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An Introduction to Grisette

As the international craft beer industry continues to grow apace, brewers are increasingly on the hunt for new and innovative ways to make their mark in a progressively more crowded and competitive market. One of the ways in which brewers can grow their skillsets and breweries can expand and diversify the range of beers that they offer is by reviving or reinventing historical beer styles that have either fallen out of fashion or have disappeared completely. Through careful research and dedicated development, brewers can recreate recipes for beer styles that may be centuries old. Some historic beer styles that have been recreated in recent years include Gose, Pre-Prohibition Pilsner and Kentucky Common, all of which are now popular among craft beer fans, and can be found in the BJCP Historical Beer Styles Style Guide 

Ruvani de Silva

A travel-loving beer writer,with a host of bylines, Ruvani blogs about beer in Central Texas and beyond, as Craft Beer Amethyst. A vocal advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion in beer. As a British South Asian woman living in Texas, Ruvani brings a unique voice to the world of craft beer. 

 

 

Intro to Grisette

As the international craft beer industry continues to grow apace, brewers are increasingly on the hunt for new and innovative ways to make their mark in a progressively more crowded and competitive market. One of the ways in which brewers can grow their skillsets and breweries can expand and diversify the range of beers that they offer is by reviving or reinventing historical beer styles that have either fallen out of fashion or have disappeared completely. Through careful research and dedicated development, brewers can recreate recipes for beer styles that may be centuries old. Some historic beer styles that have been recreated in recent years include Gose, Pre-Prohibition Pilsner and Kentucky Common, all of which are now popular among craft beer fans, and can be found in the BJCP Historical Beer Styles Style Guide 

Ruvani de Silva

A travel-loving beer writer,with a host of bylines, Ruvani blogs about beer in Central Texas and beyond, as Craft Beer Amethyst. 
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What is a Grisette? 

Grisette is also a historical beer style, but is significantly more obscure and unusual than many of its fellows. Nevertheless, as brewers continue to broaden their horizons, you may well find a Grisette listed on a taproom menu near you. Grisette, which means ‘little grey’ in French, hails from the French-Belgian border, close to Belgium’s Hainaut Province. Traditionally, Grisette was a Farmhouse Ale with properties similar to a Petit Saison – low alcohol (3-5%ABV), high attenuation (dryness), lower in fruity esters and moderate in spicy phenols, with a crisp, refreshing bite. The inclusion of malted wheat in Grisette’s grain bill and a low fermentation temperature also differentiated it from other Farmhouse Ales. Beyond this, both Grisette’s history and production fall into contested territory. You won’t find Grisette in many beer anthologies because much of the existing literature on the style is complex, contradictory and unproven. 

What is a Grisette? 

Grisette is also a historical beer style, but is significantly more obscure and unusual than many of its fellows. Nevertheless, as brewers continue to broaden their horizons, you may well find a Grisette listed on a taproom menu near you. Grisette, which means ‘little grey’ in French, hails from the French-Belgian border, close to Belgium’s Hainaut Province. Traditionally, Grisette was a Farmhouse Ale with properties similar to a Petit Saison – low alcohol (3-5%ABV), high attenuation (dryness), lower in fruity esters and moderate in spicy phenols, with a crisp, refreshing bite. The inclusion of malted wheat in Grisette’s grain bill and a low fermentation temperature also differentiated it from other Farmhouse Ales. Beyond this, both Grisette’s history and production fall into contested territory. You won’t find Grisette in many beer anthologies because much of the existing literature on the style is complex, contradictory and unproven. 

The History of Grisette – Fact or Fiction? 

