Farming and brewing have been entertwined for most of recorded history. It is believed that beer was the catalyst for civilization; we needed organized farming communities to grow the grain for the mash. At the same time spontaneously fermented beers and sour beers have grown from these early traditions. These traditions are still followed in Belgium and France.
Until recently, the US has not had as much of a farmhouse tradition. The US traditions for beer and brewing have stemmed from English and German traditions. Though those cultures do have some sour beers, the styles were not as highly sought as they have been in their recognized homes.
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So now, let's get into this book a bit shall we. The majority of Farmhouse Ales is spent discussing two styles of beer, Saison and Bier De Garde. When you look up either of these beers in the BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) guidelines, you will find that neither of them fall within the sour beer category. I can already hear you asking what this has to do with sours then?
As we read along in the book we come to find that the Belgian tradition for beer is less about cut and dry defined styles. In the US where there is a place for everything and everything has a place this can be a bit disconcerting. Both Saison and Beire de Garde are clearly defined, but then the names they are defined as have meanings far different than what we expect them to. Saison is a word for season. These beers are seasonal changing just as the seasons change. Biere de Garde roughly means beer for storage. This is a beer meant to be aged. Again neither clearly defines the styles they represent. Unlike a stout where you know exactly what to expect or an IPA. The one thing that can be counted on, Bier de Garde is the French interpretation of the Saison, and vice versa.
In the origins of both of these beers we find the methods of storage (traditionally oak barrels) lends itself to souring bacteria. It can be just as common to find sour versions of these beers today as non soured versions. And both versions will be true to style.
In the study of not only the beer styles of Belgium but also sour beers, this book is a must read. There is enough history in the book to keep even non brewers entertained.
Time for a pint...