Celebrating 150 Years of Continuous Farming With a Farmhouse Ale

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150 Years of Farming

The other week we got a very cool plaque in the mail (picture above). The plaque came from the Province of Ontario and its purpose was to recognize our family for 150 years of continuous farming in Canada (meaning that someone in the family was farming, not necessarily the entire family). We thought this was pretty dang cool and in order to commemorate our family having farmed as long as Canada has been around as a nation, we decided it was logical to make a beer to commemorate the occasion. (Sidebar: we believe it may actually be longer than 150 years of farming. The 1850 census listed a family member as living in Cheltenham at the time, and the chances of them living in this area and not farming during that time period is pretty much zero. So we think it may actually be MORE than 150 years of continuous farming!)

 

(Yep, we actually have a map from 1859, and we’re on it!)

 

Cool story, so what beer did you make?

Glad you asked! This was simultaneously a very easy and very difficult decision to make. It was really obvious that we should make a farmhouse ale of some sort. The fact that we are a) an on-farm brewery; and b) really fond of farmhouse ales made it foolish for us to consider making anything other than a farmhouse ale to celebrate the occasion. The challenge then was deciding what to make. The term farmhouse ale itself is arguably the most broad beer category out there. It can mean so, so, so many things to so many people and generally acts as a catch all for anything from Biere de Garde to Saison and Gueuze and just about everything in between. The traditional definition (to me at least) for a farmhouse ale is:

 

                                                                                             “a beer that is made on a farm
                                                                                                           from the ingredients produced,
                                                                                                                     and available on that same farm”

 

This definition quickly presented a few problems for us:

1.       I was formulating this recipe in November/December, 2017. Therefore, most of the crops that were grown during the 2017 season were long gone. Meaning no access to our on-farm hops (they all went into our wet hopped pale ale, From the Bine), grain (we didn’t grow any this year anyway to be honest), or yeast (it was averaging -30 to -35C at this time, so not an ideal time for spontaneous fermentation).

2.      We wanted to be able to release this beer within a reasonable time frame so that we weren’t too far removed from the memory of 2017 and the Canada 150 celebration. I think we were supposed to get the plaque sooner than the end of Canada’s 150 anniversary, but who knows. We may also have just submitted the request form later than we were supposed to. Maybe it was both. Either way, it meant a barrel aged farmhouse ale was out of the question unless we wanted to wait 8-12 months, and release it in late 2018, possible early 2019. Not ideal.

3.      We didn’t want to make another IPA or pale ale and just use well water or something lame as our on-farm novelty ingredient (and our water line just so happened to have froze a couple times anyway #frozenpipesIPA).

So with all these problems in mind it became clear that this farmhouse ale wasn’t going to meet our own imposed, all-encompassing definition of what a farmhouse ale truly is. So it’s really just a farmhouse inspired ale now, I guess… Man is beer terminology/labelling ever hard.

In the end, we landed on using the only crop we had left at our disposal, Hay! We contemplated foraging for chestnuts and variety of other things that we know are around the property at this time of year, but after a while hay just made a lot more sense in the flavour profile of a farmhouse ale. The next question was whether we should we use first or second cut of hay? After a short sensory test (I just touched, smelled and tasted them) it was abundantly clear that second cut hay (i.e. the second cutting of the same hay field in a given season) was much sweeter, stinkier (in a good way) and just all around better. So BAM, we had the on farm ingredient we needed for the beer and it was one that we grew on the farm in 2017!

 

Enough about hay, let’s talk beer!

 

Style: I would loosely describe this beer as a Franco-Belgian inspired farmhouse ale.

ABV: 7.1%

Color: almost amber in appearance. Sort of like a light Biere de Garde in color.

Smell: Whiffs of clove, fruit, and malty sweetness.

Taste: This beer finishes bone dry but has some residual sweetness from the use of crystal malts and a surprisingly full, round, and gentle mouthfeel. It presents itself with a lively carbonation that dances around on your tongue (and into your nostrils if you inhale too aggressively/closely! Ask me how I know)

Upon being pouring into the glass, a large off-white head opens up your senses to notes of gentle citric fruit, spice and a hint of hay! As it hits your tongue, notes of clove and banana quickly present themselves before fading into light notes of dried fruit, minerality, and a lingering earthy, herbal character.

Other notes: This beer was bottle conditioned for 2 weeks at 72F. It is a living product that should age gracefully in your cellar. With some aging you can expect some of the fresher noble hop character to fade, and the flavors to blend together more coherently. Perfect for drinking now, or several months from now.

 

Where Can You Get It Right Now?
  • Bistro Riviere (82 Main Street, Erin, ON)

 

Final Thoughts on the Beer

Overall we are very pleased with how this beer turned out. It was an absolute nightmare to use the hay in the beer (mashing in by hand with grain and hay is exhausting and not the smoothest experience), but we feel that the hay does add a light earthy, herbal quality to the beer that otherwise hasn’t been there when making this beer (or versions similar to it) in the past. I’m not sure if we’ll ever use hay again in another beer; we might if for no other reason than to see how much flavor we can drive out of it by a larger addition, but it will likely be a little while before the memory of that brew day fades! Otherwise we find that it provides a nice subtle addition to one of our favorite winter farmhouse ale recipes.

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