A Hazy Shade of Winter: Homebrewing a Belgian-Style Session Ale

BYOB by | Feb 2017 | Issue #121
Illustration by Ellen Crenshaw

It’s true—love is in the air, spring is springing, and flowers are (almost) ready to bloom. Those heavy winter ales are heading to the depths of the fridge like sweaters returning to the back of the closet. Warmer weather means looking forward to spending time on the grass and under the sun. If you haven’t brewed last month’s Cream Ale, though, you still have time to get it ready for Session Beer Day on April 7.

I’ve written plenty of articles about sub-4.5 percent ABV beers—largely inspired by the kings of session beers, the British. This month, let’s focus instead on a beer of Belgian origin: Saison’s lesser-brewed cousin Grisette.

Born from the industries and mines of Belgium’s Hainaut province instead of the farm fields, this workingman’s beer is named for either the gray of the stone or the dresses of the factory girls. But for all the muddled history (seriously, no one seems to have thought to write down local creations), there are a few facts about this style that everyone can agree on.

First, Grisette was clearly a lower weight beer with original gravities in the 1.030s. It was a “White Ale,” with 10 to 20 percent malted wheat and maybe oats. And it was usually served young with less Brett and yeast expression. Hops—including dry hops—were the focus. Traditionally, these beers would use classic European varieties, but I think this style lends itself to playing with any new hop variety. Think of it as a liquid vacation from the mines!

Dreaming of a Grisette
For 5.5 gallons at 1.037 OG | 22 IBU | 2.3 SRM | 4.0% ABV

6 lbs Belgian Pilsner malt
1 lb German wheat malt
0.5 lbs flaked oats

Single infusion rest at 150°F for 60 minutes.

0.25 oz Magnum | 14% AA | 90 minutes
1.0 oz Hallertau Blanc | 10% AA | 10 minutes
1.0 oz Hallertau Blanc | 10% AA | dry hop 7 days

Wyeast 3711 French Saison

Ferment cool (63–65°F) to suppress yeast character.