Discovering Half Hours on Earth – Ontario Farmhouse Ales at their Best
An article by Noah Forrest
I may need to warn you, this is a bit of a long article. I’m sorry, but there was just too much to say and I had several bottles to drink and talk about. It’s okay though, because Half Hours on Earth is worth your time, trust me. It was certainly worth mine. Located a few hours west of Toronto in a small town called Seaforth, this tiny brewery sits there, basically killing it. And I bet you haven’t even heard of them.
For me, Half Hours epitomizes what’s current and most relevant in craft brewing today, which they do by tapping into the past (pun intended). And no, I’m not talking about culturing yeast strains from some ancient Egyptian Pharaoh’s spit bucket. Rather, I’m referring to the line up of “farmhouse ales” that essentially make up their entire, ever changing bottle base.
The term Farmhouse Ale is a most often used to describe Belgian saisons, which were originally brewed to quench the thirst of working farmers; but in reality it’s a bit more loose and complex than that. So, instead of going through it myself, I figured I’d get with brewer and co-owner Kyle Teichert and take the opportunity to chat about farmhouse beer and the Half Hours on Earth brewery as a whole.
The term “Farmhouse Ale” gets thrown around a lot in the beer scene. What does it mean to you in the context of your brewery and brewing philosophy. In other words, why make farmhouse ales your main focus?
Farmhouse Ales, to us, is basically a catch-all term for beer that doesn’t fit the classic Saison style, but is typically fermented with a Saison yeast strain (and often along with other bacteria). It became our main focus because it is beer we like to drink and they’re fun to brew. We like to brew a lot of stuff that doesn’t quite fit to any style, but “Farmhouse” as a descriptor tends to give people a hint of what they can expect. Something with Saison characteristics, dryness, etc. but leaning the way of tart and funky.
The beers that you are creating at Half Hours are essentially the style(s) that I’ve fallen for in recent times: balanced, aromatic, dry, and yeast forward, with subtle yet complex undertones. That being said, I’m sure there are many customers who ask for more “traditional” craft beer offerings. How is the public taking to this newer (but also much older) farmhouse brewing tradition?
It’s been very well received so far. We do have a lot of people that come in asking if we have, or plan to make, more traditional styles, given the area we’re in. We have no problem pointing them in the direction of some other great local breweries doing that type of thing. We enjoy a wide variety of styles, but the main reason we got into brewing was to make beer that we didn’t have a lot of access to. In 2009, when we began homebrewing, we brewed mainly IPA’s and sours as there weren’t many options for either at the time. But as time went on, a lot of breweries stepped up their game in the IPA category, and we eventually brewed less of them because of the choices we now have. There still isn’t a lot of sour/farmhouse/funky beer available, which is why that is our focus.
Do you have plans to create a barrel program? What about spontaneous fermentation? I think you see where I’m going with this. With Jester King having just brewed “Spon,” are you tempted to go down that road as well?
We are very limited to what we can do at the moment – between time and fermentation space. Our current direction is brewing beer with really bright flavours, stuff that is best at its freshest, lots of dry-hopping, spice additions and re-fermenting with fruits. These beers take anywhere from 3-8 weeks to make. We are not able to crank out beers in a week, but they definitely take longer than the standard beer. Our goal from the beginning was to get to the point where we can be brewing (and blending) long term aged, funky, complex, tart creations. As we grow we want to devote a lot more of our resources to oak and aging. Right now we have just a few barrels, and mainly they’re being filled for barrel fermentation. But eventually they will be used for long term storage.
Phase 1 is fresh, bright, flavourful beer. Phase 2 is complex & funky long term aged beer & blending… Phase 3 could be in the direction of spontaneous fermentation, it is definitely out of the question at our current location. We’ve thought a lot about this, and we do not know how long it will take to get there, but our ideal brewery location will eventually be a farm brewery. So if the right location ever comes up, a coolship will be in mind.
At the moment you are concentrating on small batch brewing. I realize that this is part of the philosophy of the brewery itself, but is expansion in the cards? If so, dare I ask if you’d imagine your beers landing on shelves at the LCBO?
As mentioned above, we’d love to expand to the point where we’re able to do everything we want creatively. Beyond that, we’re not really sure. I can’t imagine seeing our beer at the LCBO. We’d prefer to sell everything directly, either at our retail shop, or online.
So, after hearing about the ideology and brewing tradition behind Half Hours on earth, let’s dive right in and examine six of their amazing beers.
Yalla Yalla (Centennial)
Yalla Yalla is a tart Farmhouse Ale, dry hopped with centennial. The nose carries a beautiful bouquet, throwing lots of tropical hop aromatics at my senses, like mango, pineapple, and strawberry. Some earthy phenols come through as well, lending some funky complexity. Acidic components are also present, with lemon zest and underripe fruit. This is extremely inviting.
A slightly aggressive tartness kicks off the flavour profile, providing fruity acidic layers of lemon and sour kiwi, ultimately leading into tart and bitter grapefruit rinds. The fruity Centennial hops provide a lovely juiciness, and when combined with the lactic acid, creates this sour candy thing that is just amazing. The finish is bone dry, with a fantastic lingering sourness that sticks with you, echoing tart candies and fresh underripe fruit.