Legend has it that Grisette was originally brewed in the 19th century (dates of origin vary) to quench the thirst of the miners along the French-Belgian border, in the same way that Saison was brewed to refresh weary farmers at the end of the day. Stories of the history of the beer’s name diverge. Some attribute the ‘little grey’ to the coal dust that coated the miners as they emerged from the pits after a hard day’s graft, ready to tuck into a few pours of Grisette, while others think the moniker refers to the grey dresses commonly worn by the women who worked in the local taverns serving up the beer. No one knows for sure. There is also debate as to whether traditional Grisettes were brewed with Saison yeast or cleaner, more modern yeast. It is entirely possible that both featured in Grisette’s history, which, as with many historical beer styles, came to an end in the 1960s, at a time when cheap, mass-produced Lager completely flooded the international beer market.  

Grisette, which means ‘little grey’ in French, hails from the French-Belgian border, close to Belgium’s Hainaut Province.”

— Ruvani de Silva

“You get soft, almost wine like aromatics, refeshing… acidity and apple driven, when you try Kent and Eastern style ciders”

— Alison Taffs

The History of Grisette – Fact or Fiction? 

Legend has it that Grisette was originally brewed in the 19th century (dates of origin vary) to quench the thirst of the miners along the French-Belgian border, in the same way that Saison was brewed to refresh weary farmers at the end of the day. Stories of the history of the beer’s name diverge. Some attribute the ‘little grey’ to the coal dust that coated the miners as they emerged from the pits after a hard day’s graft, ready to tuck into a few pours of Grisette, while others think the moniker refers to the grey dresses commonly worn by the women who worked in the local taverns serving up the beer. No one knows for sure. There is also debate as to whether traditional Grisettes were brewed with Saison yeast or cleaner, more modern yeast. It is entirely possible that both featured in Grisette’s history, which, as with many historical beer styles, came to an end in the 1960s, at a time when cheap, mass-produced Lager completely flooded the international beer market.  

Recent Grisettes 

Only one Belgian brewery, Brasserie St Feuillien, currently produces Grisette. This historic brewery dates back to the 1870s, but like other Belgian breweries, they stopped producing Grisette in the mid-20th Century when it fell out of popularity. They relaunched the style in 1985, and now sell four varieties, all with contemporary recipes. 

There are currently new Grisettes entering the craft beer market on a regular basis. A couple of recent examples include American craft brew legends Sierra Nevada’s Grisette d’Orge and popular Scottish cask-meisters Fyne Ales’ collaboration with Gothenburg’s Bibliotek Brewing – the Beer/Life Balance.

Recent Grisettes 

Only one Belgian brewery, Brasserie St Feuillien, currently produces Grisette. This historic brewery dates back to the 1870s, but like other Belgian breweries, they stopped producing Grisette in the mid-20th Century when it fell out of popularity. They relaunched the style in 1985, and now sell four varieties, all with contemporary recipes. 

There are currently new Grisettes entering the craft beer market on a regular basis. A couple of recent examples include American craft brew legends Sierra Nevada’s Grisette d’Orge and popular Scottish cask-meisters Fyne Ales’ collaboration with Gothenburg’s Bibliotek Brewing – the Beer/Life Balance.

At Sierra Nevada, Matt Ruzich, Head Pub Brewer at their Mills River North Carolina site saw the venture as a learning opportunity. “I originally brewed this beer out of love for Belgian-style rustic ales and to showcase a traditional beer style that is not as familiar in contemporary brewing” he says, “The idea was to utilize similar yeast, malt, and hops for the style based on historical literature with a little American twist using malted corn as an adjunct instead of wheat.” For Ruzich, the aim was to try something a little different while exploring an under-represented element of beer history. He notes thatThis beer and other historical beer studies are valuable educational tools to us as brewers and our taproom guests.” 

At Sierra Nevada, Matt Ruzich, Head Pub Brewer at their Mills River North Carolina site saw the venture as a learning opportunity. “I originally brewed this beer out of love for Belgian-style rustic ales and to showcase a traditional beer style that is not as familiar in contemporary brewing” he says, “The idea was to utilize similar yeast, malt, and hops for the style based on historical literature with a little American twist using malted corn as an adjunct instead of wheat.” For Ruzich, the aim was to try something a little different while exploring an under-represented element of beer history. He notes thatThis beer and other historical beer studies are valuable educational tools to us as brewers and our taproom guests.” 

