For a very long time, I restricted my beer intake to ales. I thought that lagers were pedestrian, porters were too heavy and stouts were overrated. No, I dug in my heels and stayed exclusive to ales, namely the pale and brown varieties. Of course, this was stupid because ignoring the other styles and derivations of those styles locks one out of so much. And, let’s face it, ales can get really heavy after a few too many.
One of the styles that I missed out on was the saison, or the French-style farmhouse ale. Traditionally brewed during the winter, saisons were aged and cracked open for summertime refreshment. Loaded with yeast, saisons have very tart flavor profile. Traditional saisons were low in alcohol content as the fermentation process was slowed down by the cold conditions. After all, farmhouse ales were brewed in the farmhouse and exposed to the elements. There are a number of very fine saisons on the market so I will spare making a list. And, well, this review is not about a saison.
No, we’re going to talk about a saison derivative, the grisette. According to the American Homebrewers Association, grisettes originate in the Belgian province of Hainaut. During the late 1800s, the province was transition from an agrarian economy to one based on the mining industry:
“Grissette is commonly said to refer to young women who worked in factories and wore a distinctive gray frock as a uniform. As one story goes, these young women, grisettes, would hold trays of ale to refresh the workers as the exited the mines.”
So, there you go. It’s about marketing.
Picture, if you will, Detroit after World War II. Imagine women handing out beers to the men coming off the line at car factories. I digress.
The fine people at Smuttynose Brewing Company are bottling a new set of beers under the Smuttlabs label. Similar to Stone’s Stochasticity Project, Smuttlabs is the New Hampshire brewery’s small batch line of innovative beers. Thus far, they have put out a lot of sours, in the form of goses and Berliner weisses. Smutty’s Grisette is pays homage to the coal miners of Belgium. The beer pours pale yellow and packs the requisite yeasty smell. But, it breaks from the saison, as spice replaces tart. It’s a clean-drinking, refreshing beer, perfect for clearing one’s throat after a day in the mines.
One of the great things that craft brewers have done is revive lost brewing styles. Anderson Valley’s goses and Smuttylabs’ Grisette are two well done instances of brewing tradition brought back to life.
Brewer: Smuttynose Brewing Company’s Smuttlabs
Style: Farmhouse ale
ABV: 3.5% IBU: n/a
Container: 12.7 oz. bottle
Price: $6.49 Point of Purchase: Oliver’s Beverage, Albany, N.Y.
To The Eye: Pale yellow and cloudy. Slight foam ring that gives way after a few minutes.
To The Nose: Citrus and yeast.
To The Palate: Peppery and lemon. Others have said grassy, but I don’t necessarily taste it.
Aftertaste: Clean with a little citrus lingering.
Boozy Factor: Nonexistent.
On a Scale of 1 to 10, with 10 as highest: 7.25