I started #trythisfarmhouse with a mission to get more people….trying farmhouse beers. One of the first things to decode when you’re trying farmhouse beers for the first time is, what do the labels on the beers mean. Compared to “hazy,” “sour,” or “milkshake” on an IPA label the words on farmhouse beers can be a little harder to decipher which regrettably makes them more intimidating.
What Do Farmhouse Ales Taste like?
The variation in flavor and style of farmhouse ales is huge! But they do fall into some general categories grouped by flavor.
This is a basic breakdown of what you can basically expect from each style. Just like there are people out there brewing black, brut IPAs and called just “IPA” there are plenty of dark, mixed fermentation saisons with apricots labeled just “saison” out there. These general outlines will help align the flavors of each category with flavors you might be familiar with, and give you an idea of what will show up in your glass when you order one.
Quaffable comparison: Dry Sparkling Wine
This style should have: A dry finish, a champagne-like effervescent, balancing bitterness, yeast character of lemon meringue, zesty white pepper, baking spices or citrus at the forefront
Special ingredients: Grassy, earthy, herbal Saaz or Styrian hops are used in different levels. Sometimes they impart only bitterness to assist with the dry finish, other times they are detectable in flavor and aroma.
Generally: Light colored, highly carbonated beers between 5% and 8% ABV, though variations in color and ABV exist. (See variations below.)
Quaffable comparison: A slightly sweet bourbon (kinda)
Special ingredients: The name literally translates into “beer for keeping” though most modern examples don’t use the lagering technique anymore, this does mean that yeast character should be more subtle than other farmhouse styles (the yeast character would have traditionally mellowed during lagering). Lightly kilned Munich and Vienna type malts which aren’t often used in Belgian styles are put to use in Bière de Garde.
This style should have: A dry finish, malt-accentuated flavor profile with nuttiness and/or light caramel flavors, with faint yeast character especially pomme fruits
Generally: Amber in color with plenty of carbonation and malty complexity, surprisingly drinkable for their typical range of 6-8.5% ABV. There are examples that range from lighter in color with more hop impact to darker in color with more malt flavors, but I find most examples you’ll see out at bars and bottle shops to be amber in color (and influenced by the original Jenlain.)
Quaffable comparison: somewhere between a blond ale and a German hefeweizen
This style should have: a sessionable character (low ABV), approachable, light citrus & spice yeast character
Special ingredients: a high percentage of wheat or oats, at least 30% but up to 60% to impart substantial haze, a round texture, and some cereal flavors
Generally: Crisp, medium-bodied, light colored beer with some fruit or spice notes from yeast
Examples to try: Sly Fox Grisette, St Feuillien Grisette Blond Bio
Quaffable comparison: A tart Grisette
Generally: Almost exactly the same as above without the specification of a high percentage of oats or wheat and the addition of often subtle tartness or tanginess from mixed fermentation. Will almost always be 4% ABV or below
Examples to try: Plan Bee Hay, Side Project à la Table
Quaffable comparison: A very thickk Doppelbock
This style should have: a very full texture, snappy juniper flavors, a nourishing, satiating impression
Special ingredients: The most important step to the overall impression of the beer is skipping the boil. This leaves protein in the beer (because there is no hot break) resulting in the thick, nourishing character described above. Juniper branches woven to create a mash filter.
Generally: A totally unique drinking experience with heavy texture mingling with herbal uplighting juniper impression.
Mix & Match
Below are words or phrases you might find on a tap list or label before or after the styles above, sort of like learning a language now we’re moving into compound words!
Brett, Mixed Fermentation, Foeder-Aged
Quaffable Comparison: Sparkling Natural Wines (Pet Nat), Funky Rum Cocktails
Brett: When “brett” is added before or after any of the above styles on the label it typically means there will be added “funky” flavors like hay, barn yard, very overripe fruit, sometimes a slight blue-cheesy note. However the level of acid will generally be kept to tart and tangy and not veer into true sour territory.
Examples to try: Logsdon Seizoen Bretta, pFriem Brett Saison, Brasserie des Franches-Montagnes √225 Saison
Mixed Fermentation: When “Mixed Fermentation” is added before or after any of the above styles on the label it means typical farmhouse or ale yeasts are accompanied by wild yeast and/or bacteria. With such a range of potential fermenters there is an equally large range of flavor results. Everything from sour lacto notes of lemon juice, to funky hay mixed with pineapple is possible. These beers are for the adventurous and are great to share!
Examples to try: Anything from Keeping Together, Crooked Run Native Culture Series
Foeder-Aged: When “Foeder Aged” is on the label it means one of the above styles was aged in an (usually oak) foeder, basically a giant wooden barrel. This step in brewing allows quite a bit of oxygen exposed during aging which results in more vinous, cognac, and toffee characters as well as flavor pick up from the wood which results in notes like vanilla, coconut, and tannic red wine. Foeder aging can soften some flavors like hop aroma and bitterness while enhancing other flavors like the funkiness from wild yeast fermentation.
Dry Hopped, or Hoppy
Quaffable Comparison: These are moving more in the direction of IPAs with big hop flavor
Generally: This means hops are added usually sometimes during or after fermentation. Beers with this on the label will have big aromas of hops whether tropical, citrusy, herbal, or piney that may obscure some of the signature yeast character of a farmhouse ale. In many cases “hoppy” farmhouse ales use the effervescent and dry quality of farmhouse or brettanomyces yeast while using hops to augment the flavor profile.
Examples to try: Source Brewing Hoppy Farmhouse Saison, Tired Hands Single Hop Series