Hello Sour Beer Friends!
Today I bring you a review of a very tasty sour farmhouse ale named Arthur, by Hill Farmstead Brewery of Greensboro, Vermont. Operated by Sean Hill on the site of his family’s farm, Hill Farmstead is my definition of the archetypal rural craft brewery. Producing around 2,000 barrels per year, the small brewery serves it beers on draft and in bottles to on-site visitors as well as at a handful of local bars. Personally, If I were to ever try my hand in the world of professional brewing, this would be a scenario I could imagine being very enjoyable. Small batch brewing both gives a brewery the ability to be more flexible with its recipes and allows time to devote to beers that may take longer to ferment or age. Additionally, by eliminating the majority of distribution and serving beer directly to its customers, a brewery can actually be profitable from a low volume production. While Hill Farmstead is a rural brewery off of the beaten path, Sean doesn’t suffer from any lack of customers. In addition to winning medals in the World Beer Cup before opening Hill Farmstead, Sean has received significant acclaim on the beer rating site ratebeer.com, earning “New Brewery of the Year” for 2010 and “Best Brewery in the World” for 2013. Living in Pennsylvania, I was thoroughly excited to get a chance to try a bottle of Arthur, a lightly sour farmhouse saison named after Sean’s great uncle Arthur who lived upon the land where the brewery now operates.
When we poured Arthur, our glasses were filled with a highly carbonated, golden yellow, beer with a thick head of delicate white foam. Taking a good whiff inside the rim of the glass reveals pleasant aromas of citrus fruit, lemongrass and dried flowers. Investigating a bit deeper, we found light notes of wet hay, sourdough, and a hint of black pepper.
Taking our first tastes of the beer, we found a mild sourness which reminded us of lemons due to the citrus notes in the aroma. This souring was soft, clean, and was the result of lactic acid content from acid malt, Lactobacillus, or both. There is no acetic acid (vinegar) in this beer’s profile. The malt profile in Arthur is light, pale, and very much in the background behind both the souring and the hop character. While the malt provides a low level of sweetness, there is also a light sourdough-like breadiness present which likely results from both the base malt and Brettanomyces in the fermentation.
The hops in Arthur are floral and citrusy. Their presence is notable mainly in the aroma as dried flowers and as lemon-like flavors. There is a mild bitterness present as well but this is less intense than the souring (which itself is fairly mild). A pleasant dryness and a touch of fruitiness in the flavor profile indicate the presence of Brettanomyces. The flavors of sourdough and powdered flour are also common flavors produced by Brettanomyces that we found in this beer. A less common characteristic, but one that I believe may arise from this yeast’s interaction with either the other farmhouse yeast strains, the hops, or both, is the distinct flavor and aroma of lemongrass. I have also experienced this lemongrass character in farmhouse saisons produced by Crooked Stave and really enjoy its presence in beers of this style.
Overall, Arthur is defined by its light, subtle flavors and the balance between these flavors. Nothing dominates here: The souring, hops, pale malt, and yeast flavors are each equally light and delicious, producing a beer that is tremendously drinkable and refreshing. Arthur falls solidly within the “farmhouse” range of the wide possibilities within the saison style. Classic black pepper spiciness and higher alcohol fruitiness of saisons such as Saison Dupont are very mild or absent altogether in this example. At 6% ABV, Arthur drinks like a table beer of half that strength. If Arthur is to be used as an example, I can see why Hill Farmstead has become a buzz word amongst beer geeks and why flocks of people with empty growlers in hand are navigating their way down winding rural roads in Greensboro every Wednesday through Sunday!