May in Delaware. The air is filled with the sounds of soccer moms cursing at gas prices and gurgling sump pumps. Ah, Spring. Ahhhh, Sprrrrrring. As forests of onion grass await your dull mower blades, perhaps it’s a good time to plan your yard work.
Before we recycle the skunky gas, change the lawnmower oil and wipe the dirt off all the unreturned tools you borrowed from neighbors last year, let’s start with the really important task: choosing your post-lawn-cutting beer. Hot summer days call for a hoppy beer like Victory Hopdevil, Flying Fish Hopfish IPA and Dogfish Head 60-minute or 90-minute IPA.
But this is May, so let’s make a new tradition: Farmhouse Ale, also known as Saison. From the French-speaking region of Belgium, Saison, or “season,” is an ale traditionally brewed in the autumn or winter for the late fall harvest. They’d brew up a mess of this ale because Belgian farm workers were “entitled” up to 5 liters of beer a day during workdays. This is about 14 12-ounce bottles of beer each day. Now THAT is an “entitlement program!”
You may now wonder how that’s working out. I called the Minister of Agriculture and before he could answer my questions about Belgian agricultural imports and exports, he burped loudly and began to snore.
According to their embassy website, Belgium imports a lot of food. I’m sending the minister a pizza. You may be wondering why I suggest a farmhouse ale when it’s supposed to be enjoyed in late harvest season. Well, the weather is pretty much the same right now and, um, uh… okay, I just like it this time of year. Besides, we have a lot of bottles of the stuff and I need to make room in the shed for the rake… or something. Farmhouse Red by the Philadelphia Brewing Co. is worth the trip over the state line for a case. Your experience might differ and for me it smells wonderfully yeasty with the scent of cherry and cranberry fruit. There’s some sweet malt flavor mingled with rye bread and a tart mouthfeel leading to a really clean finish.
My two other favorites are Brooklyn Sorachi Ace using the rare Japanese-developed hop Sorachi Ace, noted for its unique lemon zest and lemongrass aroma. It’s light, fluffy and just perfect for a warm spring day when it’s time to light the grill. One day, do yourself a favor and buy a 750 ml bottle of Saison Dupont. No relation to the Delaware du Ponts (I know because I asked the distributor and the buyer at the Hotel du Pont), this “Best in Class” is brewed in West-Hainaut, Belgium and is (finally!) available in Delaware. Tart and yeasty with a dry finish, tell me if you notice different notes of citrus. The Dupont Brewery (Brasserie Dupont and still no relation, Delaware) uses a Pilsner malt, Kent Goldings and Styrian Goldings hops. American brewers try to copy the famous Dupont yeast, but there’s some debate about what this world class yeast really is. Its flavors are really complex and some experts think the uniquely spicy Dupont yeast is a combination of multiple strains, and maybe it was originally a red wine strain that has been adapted to beer fermentation.
This goes way beyond my knowledge, so I’ll ask Belgium’s Minister of Agriculture when he wakes up. If this column ends without his answer, then you’ll know he, too, is hitting the Saison a bit early in the year.