In late 2015, Flynn and I brewed 20-gallons of farmhouse ale over two separate batches. Due to scheduling conflicts, we were not able to evaluate the first batch before brewing the subsequent one. Therefore, we opted to keep the recipe and process identical (save for minor grist adjustments) and only introduce new microbes as variables. When all was said and done, we had seven different farmhouse ale variations to taste in a single session!
The elements we are seeking in the farmhouse ale are refreshing, moderately bitter, deep golden hued, fruity, spicy, earthy, floral, barnyard, mildly tart, and very dry. Below are the condensed tasting notes, provided in 10-word highlights for each beer.
Fantôme Saison dregs – overripe banana, green peppers, highly phenolic, mild acidity, dry finish
Fantôme Pissenlit dregs – mild sulfur aroma, damp leather/wet dog, dried fruit, tart
Jester King Ambrée dregs – clean acidity, herbal/woody, peach, raspberry, oaky barrel element, sour
Sante Adairius Farmhouse Noir dregs – sour gummy worms, mild sulfur, cherry/cranberry, moderate tartness, dry
Hill Farmstead Arthur dregs – biscuit/cracker/toffee character, caramel sweetness, thin body, sharp finish
Side Project Saison du Blé dregs – toasty aroma, offensive sulfur component, mild tartness, very dry finish
House yeast – classic phenols and esters, clove, no acidity, slight medicinal note
While each beer was unique and enjoyable, they all missed the mark on my vision for the farmhouse ale. Overall, each beer was overwhelming one-dimensional, indicating that perhaps the route to the perfect farmhouse ale is best achieved through blending (more on this later).
Due to limited foraged yeast availability at the time of brewing, these farmhouse ale batches were the exception to the wild-caught or spontaneous yeast philosophy that embodies Third Leap today. We discontinued their use after these batches. As a whole, Pissenlit had a nuanced barnyard element, Ambrée had an assertive acidity level, Farmhouse Noir was interestingly fruity, Saison was underwhelmingly bland, Arthur had too much residual sweetness, and Saison du Blé had high levels of sulfur notes.
The house yeast was representative of a commercial Belgian yeast strain; highly phenolic and full of esters. It should serve as a solid base for blending with acid beer and brett beer to achieve all of the major elements of the farmhouse ale that I am after. Fortunately, I now have five lactic acid bacteria isolates and four foraged yeast (hopefully Brettanomyces) isolates to trial for the acid beer and brett beer soleras. More on those to come in a later post!
As for changes to future batches, I aim to lower the SRM to obtain a “glowing orange” color instead of the murky brown these batches showed. Additionally, I plan to swap out wheat malt with rye malt to increase the spicy element that the house yeast is lacking. The acid beer and brett beer soleras will be used to dial in the acidity level to a bright (but not sour) level of 3.8-3.9 pH.