I set out in October of 2015 to redefine my understanding of Farmhouse Ales in a more personal way, connecting to my heritage in agriculture. While a bit narcissistic, this was inspired by visiting my family’s homestead in Smith County, Kansas. I have since been back to Smith Center several times, each time returning to the progressively decaying farmhouse ruins just to the east of Gaylord, Kansas for photos. I have decided to focus on storytelling through beer, and while this will largely be fictitious, I do hope to tell three core stories based in history, develop the recipes and create ‘label’ art utilizing the photographs. How far off-center or unusual maybe be debatable, but I would like to tie each element, where possible, back to agriculture, farmer ethics, and highlight this classic American culture that is slowly eroding.
I also completed my yeast trials, and have decided to reset to the classic WLP565 and Belle Saison yeasts for these saison-basis ales. The Dupont strain is the standard by which most saison yeasts are compared, and a recent simple table strength saison brew, WLP565 delivered heavily on the desired fruity and spicy character with a medium mouthfeel. The basic recipes will heavily feature wheat in various forms. Wheat, soybean and milo are the cash crops of Smith County, with a nod to corn and switch grasses that are popular for the production of ethanol fuels. I have access to both spring and fall honey harvests from the county, which swing from mellow cinnamon notes to intense alfalfa forward grassiness. (Bonus: in a future post, I will compare dry wildflower traditional meads made from the fall and spring harvest honeys from the same apiary!). Honey will play a role in drying out these beers appropriately, and lend a floral nuance.
As for fruit, there are occasional fruit trees, however you get more orchards north of the Nebraska line than in the high plains of Kansas. That said, you can find apples, crab apples, plums, the occasional pear, and persimmon. More popular are the brambles that provide muscadine grapes, gooseberry, choke cherry, and so forth, and commonly used in canning and country wines. If I have the opportunity, I hope to pick a few pounds of berries for this purpose, or find something more or less equal in juice form as an addition in at least one of the recipes.
So to recap:
- Story telling through beer making, featuring indigenous ingredients as much as possible.
- Push the boundaries of “Farmhouse” or “Saison” styles, but keeping the ethos.
- Recipes should feature the core seasons, the heartbeat of a Kansas farmhouse.
- Wheat, wheat, and more wheat. Honey and fruit as dictated by regional selection.
- Strong pre-war German influence opens up Bavarian and Austrian influences. Lagered sour farmhouse?
- Saison yeast selections that favor both fruity and spicy character, good mouthfeel, and high attenuation.
- Art & Storyline to accompany each recipe.
The Recipe (trial)
I owe you another recipe (assume 80% Brewhouse efficiency). Nothing special here, other than a more classic saison recipe featuring wheat over oats. I also used a good portion of honey malt, rather than a little Special B to keep some body, sweetness, and a pale character in what could be a thin beer. Also – here is the evaluation of WLP565.
- White Labs WLP565, Belgian Saison I: Big classic aromas of pear, mango, banana, with tons of spice. Good head retention and silky mouthfeel. Good clarity. Fermented cool at 64F for 3 days and then free rise to 78F “Open” fermentation – no airlock, just loosely applied foil, per Drew Beechum’s recommendation. Finished dry at 1.008.
- Step Mashed to achieve high attenuation and strong foam creation.
- Used Avangarde Pils malt that was on the old side. May affect head retention and lend a stale cracker/bready character. Keep this in mind. Sub in fresh Pale Ale Malt or continental Pilsner as an option.
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Bonus: Some previews of the photography!