‘Tis the Saison – Farmhouse Ales Review

Traditionally, saison ales were brewed in the autumn or winter for consumption during the late-summer harvesting season. In those days, these “farmhouse” ales were light, low alcohol brews designed to revive farmhands dehydrated and tired from working in the fields. The brewing process was perfect for killing bacteria, and so a draught of light saison ale was a perfect non-disease causing refreshment after a dusty day pulling in crops.  Luckily, farmhouse ales are being brewed year-round now, and the style (once considered endangered) has become one of the more popular amongst craft beer drinkers.

The style is earthy and dry with a bit of sweetness. The beer isn’t a heavy style, and has some tartness that really rounds out the flavor.  We’ve bought three different farmhouse-style ales to review tonight, and we hope it will inspire you to try this unique style of beer.

Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale (8.00% ABV), Boulevard Brewing Company,  Kansas City, Missouri

We’re big fans of Boulevard Brewing Company – if you’re looking for a craft brewery to start with, or if you want to spring a craft beer on your Bud/Miller/Coors drinking friends, Boulevard’s offerings are perfect. Their beer is flavorful, diverse, and reasonably priced.

Tank 7 pours a nice cloudy golden color with a quickly dissipating head. The smell of it is like citrus and grass – sort of an earthy grapefruit smell. The flavor is maybe a bit too much alcohol up front with a heavily hopped back end, but it’s an enjoyable taste. As it warms, the citrus flavor becomes more pronounced, but the flavor of alcohol also becomes more prominent.  If you enjoy IPAs or other hoppy beers, this isn’t a bad introduction to the style.

Jess’s Ranking: B-
Michael’s Ranking: B

Le Merle (7.90% ABV), North Coast Brewing Company, Fort Bragg, California

The first beers we tried from North Coast were their excellent Scrimshaw Pilsner and Old Rasputin Imperial stout.  I was hooked.  I haven’t tried a beer yet from North Coast that wasn’t of the highest taste and quality, and you can’t go wrong with the Scrimshaw, Blue Star Wheat, or ACME Pale Ale at any party or barbecue.

La Merle pours a cloudy dark gold with a nice fizzy head. The aroma is a thin floral sourness with just a hint of yeast and malt. The taste is incredible, a nice mix of banana and citrus, reminiscent of a good wheat beer but with a slight cherry tartness that marks it as a good farmhouse ale.  The flavor is sweet, sour, and slightly bitter all at once with no strong hop aftertaste at all, there’s no overbearing flavor of alcohol to get in the way.  It’s a good mix between our individual favorite styles: I like wheat beer that’s heavy on the banana/clove/coriander taste and Jess is a fan of Lambics with their fruity tartness – Le Merle is a wonderful blend of all these flavors.

Jess’s Ranking: A
Michael’s Ranking: A+

Sofie(6.50% ABV), Goose Island Brewing, Chicago, Illinois

Goose Island is a company with which we’ve only recently become acquainted. Their Urban Wheat is one of the few wheat brews that Jess considers drinkable (high praise from her), and their Honker Pale Ale is very good. We’re looking forward to trying more from them.

The aroma of this one is light but sharp with floral and citrus notes (citrus is very indicative of this style). In the Sofie, though, this citrus scent is tempered with a smell that reminds us of good, dry champagne. The smell doesn’t lie, and this beer’s carbonation coupled with its light fruity flavor keep the idea of good champagne fresh in mind – just the right amount astringent dryness paired with a tart flowery flavor. The earthiness that is so common to this style is subtle and pleasant – if ever any beer made me think of my childhood of chewing sour mountain sorrel picked from rich, sweet soil, this one is it.  This is a beer that can please even the wine snobs among you with its complex and friendly flavor.

Jess’s Rating: A+
Michael’s Rating: A+

Modern farmhouse ales tend to use “wild” strains of yeast to provide a flavor profile different from most every beer you might encounter. The hop-heavy Tank 7 is a good pairing for grilled food, while the lighter Le Merle and Sofie are excellent with pungent cheeses and fish. They’re all pretty good for having a good refreshing drink during hot weather, or even enjoying during an Indian summer like we’re having right now in Arkansas. To purchase here locally, head to Colonial Wine and Spirits in Little Rock, Springhill Wine and Spirits in North Little Rock, or Liquor World in Fayetteville.

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4 thoughts on “‘Tis the Saison – Farmhouse Ales Review

  1. Miguel!

    I agree 100% with your Sofie assessment. Just had it a couple weeks ago. Great stuff!

    Regarding your wine snob comment, a good friend of mine is mostly a lager guy when it comes to beer, so of course I had to have him try a Saison and take him out of his comfort zone. I had him try the Saison Dupont which is much easier to find around here. It went over very well with him and our wives. Gotta love the funky flavor of an exceptional Saison!

    Cheers!
    G-LO

    • Thanks for your comment! We say “wine snob” with only the greatest amount of love, of course (some of our favorite people are wine snobs). We’re both newcomers to saisons, and the Sofie was the first one we tried. I’ll keep my eye out for the Saison Dupont – we’re heading to Colorado at the end of the month and we’re planning to search out some things we can’t get around here.

  2. Agreed! No offense to the winos out there. Wine is wonderful stuff, but I’m just into beer and whisky these days.

    I’m new to the Saisons as well. Southampton Bier de Mars was my first back in June. Then I had the Yards Saison, Great Divide Colette, all three Saison du BUFFS, Saison Dupont, Ithaca Saison, Goose Island Sofie, and I’m sure a couple more that I can’t remember right now. It’s a very interesting beer style and it’s oh so drinkable. Like you said, they remind you of a very crisp and bubbly champagne. Fun!

    Good luck in Colorado!

    Cheers!
    G-LO

  3. Pingback: The Arkansas Foodies 2011 Year-in-Review | Arkansas Foodies

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