H.A. Brewing Co., Eureka

Story and photography by Lido Vizzutti
Sitting at a wooden picnic table outside H.A. Brewing Co. in Eureka, head brewer and owner Chris Neill turns to name a few of the peaks cascading across the vista – Deep Mountain, Krinklehorn Peak and Gibraltar Ridge stand out through the trees, divided by a singular “v” cut by Grave Creek.

Taking a sip of Neill’s Mireille Farmhouse Ale – a French name pronounced as “Me-Ray” while using the tricky, guttural rolling “r” – imparts a surprising sense of place.

Following Neill’s gaze across the quiet panorama and sipping the ale, you can feel the rusticity, a singular realization that there is an actual taste to the landscape – the liquid synopsis of “terroir.”

That’s something that Neill grasps elegantly in his farmhouse ale – he knows that the true importance in this tricky-to-define brew is to impart an awareness of its home.

“To me, there’s a lot of key words, and I think a farmhouse-style beer is fairly elusive,” said Neill. “We’re not in Belgium – I’m not going to try and pretend like we’re in Belgium – so these are our Montana versions.”

Originating on French and Belgian farms, the ales were brewed in the fall with what was available. Fermented throughout the winter, the beer was served to seasonal farmhands during the summer as workers relied heavily on the calorie intake with potable water either rare or not available.

With ingredients differing between locations – resulting in years of evolution, refinement, interpretation and re-interpretation – the true farmhouse ale conveys a sense of origin. You taste the place it comes from.

“It’s lightly tart, dry, has good mouth appeal and is bubbly. It’s tart in the beginning and the end but smooth in the middle,” said Neill. “Probably the biggest difference on (Mireille) is that we ferment it open top with Brettanomyces.”

Using the Brett yeast as a primary fermenter creates the “funky,” smooth, tart and clearly yeast-forward experience. With the open fermenting – sometimes in a small, open oak fermenter – the ale literally allows the surrounding environment to impart its uniqueness on the brew.

Open-top fermenting can be challenging to maintain consistency. For Neill, though, “that’s a little bit of the allure.

“The natural exposure definitely lets it breathe,” said Neill. “It’s not bound up in a CO2-closed environment, although yeast does make a CO2 lid as (it’s) heavier than oxygen, but it’s still more open to the environment.

“For me, I love that Brett flavor, especially in a primary fermentation. As funny as it seems, I’m not a huge sour fan, but I like tart beers. In the summertime, I think, a tart beer is really refreshing.”

Style Farmhouse Ale
IBU 22
ABV 5.9%
Malts Pale, Crystal 10, Flaked Oats, Flaked Rye
Hops Centennial
Yeast Brettanomyces Trois
Appearance Light Hazy Gold
Description Lightly tart on start and finish, smooth in the middle with good mouth appeal. Slightly “funky” and yeast forward.
Where to get it You can find Mireille on tap at H.A. Brewing Co., 2525 Grave Creek Road, Eureka, MT. From U.S. Highway 93, head east on Grave Creek Road for 2.5 miles and look for the signs. H.A. Brewing Co. beer is also served at locations around the Flathead. Visit www.habrewing.com or call the taproom at (406) 889-3950 for more information.