Format Reviewed: Kindle version
Following on from Brew Like a Monk, my reading on brewing in Belgium moved on to Farmhouse Ales: Culture and Craftsmanship in the Belgian Tradition. The world of Saisons is yet another that has piqued my interest of late, and this appeared to be just the book for me. And, for the most part, I was not wrong.
The book starts with a brief history of farmhouse brewing in Flanders. Almost all of the ancient brewing history is undocumented, and there were most likely almost as many styles of beer as there were farmhouses brewing them. Industrialisation of the Flanders region lead to increases in population, which in turn lead to an increased demand for beer, and larger breweries taking over from the small. Around this time, the types of beer being produced began to be influenced by German lager beers; however the some independent farm breweries remained and the beers they produced evolved broadly into the two styles this book focuses on: Biere de Garde and Saison.The second chapter, “A Word on Style”, is perhaps the most infuriating part of the book for me. Not because I disagree with it, but because for almost all of the rest of the book, the author appears to disagree with it. The problem is of course not beer styles in Belgian and French farm ales, so much as the lack of them. There are beers that are benchmarks of the two styles; but the majority of beers produced only fall slightly within a style, brewers treating the style as more of a base to start from; or even more commonly, just as a marketing tactic. When paying attention to the remaining chapters of this book and their treatment of style, one chapter stands out: It is chapter six, “A History of Saison” by Yvan de Baets. As a Belgian, you can just see that given half a chance he forgets that the all beers he talks about are all supposedly under one all encompassing style, Saison. If you read one chapter of this book, make it chapter six; of course you really should read all of them, they are worth it!
The book is divided into two main parts; Biere de Garde and Saison. Each part is divided into three chapters (with chapter 6 being the addition that Saison gets): The world of, Drinking, and Brewing. The world of chapters describe the history and present of the beers. What history the author had found, and what the current breweries produce, shows that when brewing a modern BJCP styled Saison or Biere de Garde, you are not brewing anything remotely historical. That said both historical and present, these beers represent a departure from the standard English ale or German lager that we are all used to.
Which leads to the chapters on drinking, and then onto brewing. These will give you an excellent idea of what to expect, what is required, and how to get there. Once finished, you will yet again (as in Brew Like a Monk) be reminded how Belgian brewing is less about style and more about attitude. While a good English porter will always be enjoyable to me, the simultaneously cerebral yet artistic attitude that accompanies Belgian brewing, is one that I find immensely seductive. And if you are the same, this is definitely a must read.