When I find a topic interesting there is a part of my brain that turns on and drives me to consume every piece of information possible about that subject. As a kid it wasn’t enough for me to know that Michael Jordan, my favorite athlete, once had to wear a number 12 jersey after his 23 was taken before a game. No, I had to know the team they were playing against (Orlando Magic) that game, and later learn which basketball card MJ showed up on wearing the 12 jersey (Sam Vincent). It’s why I can tell you (even though I’m sure you’ll never ask) that Elgin Baylor was hired by the Clippers as GM the day before the Bulls started their 1986 series with the Celtics in which Jordan famously scored 63 points during Game 2. I tell you this not to impress you with how much time I spent as kid reading about MJ, but to illustrate what should now be pretty obvious. I need to know everything related to the topic of my obsession, tangential and pointless though it may be.
As I've grown older my adolescent obsession with MJ has been replaced with beer. For health reasons and due to my aforementioned tendency to consume information, I now consume beer knowledge at a frequency that greatly outpaces my actual beer consumption. I read as much as I can stand, and while I don’t consider myself an expert by any means, I do like to think I know the basics. In other words, if I see a beer listing on a menu I don’t expect to see a style I don’t recognize.
Well, that happened to me recently and it made me quite happy because of the opportunity it provided. Tasty beers find their way to me fairly often, but it’s not common for them to be paired with the chance to learn something new. A collaboration Strawberry Rhubarb Grisette brewed by QuestBrewing and Burial Beer Co. provided such an opportunity. I’m familiar with Strawberry and Rhubarb, but a Grisette? That was a new one for me. What is it? Naturally, I googled as soon as I had an opportunity but I was let down as there was almost no information available on the web. About the only detail I could find was the fact that a grisette is considered a miner’s version of the saisons famously brewed for farmhands. Not satisfied with so little information, I decided to reach out to the people at Quest Brewing and Sly Fox (another brewer of grisette) to see if they could help me fill in the details. Here is what I learned.
In the late 1800’s, the Hainaut province in Belgium started transforming into a mining region. Brewers, eager to satiate the locals, began producing recipes of a light gold ale aimed to quench the thirst of the miners. At the end of a shift, women adorning gray dresses commonly referred to as grisettes, greeted the miners with trays of the ale. At the peak of the Belgian mining industry there were upwards of 30 different grisettes made in the region. Today, only one brewery in Belgium, Brasserie Fraiart, markets a grisette. However, according to Phil Markowski, author of Farmhouse Ales, this is more of a pseudo brand name used for marketing than an actual representation of grisette as a traditional style.
The recipe of a grisette, much like their cousin the saison, is difficult to nail down traditionally speaking. When asked for specifics about the style, Sly Fox’s brewmaster Brian O’Reilly, thought that trying to throw grisette into a style was similar to attempting to classify free form jazz music inside a specific genre. Hard though it may be for the modern beer connoisseur to accept, Belgians by nature aren’t typically into defining styles in the same neat and tidy way an American or German brewer would. What I can tell you is that grisettes were most likely somewhere between 3-5% ABV, light bodied saisonesque beers, gold/blonde in color, and intended to be dry and refreshing.
As you can see, there isn't a ton of information available but even the short description of grisette I was able to hunt down makes me thirsty for one. Are the grisettes you'll run across traditional? Maybe, maybe not. But I can confirm that the quest the original brewers of grisette set out on, to deliver a thirst quenching ale, is alive and well even if it's a parched traveler and not tired miner on the receiving end of the pint.
A special thanks goes to Brian O’Reilly from Sly Fox and Joe Burriss of Quest Brewing for taking the time to satisfy not only my thirst for good beer, but more importantly my thirst for beer knowledge. Cheers! Now to find a job where trays of beer are waiting for me at the end of the day.