Tag Archives: Farmhouse Ale

Saison Saturday

I am finally coming back around to saison style beers.

Initially farmhouse beers were one of my favourite styles but as more and more breweries tried their hand at crafting their own version I found myself sampling more and more misses than hits. After which I became a bit burnt out on the whole concept so like any diligent beer geek I quit cold turkey.

Perhaps it was my recent uprooting that got me (re)thinking that it was time to check back in or perhaps it was the fact that hot Ontario summers demand a different kind of beer but I got curious to see just what kind of saisons are brewing now.

So as I sit outside on this very warm and breezy Saturday listening to my neighbours blare music with lyrics like "Country girl, shake it for me" I am indulging in Saison from Black Oak Brewing Co. based in Toronto.

This unfiltered Belgian style ale pours a hazy, well carbonated orange colour with some airy white head. This beer has a big yeasty nose with lots of coriander. First few sips are light bodied, very orange flavoured with a slight funky taste. As you drink the citrus really stays at the forefront. Not a challenging saison but a perfect thirst quencher for a sunny Saturday. It is like a wheat beer infused with oranges, more than that little slice on the side of your glass usually imparts. The coriander and clove spiciness hits the back of your throat the more you drink while the finish brings the yeast back into the mix. Overall a very, very nice beer one that is making me think I stayed away from saisons a little too long…



A Beer for all Saisons

A couple of years back now, and many posts ago, I wrote about the history of saison beers. At the time saisons or farmhouse ales were somewhat of a novelty but like many great fads saisons appear to be enjoying a bit of a renaissance this craft beer season.

So here is a bit of my original post on the origins of the style.

Saison is French for season and it was believed saison style ales were brewed in the autumn or winter for consumption during the following summer’s harvest.

However, according to Mosher’s Tasting Beer the current story about saisons being brewed to sustain workers  during the labour season, while quaint, is not exactly historically accurate. Rather the term saison applied to the eccentric beers of Liège as well as the beers of Mons in an area now known as the Saison region.

The commonalities uniting these beers were the ingredients used, saisons being brewed with a regional yeast strains, malt, wheat, oats, spelt and even buckwheat or broad beans, and not the coalitions of thirsty farmers and their intrepid beer-brewing wives – though personally I find the farmer version much more romantic.

Mosher suggests that fast forward to the twentieth century and the modern day versions of these saison beers may or may not contain wheat, tend to be bottle conditioned and have a higher ABV. One of the defining elements of this newly named style is the yeast, a ‘slow cranky’ strain believed to be related to red wine yeast.  This yeast is quite heat tolerant and produces lots of peppery phenols.  Spices are optional but pepper, orange, malts and grains of paradise are sometimes added.

A Saison Darkly

While I don’t have much new to report on the historical origins front I have tried a saison worth blogging about, A Saison Darkly from Stillwater Artisinal Ales.

This is the first beer I have tried from this brewery but I am a long-time admirer of the incredible artwork adorning the labels of their beers and I was intrigued enough by the promise of a dark take on the saison style to bring one home.

A Saison Darkly 8% ABV (great beer name to go with a gorgeous label) pours dark brown black with lots of mocha coloured head on the initial pour. There is pretty decent head retention on this beer. Lots of sediment remains in the bottom of the bottle, most decidedly the mark of a good saison, and there is a bit of cloudiness and sediment in the glass. A funky yeasty nose but there is also a coffee chocolate dark beer element to the nose. First couple of sips and this beer speaks more to the dark beer character rather than the farmhouse. I find the saison style gets a bit overwhelmed by the roasty malty character of this beer but that does not necessarily mean this is an inequitable partnership. As you drink the yeastiness comes through now and then reminding you you are not drinking a straight-up porter. Overall I think this is a great blending of styles and I look forward to sampling more from the Stillwater line-up.

To Bottle or Not to Bottle…

Recently I got the chance to try the new Driftwood Cuvee D’Hiver in bottle and draught form, which got me thinking about the character that emerges from the use of different packaging.

Draught, or draft, ale is beer from a cask or keg that is generally unpasteurized i.e. not sterilized using heat like the majority of bottled mass-market beer.  Keg beer is served from a pressurized container of beer connected to a tap through a beer line coupled with a bottle of high-pressure dispensing gas (typically CO²).  Keg beer is most commonly packaged in straight-sided stainless steel kegs called Sankey; however, the craft beer industry has revived the use of the older, barrel-shaped kegs known as Hoff-Stevens.  Cask beer is unfiltered and unpastuerized beer served unpressurized from a wooden barrel –the way draught beer was traditionally served prior to the introduction of sterilization and refrigeration processes.

