Faro, a very sweet Lambic!

news-20140711-4Faro belongs to the lambic beer family and was considered the “beer of the agricultural worker” for centuries. The recipes dates from the era of the painter Brueghel. The beer is produced by recovering the spent grain after the first filtering of the wort. The sugar in the spent grain was then recovered after a second filtering with hot water and was then fermented.

Farmers, many of whom had a brewery on the farm, kept the workers occupied during the winter, providing them with a light and refreshing drink that was not expensive. Candy sugar (brown sugar) was added to the beer to compensate for its somewhat bland flavour, contributing a sweet flavour and a golden colour.

Faro, like Gueuze, to which consumers would often add a spoonful of sugar, was served in homes and pubs throughout Brussels. The beer matured and the spontaneous fermentation of the wheat added a balanced sweet and sour flavour, which some say is reminiscent of cider.

The advent of pilsner beers proved almost fatal to this refreshing and healthy drink (beer did not contain harmful germs unlike water). Against all odds, however, the breweries of the Senne Valley including Brasserie Timmermans, have continued to produce this beer for the popular pubs of Brussels and the Pajottenland region.

Initially, given the high rate and the low risk of fermenting sugar, Faro was supplied directly to the neighbouring pubs in wooden barrels. Since its revival in the 1970s, as a result of a growing interest in artisanal authenticity, the brewers have started to bottle it. It now appears on many a table as an emblem of the regional breweries. Like gueuze and kriek beers it has a protected designation and is an authentic Belgian product.

Faro is still surrounded by an air of mystery. Where does its name come from? It seems like a Spanish or a Portuguese word, referring to Faro where a sweet wine, the taste of which, according to its inhabitants, was similar to Lambic beer, is produced. On the Spanish side the word “farro” comes to mind, which refers to a traditional barley liquor. It is probably more likely that the word originated in a mixture of Walloon and Dutch (far: “wheat” in old Dutch), further underscoring the beer’s local roots.

This is further underscored by the story that Lord Hugues of Kantersteen, the Master of Brussels, organised a contest in 950 to manufacture an original and democratic beer. He is said to have made the following assessment of the winning recipe: “It is lively and unctuous, bawdy and proud”, using the word “faraud” for “proud” and thus giving the beer its name.

Regardless of the explanation or the legend, Faro’s unique bitter-sweet flavour and lightness means this beer is universally adored by fans of regional beers and not just by the people of Brussels.