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Saturday, January 31, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 34.0° F  Overcast
The Daily
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Beer Here: Prairie Moon Farmhouse Belgian Style Ale from Lake Louie Brewing

Credit:Robin Shepard

Not everyone means "lawn mower beer" in a positive way. It's a reference to light fizzy beer without character or flavor. However, while Prairie Moon Farmhouse Belgian Style Ale from Lake Louie could be considered a lawn mower beer for its light and refreshing qualities, it has a unique and flavorful personality all of its own.

I consider it the "ultimate" lawn mower beer, and I mean that in a good way. Lake Louie owner and brewmaster Tom Porter says the schedule for making Prairie Moon begins as soon as he cuts his own yard for the first time each year.

What is it? Prairie Moon Farmhouse Belgian Style Ale from Lake Louie Brewing in Arena, Wisconsin.

Style: The Belgian Witbier (White Beer) is a cloudy, pale straw beer. Witbier commonly has a spicy character, low hoppy-bitterness and alcohol ranging from 4.2%-5.0% ABV. The style is traditionally unfiltered and made with a high percentage of wheat, along with malted barley and sometimes other grains like oats.

Witbier is a very old style of beer with roots as early as A.D. 1100. As part of that history, more original renditions had spicy qualities from bitter orange peel, coriander and chamomile. This is a difficult beer to do well, because it involves a brewing process that must take into account the way the different grains must be boiled in the mash. Wheat can be especially challenging for a brewer to work with, because it is different from barley in the mashing time and boil temperatures needed to convert the starch in the grain to available sugar for the yeast.

Background: Tom Porter calls this beer a farmhouse ale -- a reflection of its light thirst-quenching qualities, the kind of beer that Belgian farmhands got during and after a hot day of work. Furthermore, it's made at his farmstead brewery in Arena. Porter says that Prairie Moon has turned out to be a very big seasonal brew for Lake Louie. So much so that throughout the summer, he expects he'll make about 300 barrels of this Belgian Witbier, which places it among his top sellers.

About one-third of the beer's recipe calls for wheat that is mixed with malted barley. Porter also adds about five gallons of coriander for each 15-barrel batch. Coriander is derived from grinding cilantro seeds, and Porter says the seeds he uses are imported especially for the beer from the Middle East. Porter actually uses an old coffee mill powered by a hand drill to grind the seeds into coriander -- equipment that he invented when he was a homebrewer. Even the formula is based on homebrewing recipes of his assistant brewer, Tim Wauters.

Prairie Moon is a testament to Porter's engineering abilities, which have taken him from homebrewing in his driveway with friends about a dozen years ago to filling a garage with brewing equipment on the rural Arena farmstead once owned by his Uncle Louie. This is a summer seasonal for Lake Louie Brewing that just started appearing on Madison store shelves about two weeks ago (which means Tom Porter cut his lawn for the first time in mid-April). Porter says it'll stay around until the weather begins to turn cool in the early fall, so you probably won't find it when leaves need raking. It sells for about $8.50/six pack.

Tasting notes:

  • Aroma: Light yeasty and earthy.
  • Appearance: Cloudy straw with a thick, bubbly, white head.
  • Texture: Light and bubbly.
  • Taste: Bubbly, crisp, refreshing light yeasty flavor with a fruity orange-citrusy background.
  • Finish/Aftertaste: Crisp and bubbly. A light bitterness in the end.

Glassware: The Weizen glass is well suited for Prairie Moon. The inward taper to the lip will hold the soft, white head and focus the light yeasty nose while the slender, curved body of the glass shows off this beer's brilliant cloudy straw color.

Pairs well with: The light crisp yeast, citrus, and supporting hoppiness of Prairie Moon will go well with fish, especially broiled. Cool summer salads and lightly grilled veggies such as asparagus and squash also make nice companions for this beer. It is also great to go with cold fried chicken on a checkered table cloth at a summer picnic.

Rating: Four Bottle Openers (out of four).

The Consensus: B+ (very good) from Beer Advocate and a 79 from Rate Beer.

The Verdict: Prairie Moon Farmhouse Belgian Style Ale is a great summertime brew. It is crisp, refreshing, with a mild yet firm bitterness. Drink this beer now, early in its life -- the fresher the better -- to bring out the spicy tones of orange and coriander. It's not a beer that you can age. Tom Porter makes a distinctive, light effervescent beer that's wonderful to have with a summertime lunch. Better yet, it makes a great reward for cutting the lawn.

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