Malcolm Downie, Head Brewer at Fyne Ales, had a slightly different approach. “We were partnered up with Beerbliotek for Moor Beer’s Citizens of Everywhere project, partnering 12 UK breweries with 12 European breweries to celebrate and showcase what can be achieved through international collaboration” he explains. “Each pair of breweries was given a ‘theme’ for their brew and ours was ‘the protection of workers’ rights’ which lead us down the path to a grisette, with it being a style traditionally associated with being brewed for labourers.” Dowie aimed to keep the beer as authentic as possible, with the information that was available. “We did quite a lot of research before finalising the recipe, but in the end, it was quite a simple malt bill, with a high percentage of wheat, some continental hops, fermented fairly cold with a saison yeast strain to avoid too much peppery spice” he says, “Some research suggested that in addition to being light and refreshing, historical grisettes may have had a sour edge, which is why we landed on adding citrus to the recipe.” For Downie, brewing a Grisette was both a new string to his bow and a chance to connect with a style that drew parallels with Fyne Ales’ established oeuvre. “I think the simplicity of the style was most appealing to us” he explains, “We’re predominantly a cask brewery known for simple, hop-forward pale beers and there’s definitely parallels between grisettes and traditional cask pales.” 

Malcolm Downie, Head Brewer at Fyne Ales, had a slightly different approach. “We were partnered up with Beerbliotek for Moor Beer’s Citizens of Everywhere project, partnering 12 UK breweries with 12 European breweries to celebrate and showcase what can be achieved through international collaboration” he explains. “Each pair of breweries was given a ‘theme’ for their brew and ours was ‘the protection of workers’ rights’ which lead us down the path to a grisette, with it being a style traditionally associated with being brewed for labourers.” Dowie aimed to keep the beer as authentic as possible, with the information that was available. “We did quite a lot of research before finalising the recipe, but in the end, it was quite a simple malt bill, with a high percentage of wheat, some continental hops, fermented fairly cold with a saison yeast strain to avoid too much peppery spice” he says, “Some research suggested that in addition to being light and refreshing, historical grisettes may have had a sour edge, which is why we landed on adding citrus to the recipe.” For Downie, brewing a Grisette was both a new string to his bow and a chance to connect with a style that drew parallels with Fyne Ales’ established oeuvre. “I think the simplicity of the style was most appealing to us” he explains, “We’re predominantly a cask brewery known for simple, hop-forward pale beers and there’s definitely parallels between grisettes and traditional cask pales.” 

While no one knows for sure what a historical Grisette tasted like, there is a broad consensus that the beer should be light, dry and have a citrusy presence

— Ruvani de Silva

“You get soft, almost wine like aromatics, refeshing… acidity and apple driven, when you try Kent and Eastern style ciders”

— Alison Taffs

Tasting Notes 

While no one knows for sure what a historical Grisette tasted like, there is a broad consensus that the beer should be light, dry and have a citrusy presence. Other flavours that are common are subtle spicy or peppery phenols, a gentle rusticity that you would expect from a Petit Saison, very low alcohol presence and a wheat warmth from the Grisette’s traditional adjunct grain. Depending on the yeast and malt bill that are used, flavours of bread and tart, herbaceous notes may also be present. The beer should deliver a refreshing crispness at a sessionable 3-4% ABV, making it as suitable for post-work relaxation as it was back in the 19th Century.  

Tasting Notes 

While no one knows for sure what a historical Grisette tasted like, there is a broad consensus that the beer should be light, dry and have a citrusy presence. Other flavours that are common are subtle spicy or peppery phenols, a gentle rusticity that you would expect from a Petit Saison, very low alcohol presence and a wheat warmth from the Grisette’s traditional adjunct grain. Depending on the yeast and malt bill that are used, flavours of bread and tart, herbaceous notes may also be present. The beer should deliver a refreshing crispness at a sessionable 3-4% ABV, making it as suitable for post-work relaxation as it was back in the 19th Century.  

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