderfully aromatic with a gentle blend of mild nuttiness and some of the darker fruits — raisins and plums. There is also a hint of spice and a touch of licorice scent.

The first sip really enhances the scenting. Here the malts break through and make themselves well known. That licorice scent translates well into a mild anise flavor — very mild and not off-putting in the least. There are some very muted hints of chocolate and, again, the darker fruit tones that were picked up in the scenting.

There is a defined background taste of vanilla (although truth be know, I tend to mix up some licorice and vanilla flavorings!)

I didn’t find this too yeasty or too expressively malty.

This is an exceptionally well blended brew. There is nothing that is overwhelming; nothing demanding too much of your attention; nothing to dull the total experience.

There is, however, an excellent balance that allows this brew to go down smoothly and be exceptionally tasty when properly chilled.

I really liked Four Witches. A lot.

Highly recommended as a sessional beer — one for sipping, discussing and sipping a bit more.

Oatmeal Stout

Gray’s Brewing Company

Janesville, Wisc.

This is everything that I’m all about. Oh my goodness.

I’ve had some of Gray’s offerings in the past. They were ...OK. I didn’t expect this one. It was way the other side of OK.

Just my kind of brew.

Gray’s Oatmeal Stout is dark, dark, dark. Black or very deep brown. I opt for black.

It pours with little head, but does create a bit of lacing that hangs around a while. That really is pretty much par for this style of brew.

There is a healthy and hefty shot of typical chocolate and malt aroma that immediately announces itself on first whiff. Further smelling reveals the coffee scents. Gray’s offering is pretty up-front. No secrets. This IS an oatmeal stout.

It carries an almost exotic quality. Explorers can easily imagine a dock in the orient loaded with burlap bags of coffee and cocoa beans.

It is a rich and enticing smell.

At first wash, there is a delicious blast of high-quality chocolate taste. The coffee tones are right to the fore as well, but chocolate really rules the day. There is a certain sweetness imparted by the oatmeal.

With its creamy mouth-feel, this brew leans strongly toward an Imperial Stout

There is just a hint of nuttiness.

Gray’s Oatmeal Stout is impressive.

I would highly recommend this as a after meal offering — almost a dessert beer.