Do you like having a refreshing beer after a lengthy day at work? I know I certainly do. Now imagine if you spent the day quarrying for stone in the stifling dust or hundreds of metres underground mining for coal in the darkness. You would almost certainly want a cold beer once you emerged, right? Well, if you were a miner in Belgium, you’d be thirsting for a few rejuvenating pints of a style meant just for you — the humble grisette.

Grisette (meaning ‘little grey one’), emerged in the Hainaut province of Belgium during the 18th century, just as the Industrial Revolution was picking up steam. Industrial towns dedicated to the expanding Belgian mining industry were growing in number and scale. Three of the largest were in Hainaut province. With this rapid urban and industrial growth came changes in how people produced and consumed beer. Grisette was one such example.

The new style echoed the changing landscape of Belgian society, work, and palates. Saison style beers had been one of the more popular styles in the region prior to grisette. Saisons were brewed by farmers using ingredients available to them as a means of refreshing (and partly to pay) their seasonal workers. Grisettes, however, rather than being brewed by farmers during the winter, were generally brewed by career brewers in dedicated breweries. The style marked a trend towards “cleaner” beers that were less influenced by the varied ingredients and brewing methods used to brew saison. Despite this, grisette was generally brewed as a mixed culture beer, but as it was meant to be consumed soon after brewing, the funk typically never had time to become present.

So, what can you expect from a bottle of grisette? First and foremost, this beer is intended as a thirst quencher. It had to be for the thousands of miners who relied on it. You can expect gentle bitterness, mellow sweetness, floral character, subtle earthiness, and a dry finish. Hops tend to be noticeable on the nose and palate. In appearance it can range from gold, to very pale straw, and occasionally light brown. The alcohol content can be low to relatively high, anywhere between about 3% and 7%.

For the ultimate grisette experience I highly recommend the aptly named Grisette or It’s Spelt Grisette from Craftwork Brewery in Oamaru. Subtle citrus, sweet fruits, and earthy character mix together with hints of Belgian yeast and muted spices. Next stop would be North End’s Grisette Brett Reserve, bottle conditioned with brettanomyces yeast that results in a refreshing and complex flavour profile. Finish with a taste of Panhead’s Heart of Gold, a classic grisette with a saffron twist.

Craftwork Grisette
Craftwork Grisette