Farmhouse beer is naturally hard to pin down. I’ve yet to visit any two identical farmhouses, so why should the beers made there (or modeled after the setting) be any different? As much as the BJCP and the Brewer’s Association try to nail down guidelines for farmhouse styles most of their character remains individual and a tad ethereal. So, instead of hard guidelines I thought it might be worthwhile to come up with a crowdsource-style definition.
Maybe this leaves the realm of defining and enters the less stiff world of feeling. These are the feelings of some of my favorite farmhouse brewers on exactly what farmhouse means, to them anyway. Maybe it will inspire you to take a few minutes to consider how you feel when you sip a farmhouse beer, even better maybe it’s just the inspiration you need to crack one open, without defining it at all.
“First thing I think of is a beer whose flavor profile is most influenced by contributions from the yeast – with a lighter malt body and continental hop profile that allows the ester-y, fruity, & spicy characteristics imparted by the yeast during fermentation to really shine through.
In terms of setting, the style reminds me of an amazing trip to Belgium, and most specifically an adventurous trip through Wallonia with great friends to enjoy some farmhouse ales at Fantome.” Tim Ohst, Director of Brewery Operations at Sly Fox Brewing, Pottstown, Pennsylvania
“Farmhouse style is a very broad category and many different types of beers can fall into this category. I prefer to call our ales Barn Beers, to denote it is something new that doesn’t exist outside of our location and our brewery. That does make it difficult sometimes when someone is trying to understand how they taste without actually being able to try them. I sometimes use the term ‘wild ale’ which is also a broad category that basically signifies that beers are mixed culture fermented. How do you describe the flavor of something you may have never tried before?” Emily Watson, Owner and co-founder at Plan Bee Farm Brewery, Poughkeepsie, New York
“I think of an idyllic French farm in the 19th century and bottles of ale made with grain grown right there. Maybe some of this is romanticized but it’s nice to think about.” Jake Endres, co-owner at Crooked Run Fermentation, Sterling, Virginia
“When I think of farmhouse style ales I think of the dry earthy, yeast-forward beers of southern Belgium and Northern France. I like to enjoy these complex, aromatic beers in a tulip or wine glass as an accompaniment to food.” Thor Cheston, co-founder at Right Proper Brewing Company, Washington, D.C.
“There’s a romantic side to farmhouse beers and I think most people picture a rural brewery making beer with local ingredients, or ingredients directly from their farm. We’ve tried to keep that spirit at Scratch. We make beer with ingredients we grow on site and if we can’t grow it or harvest it ourselves from the woods around our brewery we’ll buy it from local farmers. This is part of an ethos to keep the “farm” in “farmhouse” beer–we think that’s important. We utilize a wild culture we cultivated in our kitchen which is a mixed culture of yeast and bacteria–mostly saccharomyces and lactobacillus. So our flavor profile has a mix of classic saison fermentation and a hint of acidity often. When I think about the history of beers connected to farms I think of mixed culture fermentation, working with ingredients that were available to the brewer in their physical location.” Marika Josephson, Co-Owner and brewer at Scratch Brewing Company, Ava, Illinois
“Farmhouse ales can fall under a broad spectrum of flavors. Typically, you’ll taste a funk caused by a Brettanomyces fermentation. I think Hennepin has a cleaner profile than other Saisons on the market.” – Joe Poliseno, Brewing Manager at Brewery Ommegang, Cooperstown, New York
“The term farmhouse ale gets thrown around a lot and it can cover a lot of ground. Without getting into the romantic origin stories for the term, I’d say Farmhouse Ale is an idea more than a defined style. That idea is to utilize the ingredients available to you (many times including wild yeasts/bacteria), which would reflect on the old way of brewing. The romantic idealized farmhouse brewery of old would have used what they had available, which makes it difficult to define the “style” as every farm’s beer would no doubt taste quite different.
So today, the “style” encompasses a broad spectrum of ingredients, brewing methods, flavors, and aromas.
But one thing I think many brewers would agree on is these beers are mostly yeast-driven. Whether delicate or rustic, mixed-culture or pure-culture, fruited or unfruited, the flavors we are chasing rely heavily on the microorganisms we choose to utilize. If fermentation is interesting to you as a beer drinker, then the world of farmhouse ales and saisons has much to offer. It’s a space where we can experiment to our content with different ingredients, methods, wild yeasts, acidity levels etc., and the fans (consumers) of the style are open-minded and not opposed to a little experimentation themselves, which we appreciate!” Shilpi Halemane, head brewer at Logsdon Farmhouse Ales, Portland, Oregon
“Farmhouse ales are a wide range of yeast driven beer styles that can be all over the place in terms of flavor. Depending on the yeast (or mix of yeasts) and fermentation profile flavors, farmhouse ales can range from complex esters fruitiness and phenolic spiciness to more funky or acidic characteristics from mixed cultures not fermented exclusively with common brewers yeast. Part of what makes farmhouse ale so interesting is the variety of flavors you get from yeast metabolism.“ David Bleitner co-founder at Off Color Brewing, Chicago, Illinois
“Farmhouse beers and their setting strike a nerve for beers produced (and beer producers) before the industrial age and before the refrigerated age. Remote land owners and farmers who utilized their limited resources to create the most unique funky flavor profiles during all seasons of the year. Attempting to re-create a part of that is definitely a thrilling challenge today.” Matt Dettmann, owner at TRiNiTY Brewing Company, Colorado Springs, Colorado
“Farmhouse ale/Saison makes me think of yeast driven Belgian or Belgian style. It should be dry/crisp, with lots of yeast derived fruit and spice notes. One would picture this being made and consumed in an actual agricultural setting historically, though currently the style is made nearly everywhere, with fabulous examples coming from all manner of locations.” – Trevor Rogers head brewer and co-owner at de Garde Brewing, Tillamook, Oregon