Craft Beer Cellar‘s Style of the Month for May is farmhouse ales. But what does that mean, exactly?

While farmhouse ale has become synonymous with saison,

it is actually a category within which two styles reside:

saison and biere de garde.

Saison is certainly the better known of the two. The history behind the style is simple enough. Saison – French for “season” – was a beer made as refreshment for farm workers during the warm summer months. With its origins in the French-speaking Belgian region of Wallonia, saisons were brewed in the winter, with cooler temperatures more desirable for fermentation. Brewers would use whatever was on hand at the farm to make the beer, meaning the beer often varied widely from one farm to the next.

While brewing methods have obviously changed, there is still a great deal of variety within this style. Generally speaking, saisons showcase a dry, rustic finish, relatively high carbonation, with citrus and spice notes and a moderate hop profile. The degree to which these traits come through can vary greatly from one saison to the next

Low ABV saisons – often called table beers – check in as low as 3.5%. You can also find saisons as high as 9% ABV.

saison phil markowski two roads farmhouse ales dupont

“Farmhouse Ales: Culture and Craftsmanship in the Belgian Tradition” by Phil Markowski, brewmaster of Two Roads Brewing. Their saison, Worker’s Comp, is a testament to the old days of traditional farmhouse brewing with its use of several grains, including barley, wheat, oats, and rye.

The popularity of saisons in American craft brewing took off after Two Roads Brewing brewmaster Phil Markowski wrote his book, Farmhouse Ales: Culture and Craftsmanship in the Belgian Tradition, in 2004. This ultimately led to a wide range of variants within the style: saisons with brettanomyces yeast, fruit added, dry-hopped and even dark saisons are out there waiting to be explored.

Saison Dupont Vieille Provision, brewed by Brasserie Dupont in Tourpes, Belgium, is widely regarded as the benchmark of the style. Citrus, spice, and even a little bit of earthy funk are present in the nose. Peppery notes and a little bit of spice give way to a super clean, dry finish. A slightly resinous hop flavor lingers after each sip.

Well-known American versions of the style include Boulevard Tank 7, Allagash Saison, Great Divide Colette, and North Coast le Merle. Boulevard adds brettanomyces to Tank 7 to make its Brett Saison, a popular annual release.

Another beautiful aspect of saison is its ability to pair well with just about any food. Just about all saisons have enough body to stand up to the heartiest of dishes but, thanks to its dry and effervescent properties, won’t overpower lighter fare.

Biere de garde – which loosely translates to “beer for keeping” – is a more malt-forward style that originated in northern France. Traditionally, this beer is lagered (cold-conditioned) This process gives biere de garde its more malty, rounded character, and removes some of the spicy, fruity and yeasty notes that we get from the warm fermentation of a saison. Some brewers will use an actual lager yeast for biere de garde.

two roads phil markowski

Two Roads brewmaster Phil Markowski. (Photo courtesy of Two Roads Brewing Company)

Markowski writes: “Saison is the more charismatic of the two, outgoing and quick to get your attention. Biere de garde is the quiet cousin – it takes time to get to know and appreciate its charms.”

Sound good? Stop by your local Craft Beer Cellar, where our Beer Geeks can help you choose from plenty of options from this popular style.