By adopting and embracing the use of native and local ingredients, Farmhouse brewers are somewhat constrained. They can’t, for instance, decide to make a traditional Irish dry stout or a clean crisp pilsner if their water profile doesn’t suit the style. Similarly with the time involved for complete fermentation as well as bottle conditioning, their production decisions limit output and turnaround.
I like to think of it as if you are starting in a box. Each new beer or process you experiment with must start from the same place. While these restrictions due to commitment certainly confine the diversity of styles made by a Farmhouse brewery, they are also a springboard for inspiration and tool for continual mastery of a certain topic.
On the first point, starting in a box assists the creative process of beer development. By knowing that you have to use this water and that yeast, Farmhouse brewers must innovate within these constraints. It makes the brainstorming process slightly easier by having a few constants as well as forcing a more critical analysis of the composition of the final product.
Its a make the best with what you have mentality. Its the difference between looking into your cupboard and making delicious meal with what you have on hand and purchasing every item on the list in order to recreate the picture in the cookbook.
On the second benefit of working with constraints, it aids Farmhouse brewers learn and specialise in their craft. Chefs, painters and potters all train in certain schools with a varied style of products from each school. Instead of pursuing to be a jack-of-all-trades craftsman, these artisans pursue a thorough and commanding understanding of a certain style. I often think of fusion chefs as the best analogue for Farmhouse brewers, taking flavours and dishes they love from a foreign cuisine tradition, reworking and recreating them with local ingredients or methods and producing entirely innovative yet reminiscent flavours.
I grow wary of the brewery that attempts to brew-it-all. Not only is there plenty of market diversity to support specialised breweries but also as we know a jack-of-all-trades is a master of none. I like to point to Allagash as a good example of development, innovation and mastery of a single tradition. I recently heard a story that Vinny Cilurzo from Russian River Brewing Company has spent the last six months at his brewpub trying to create a pilsner. He believes the american beer drinker’s palette is changing and is trying to make a suitable beer for the next stage. I think that says enough, its not the one and done approach taken by a few not to mention breweries; its a respect for the tradition and a commitment to a quality local reproduction of a beer that pays homage to that tradition. Master your process and your style tradition, your beer will be better with a stronger brand identity.
In a similar vein from before, this constrained starting point also encourages Farmhouse brewers to really think outside the box, drawing inspiration from other artisans. I, for one, love meeting other craftsmen and women to talk about their business, product and philosophy. We have a lot to learn from the chefs, winemakers, painters, distillers, etc. around us. This isn’t entirely unique for Farmhouse brewers by any means, but I feel that they have the most to learn from these diverse artisans.
Because of this, I will be posting on some of the non-brewing artisans I have met and what I feel we can lean from them in an Outside the Box series. They will mainly include food and drink makers, but are not confined to these.
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