Certain recent beer trends—adding fruit to everything, making IPA nobody can see through, etc.—are more immediate than others, and the re-emergence of beer being released under the “grisette” name has been more of a subtle return. In his book Farmhouse Ales, Phil Markowski offers a summary of the historic grisette: “Oral accounts of those who remember the old grisettes say they were low-alcohol, light-bodied, saison-like golden ales of no great distinction.” That said, modern interpretations are nudging grisette’s style bounds in various directions—some even with distinction! Nearly all of these renditions were introduced in the past few years.
On the whole, the grisettes tasted for this column were easy-drinking, crisp beers that indeed landed close to, if not inside, Saison Land. The historic detail—even relative to the normally fraught realm of beer history—is especially puny for grisette. This light style traces its lineage to the mining Hainaut province of late-1800s Belgium, and its name—meaning ‘little gray’ in French—has also been applied to societal classes, fabrics and mushrooms. Its grist includes malted wheat (rather than its typical unmalted form); in his book Brewing with Wheat, Stan Hieronymus explains its production further: “Wheat germinated only briefly during malting to ensure the retention of starches, kilning at a surprisingly low temperature of 110° F, intended mostly to dry the grains. Fermentation took place first in a kettle, then in barrels, and the barrels were regularly topped with mixed beer and yeast recovered from the first stages of fermentation.”
Most modern brewers attempting grisettes will apply some combination of: pale, golden, dry, effervescent, crisply bitter, malted wheat, saison yeast, Brettanomyces, barrel fermentation. A wide range of turf was covered by these here—from hop-inclined (To Øl) to oaky tart (Sante Adairius Rustic Ales) to pure refreshment (Cerebral Brewing). We’ve certainly done worse in the name of style experimentation.
More Noteworthy Releases: We’ll see a lot of new grisettes coming up, and no complaints there. Sly Fox Brewing Co.’s Grisette Summer Ale is scheduled to return in June. I didn’t get my greedy little mitts onto Green Bench Brewing Co. Les Grisettes (a 100% Brettanomyces interpretation of the style), but you may have better luck. Partizan Brewing in London (with gorgeous label art) produces a variety of grisettes, from spiced to lemongrass-lychee. Grisette has been trademarked in Belgium since 1985, so the style’s return is often more evident elsewhere.