American Farmhouse Ale

I was about to shoot the following thoughts and questions to Stan Hieronymus, who will release an excellent book called Brewing Local  in September (I’ve seen an advance copy). In it, Stan considers the nature of local beer, a straightforward question that turns out to be as solid as smoke, drifting lazily out of reach. You start poking that question with a few others–local ingredients? local styles? local tradition?–and it drifts ever further away. Of course, Stan doesn’t just pose the questions, he tries to answer them, and you can read his conclusions this fall.

I’ve long planned to brew an American farmhouse ale, adapting the spirit of the old 19th century Belgian saisons to America. They were one of the products that came off the farm, made with what the farmer had on hand. They made those beers the way Belgians of the time did, with crazy-long boils and coolships, and I don’t intend to make a beer like that. Indeed, I don’t want to make a throwback beer. Imagine a modern farmer who happened to have a small brewery on-site. What would he make?

  • Corn is a must for an American beer, wheat seems like basically a must. Six-row barley might be in order, though I’m not trying to brew a 19th century beer–a modern farmhouse is likely to be growing modern barley. Oregon State recently released Full Pint malt, which is available at my local homebrew store.
  • Sugar beets are commonly grown in Eastern Oregon, so a pound of White Satin seems in order.
  • Hops are local to Oregon, but I figure a farmer who planted them for his own crops would be concerned about yield. Super Galena, Crystal, and Cascade are the most productive varieties. (I’ve never seen Super Galena for sale, so that’s out–plus, Galenas are pretty rough hops.) Neomexicanus hops would be one choice, too–but they are not to my knowledge grown in Oregon nor, based on where they are grown (New Mexico) would they be much suited to Oregon.
  • Oregon now has a couple yeast suppliers, Wyeast and Imperial, though neither make a locally-obtained strain. Actually, Imperial has a yeast called Citrus that was harvested wild–I suppose it could be from Oregon. In any case, the strain should be pretty rustic if we’re shooting for a farmhousy effect.
  • Other fruits/vegetable/spices could be thrown in, but I’m interested in doing one without them at the outset.

The one thing I think needs to be in play is the American penchant for late hops. This has become our national tradition, and it deviates quite a bit from the way the old Belgian farmers made their beers. So: a potpourri of grain including corn (mandatory), some sugar beet sugar, Cascades and/or Crystal hops, and a rustic yeast strain. That’s as far as I got. What I was going to ask Stan, but what I’ll throw out to hive mind instead (including Stan!), is this: how would you make it? What would characterize an American farmhouse ale? Is this exercise even valid–or at the very least interesting? I think so, but I’d like to hear your thoughts.

from Beervana


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