A Toronto Grisette Impresses

What is the beer known as grisette? I could write pages, I could a few lines; the latter will suffice. The term in French means greyish, it can also mean, or rather did in the 19th century, a young woman of modest background.

There were young and well-matured grisette beers, so a metaphorical meaning seems doubtful unless one accepts the theory that young women known by that name, or wearing a grey serving costume, typically served the beer in the Hainaut of Belgium, reputed birthplace of the style. Tournai was one centre, in French-speaking Wallonia.

Miners were said to favour the drink. It seems a subset of the saison family, itself rather misty in definition the further you go back.

One more thing: some say malted wheat is a signature. Many Belgian and northern French beers are known for an addition of unmalted wheat, but grisette seems often to use the malted form, similar in this respect to the Polish Grodziskie (aka Gratzer) style.

Seemingly in essence grisette is a low-gravity refresher with a wheaty character, one which at least today avoids the lactic or Brettanomyces character.

The sizeable Toronto restaurant with brewery attached called Northern Maverick makes a grisette, currently available at the bar and in the bottle shop. What does it taste like?

It tastes great: the best kind of light drink, dryish, yet with pleasing residual malt in the finish – it has character. The yeast note is prominent – a dry starchy taste like in some breads – but without the chalky taste typically associated with the saison and tripel styles. (That taste is not a bad thing in itself but has had wide application in brewing whether in Belgium, France, or craft brewing worldwide; it’s nice to try a variation).

The extra hops promised by the label add good savour too. They are bitter-neutral in type, not New World citric, which suits the style in our view.

Classic artisan brewing in the very non-farmhouse setting of downtown Toronto.