Interestingly the consumer organization Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) was founded in 1971 to protect the manufacture of unpressurized beers.  CAMRA uses the term ‘real ale’ to differentiate beer served from a cask and beer served under pressure.  In terms of taste, given the option most beer drinkers would most likely choose draught because it retains most of the flavour the ale had when brewed.


Bottled and/or canned beers come in several different forms: Bottled, then pasteurized (see above), Flash-pasteurized,  a shorter process that uses higher temperatures than the regular pasteurization process, Micro (cold) filtered, which is supposed to retain the ‘draft character’ by eliminating the heat (a Miller trademark), and finally, Bottle-conditioned, beer with live yeast and sugar remaining in the bottle to ferment.

Canned beer undergoes a similar process to its bottled cousin and some brewers favour the can for it’s light weight, quick-chilling and unbreakability.  The middle-of-the-road in this debate is the draught in a bottle which eliminates the purported negative effects of the pasteurization process.  This beer is kept refrigerated right through to the point of sale.  Dissenters reckon there is no discernable difference in the taste between bottled and canned beer.


But most importantly how does ‘confined’ beer taste when compared with draught?  Some believe that the sterilization process, hot or cold, removes much of the flavour from the ale and canned beer in particular can pick up and retain the unpleasant flavours from the environment where they were packaged.  FYI the taste of sealed beers can be improved by pouring the ale into a glass before drinking.  So let’s put this to the test…


Cuvée d’Hiver (cuvée to vat or tank and Hiver winter) from Driftwood Brewery is brewed entirely with barley grown and malted on the Saanich Peninsula.  This winter version of farmhouse ale is brewed using a unique Belgian yeast strain resulting in a flavour described as “the sun, the rain, and the earth of Vancouver Island.”   First the bottled version, Cuvée d’Hiver pours a beautiful straw gold, hazy with minimal head.  The nose is quite malty and the mouthfeel is effervescent but slightly creamy at the same time due to sweetness.  Initially I was surprised to see this labelled winter ale, which typically conjures up notions of strength and darkness, as this beer tasted more like a farmhouse or saison light. The Cuvée d’Hiver on tap was much the same in appearance aside from more substantial head and lingering lacing on the glass.  There was a real crispness to the draught version and I felt that the fruit element came through to challenge the bready maltiness.  The carbonation in the ale seemed to outlast it’s bottled counterpart.


Overall I would give this beer a 4 out 5 in the bottle and a 4.5 out of 5 on tap.


*Thanks to Wikipedia, www.drinkfocus.com, http://driftwoodbeer.com and Tasting Beer.

Rating the Great Eight

Saturday marked a milestone in my beer drinking endeavours; I have now tried the entire line-up from the stellar Driftwood Brewery.  A consistent favourite of mine, one of those rare breweries that doesn’t ever seem to have an outlier, a steady beacon for those in unfamiliar waters –not sure what to order, don’t want to be disappointed, try a Driftwood.  In this case their motto sums it up quite nicely ‘We Live Great Beer’.  So what to do with this unwavering standard of excellence… well I thought perhaps it’s time to assess the ranks and rate the great eight.

First things first a little about the beers: Driftwood currently offers Driftwood Ale, Farmhand Ale, White Bark Ale, Blackstone Porter, Crooked Coast Amber Ale, Old Cellar Dwellar Barley Wine, Fat Tug IPA and Singularity Russian Imperial Stout.  Tasting points indicate that Driftwood is a classic ale with ‘restrained malt character allows the hops to shine through’; Farmhand is an ‘interpretation of a Southern-Belgian farmhouse ale, which uses a partial sour-mash and the addition of freshly ground black pepper’; White Bark is ‘traditional Belgian-style wheat ale is brewed with the addition of freshly ground coriander and curacao orange peel’; Crooked Coast is ‘original Alt-style beer of Dusseldorf, Crooked Coast brings together the aromas of  German noble hops and Munich malt’; Old Cellar Dwellar is ‘three times the malt bill and five times the hops of a normal strength beer’; Fat Tug is ‘a northwest style India Pale Ale that is characterized by an intense hop profile of grapefruit and melon and restrained malt notes’; Singularity is ‘a beer of infinite density spending four months in Kentucky Bourbon barrels’.

Okay so here goes, my attempt at a ranking based solely on my palate, predilections and place in the universe…

8. Crooked Coast Amber Ale

7. White Bark Ale

6. Fat Tug IPA

5. Singularity Russian Imperial Stout

4. Old Cellar Dweller Barley Wine

3. Driftwood Ale

2. Blackstone Porter

1. Farmhand Ale

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