The intensity behind Yalla Yalla is on point, with a somewhat aggressive sourness that lets you know it’s there without being so acidic that the other elements are drowned out. It’s straightforward and crazy drinkable, yet complex enough to have you sit and ponder its creation. This is one the more balanced dry hopped sours I’ve had.
Funkland 3 is a blend of 80% hoppy Farmhouse Ale and 20% Flanders Red. This is a curious combination, so I’m pretty excited to see what this is like. The nose is a huge fruit bomb, composed of funky brett, juicy hops and some rich malts. Strawberries and cherries blast my senses alongside candied orange and some nice earthy and musty phenolic layers.
Drier than the nose let on, this outside-the-box blend finishes clean and slightly tart. It’s impressively fruity, in all directions. Tart cherries meet rich stone fruits, alongside light grapefruit citrus tang and some zesty tropical delights. The ascetic notes from the Flander’s Red add just a small layer of complexity to the whole thing. There is a slight bitterness in the finish, which alongside the subtle tartness and yeasty phenolics, makes for an exceptionally dry ending.
This is a amazingly original beer. The Flemish sour component adds just the right amount of balance and fruitiness to compliment the hoppy farmhouse Ale. The combination of all the fruity layers helps to create a flavour profile that works in unison, making for a balanced, easy drinking, and still potently delicious beer.
Space Oddity is a berry infused Brett porter. I love the natural fruitiness of brett fermented porters and I quite like fruited dark roasted beers in general. Needless to say, I think this will be for me. The nose throws up lots of bretty phenols, alongside dark roasted grains, which lend coffee and chocolate to the mix. The berries come through as well, with a fruity, slightly juicy component that compliments the already apparent bretty berry esters.
This might be one of the most drinkable porters I’ve ever had. The body is incredibly light and goes down smooth, making it quite refreshing. The roastiness is certainly there, adding layers of cold brew coffee, and some high percentage dark chocolate. The berries are integral to the flavour profile, but so incredibly subtle that they only further compliment the fruity brett elements.
The finish might be the best part. It’s exceptionally dry, with a nice effective bitterness from the hops and the yeast phenols. The linger is long and echoes berries and coffee beans. So amazing.
Dinosaurs Will Die
Dinosaurs Will Die is a tart farmhouse pale ale. The aromas begin with loads of lemon and orange, with musty and dank phenolics lingering behind. Zesty hops add some pine to help complicate the citrus forward nose. It’s also slightly herbal, and carries some animal funk as well. It’s a complex, inviting, and very interesting nose.
Like the nose, citrus leads the way. It’s rather tart up front, with a tangy lingering finish. Underripe tangerines meet nice bitter phenolics, creating a dry ending that echoes juicy fruits. The potent hoppiness plays a large role, but not to the same degree as yalla yalla. Here, the yeast has a larger presence, alongside the lactic acid, and finally a tangy sour candy finish with lingering citrusy hops.
Easy Plateau is an Oat Farmhouse Ale. The nose is comprised of lemon zest, fresh hay, floral honey, and light spicey yeast phenols that add a touch of clove and earthy dust.
The flavours match the aromatics, lending citrusy notes, a floral bouquet, and some crisp green apple. Dusty dry phenols compliment some pear and stone fruit esters, leaving behind an incredibly dry finish without any astringency or bitterness, which you sometimes find in these yeast-forward classic saisons.
Given the abundance of delicious yeasty components, the finish is still incredibly clean, leaving just a slight mineral flavour on my palate, with slight echoes of sharp fruit and earthy funk. This is a brilliant saison. Crisp, clean, delicious.
Control Bored is a tart farmhouse ale brewed with chamomile. The nose presents such an interesting mix of aromas. The chamomile is very apparent, lending lots of spiciness alongside some lemon citrus notes. Cinnamon and clove meet underripe clementines with a touch of fruity hop goodness in the background. What a complicated aromatic experience.
Wow, there are layers to this. Like the nose, the chamomile is in your face, but still manages to not overpower, and instead goes alongside everything perfectly. It’s pretty aggressively tart, with a sour linger after each sip. The spice, which reminds me of floral cinnamon goodness, combines with the lactic acid to create a tea with honey and lemon type experience.
That may sound odd for a beer, but it isn’t. It just works, and not in a gimmicky, let’s throw anything into a beer, kind of way. Stones fruits start to come through as well, making for a fruit basket of flavours, as if dusted with honey and ground cinnamon sticks. The body is pretty robust, with some very subtle sweetness, but finishes quite dry as it should. Delicious.
Well, there it is, six rather spectacular farmhouse ales from a brewery that I didn’t know existed until earlier this year. I highly recommend getting your hands on these beers. Like, seriously. And you’re in luck, they deliver! Now, you do need to be an Ontario resident, but if you know someone in Ottawa or anywhere else that’s closer who’s willing to receive a box for you, you’ll be in tart Farmhouse Ale heaven before you can even say Half Hours on Earth.
Visit the Half Hours on Earth bottle shop for online orders!
An article by Noah Forrest
Photography by Noah Forrest