Something ancient has been brewing in Poulsbo, a style of beer once thought to be lost to the ages has been resurrected thanks to a collaboration between Western Red Brewing and the Slippery Pig Brewery.
“This is uncharted territory for us,” said Slippery Pig owner Dave Lambert, during a late January interview as he and Denver Smyth, owner of Western Red Brewing, worked to cook up the duo’s first batch of Norwegian farmhouse ale. Both men were wearing kilts in honor of the auspicious union.
“If I’m going to brew with Dave, I’ve gotta brew like Dave,” Smyth said, referring to Lambert’s affinity of the highland garment.
“We’re so accustomed to using the term ‘farmhouse’ with Belgian,” Lambert said, explaining that the term ‘farmhouse’ has become synonymous with a high degree of variability based on how each individual strain of yeast is kept.
Saisons, which are a Belgian farmhouse ale originating from the French-speaking Wallonia region, are a prime example of a farmhouse style beer that have become increasingly popular over the years for their varying and nuanced flavor profiles.
“The yeast makes it unique for sure,” Smyth said of the style. “the ingredients they use, the mash temperature, the time, it’s different for every place you go. The only characteristic that will carry over in any of them is the back-lying yeast flavor, because they use a similar yeast.”
Smyth was sure to place a hard emphasis on the word “similar” in that sentence.
“Yeast morphs and changes faster than any other organism on the planet,” he noted. ”So even if Dave gave me a pitch of yeast, by the third or fourth brew I’ve done, now it takes on its own [characteristics] and I will have my own style of yeast.”
And therein lies the crux of the Norwegian farmhouse style of beer: a high degree of variability in brewing conditions from “farmhouse” to “farmhouse,” while still retaining the underlying flavor of the traditional kveik yeast.
While the stainless steel and concrete interior of the brew room at Western Red Brewing was certainly a far cry from the beer’s agrarian, Scandinavian origins, Smyth and Lambert still used a fair amount of research to assure some degree of authenticity to their undertaking. For example, the pair was sure to secure a hefty bushel of juniper boughs to be used in the brewing process, to ensure that the final product retained its signature hint of juniper. Not to mention the obvious connection held in the fact that the juniper was harvested from Poulsbo’s First Lutheran Church.
While totally foreign to the brewers, the process of mixing up the batch of Norwegian farmhouse ale seemed to hearken back to a time before any clear scientific understanding of the brewing process had been gathered. As Smyth explained, traditionally, before lab-grown yeast was commercially available, it was stored within wooden articles that were used in the brewing process, such as a brewers paddle or a wooden necklace that would later be tossed into the wort as it brewed.
“The yeast lived in the wood” Smyth said. “That would’ve been your cherished paddle, passed down from generation to generation. The yeast clung to that paddle, that’s what made fermentation happen, long before we even knew what fermentation was.”
“There was this mystery and magic to brewing, nobody knew why it worked,” he explained. “a lot of mothers, for their daughters wedding, they would brew a special batch of beer and use two paddles — the new one and the old one — and the daughter, as a wedding gift, would receive the new paddle. It would have that yeast infusion and it would pass on from generation to generation through these wooden paddles.”
On Wednesday, Feb. 27 Western Red and Slippery Pig released their Norwegian farmhouse ale. Lambert was doubtful that the batch of beer would last until the weekend, but of what he had to offer, he was pleased.
Bearing its characteristically unique hint of juniper and a slight sweetness with a lemony finish, the collaboration between the two breweries has seen the creation a dry, very drinkable ale with a robust pedigree to match it charming flavor. At around 5.5 percent ABV, one can enjoy the fruits of Lambert and Smyth’s labor without worrying about waking their inner viking.
While Lambert said the supply was limited, he anticipated he and Smyth would be mixing up another batch soon in anticipation of Viking Fest.
For those lucky enough to arrive before it’s all gone, the as-of-yet unnamed Norwegian farmhouse ale is available at both Western Red Brewing and the Slippery Pig Brewery in Poulsbo.