“You can’t grab a customer by the ears and tell them that they should give a damn about your special beer just because you do,” says Seth Morton, head brewer at Jackie O’s Brewery of his mixed fermentation Grisette, “with these beers, curiosity comes from trust.”
Even before curiosity inspires a customer to give the Grisette a taste, curiosity is part of the brewing process at Jackie O’s located in Athens in southeastern Ohio. The team is curious about new styles, and curious about how locally grown ingredients can be used to augment the beer they make.
“Local ingredients definitely inspire what we decide to brew. Anything from spruce tips, to beets, to spicebush berries, to pawpaws, when the inspiration comes, it’s on!” says Seth. The brewery owns Barrel Ridge Farm so if an ingredient can’t be sourced from the local area, the team can grow it themselves.
Even with fruit, herbs, and other components coming from a brewery-owned farm, Seth says the team is careful about the messaging on beer labels, “most of our beer is brewed in a former cheese factory inside the city limits of Athens. Hence, we don’t brand our beers outright as ‘Farmhouse.’ We try to make that distinction as clear as possible.”
It’s a distinction that makes sense considering Jackie O’s Grisettes, like Scrip, and Saisons, like Livelihood, are surrounded by other less farmhouse-focused styles.
“Our decisions on what to brew are a balance of commitment and curiosity. We have a roster of projects that we’d like to pull off out of curiosity, but we have to wait for a hole in the brewing schedule between all the IPAs and Stouts/Barleywines we’re committed to produce.”
That commitment is to their fans and customers who line up on release day for their barrel aged stouts. A small group of fans are so committed that they are members of a club that gets exclusive access to specialty small batch stouts.
But between the stouts and IPAs, brewers slip in their special experiments driven by their curiosity about yeast and process, “It’s our responsibility as producers to be storytellers for these [farmhouse] styles, as long as the customer is interested. I have been lucky enough to introduce customers to the style while chatting in the taproom,” says Seth.
One of those beers he tells the story of is Scrip Jackie O’s popular 4.5% Grisette hopped with mosaic hops and aged in wine barrels. That’s a lot of specialty ingredients and process for a single table strength beer, “ if any elements are most important, it’s time and patience,” says Seth, “There isn’t any single ingredient that defines Scrip, it’s more about the elements in harmony, and blending when the barrels are ready.”
So What Does a Wine Barrel Aged Grisette Taste Like?
Seth describes Scrip as a delicate, low acid beer. He adds that Scrip follows the American archetype for the style is, “low ABV, high inclusion of wheat malt, more hop aroma than Saison, no acid-producing bacteria, and aged in oak.”
The resulting beer is light and refreshing with smoothing vanilla oak character as well as some tropical notes of pineapple from the combination of saison strains and Brettanomyces (wild yeast) used in fermentation.
Those factors are specific to Scrip, but at Jackie O’s Seth says the farmhouse ales are all, “well-attenuated and are all about having expressive elements in balance.”
To achieve the ideal expression of the style the team at Jackie O’s uses a variety of techniques for their farmhouse styles including mixed-fermentation, bottle conditioning, fermenting in stainless steel, barrels or foeders, and sometimes incorporating fruit.
What’s New and Next for Farmhouse Beer at Jackie O’s Brewery?
“Farmhouse Ale is difficult to put in any certain ‘box,’” says Seth, “I think it’s that distinct quality that makes it so interesting.”
A beer in Seth’s cellar that has piqued his interest right now is, “a fruited variant of our mixed-fermentation stainless table Saison, Livelihood, which was referemented on tart and sweet cherries. It tastes delicious off of the tank, and I can’t wait until it’s finished bottle conditioning!”