‘Tis the Saison

It’s no secret to anyone who has ever talked beer with me that I am a big fan of all things Belgian. Strong Trappist ales, sour lambics, Flemish red ales, bring ‘em on. I usually can’t get enough. I brew my fair share too. In fact (stop me if you’ve heard this one…), I once won Best of Show at a regional home brew competition with an Oud Bruin, a soured brown ale, that happened accidentally. It was supposed to be an English Brown ale but it got infected and turned lactic – I didn’t tell anyone until after the competition, but the few who know the story still refer to it as my “compost bucket brown ale”.

One of the Old World styles that I enjoy less frequently, mostly because of its scarcity in the New World, is  Saison. Like with most Belgian categories, there are many different varieties of Saison. Some are very light and refreshing, some are quite bold and strong; some are spiced, some have a touch of fruit… They range in color from straw to dark amber, and can be quite hoppy or very mild in bitterness. Several of the home brewers I interact with in the Market brew Saisons regularly. I try to keep several Saison yeasts in stock at all times. I recently had a friend ask me to help her design a Saison, get her the yeast and special order a Brew Belt to help keep her fermenter at a high (70’s to almost 80°F) temperature during primary fermentation. Since I was ordering one I ordered three and decided I would also try my hand at an authentic Saison.

My research led me to Phil Markowski’s excellent book, “Farmhouse Ales”, which provides a detailed history of the various styles (including the French Bière de Garde style), the traditional ingredients, and concludes with a few recipes. In the end, I opted for a “Super Saison”, substantially stronger and more full-bodied than the usual thirst-quenching styles traditionally brewed for the farmers and miners of Wallonia and Flanders. My plan is to divide the batch in half and age part of it on strawberries, just for fun.

Mud Saison
5 gallons, all grain

Ingredients:

  • 10 lbs. Weyermann Bohemian Pilsner malt
  • 3/4 lb. dark Munich malt
  • 1/2 lb. malted wheat
  • 1/4 lb. amber candi sugar
  • 2 oz. Hallertauer hop pellets (@ 3% aa)
  • 1 oz. whole Kent Goldings hops (@ 5% aa)
  • White Labs Saison Yeast blend (WLP568)
  • plus the recultured dregs from various Ommegang and Unibroue beers…
  • 1 lb. chopped strawberries
  • 2 doses of 3/8 cup corn sugar (for bottling)

Procedure:
Crush grains. Heat 15 quarts of water to 160°F. Mash in grains and hold 60 minutes at 149°F. Heat another 15 quarts of water to 170°F, begin runoff and sparge. Collect 26 quarts of sweet wort. Add candi sugar to the kettle. Bring to a boil and add the Hallertauer hops. Boul 55 minutes, add the Goldings hops (in a mesh bag), boil another 5 minutes (60 total) and trun off heat. Cover and allow the Goldings hops to steep for another 10 minutes. Remove Goldings hops, chill wort to 80°F and take a hydrometer reading. Pour into a sanitized fermenter, splashing well to aerate. Pitch yeasts, seal and ferment warm (75 – 80°F) for about eight days. Rack to two 3-gallon carboys, in one of which you have first put the strawberries. Age 15 – 20 days for the plain Saison, 30 for the one with the fruit. Add 3/8 cup corn sugar to each batch when you bottle. Condition cool (50°F) for three to four weeks.

OG: 1064
IBU’s: 29
Notes on style: as mentioned above, some Saisons are spiced, making them similar to a Belgian White Ale (or Witbier). Many home brewers think that they MUST be spiced, but in fact less than one in four actually has any spices added. The name “saison” probably comes from the French term “saisonnier”, a seasonal farm-laborer, for whom this type of brew was the regular lunch-time dram.

Notes on yeast: I had a few bottles of assorted Ommegang products a few weeks ago, and it seemed a shame to dump the yeast, so I poured them carefully and added the dregs, one bottle at a time, to a glass bottle with an airlock. Five days ago, I began feeding the yeast cultures with a weak malt-extract-based wort. Then I decided to add the dregs from a couple bottles of Unibroue products, in the same manner. There are perhaps 5 or 6 different yeasts in this blend, which may help to replicate the diversity of the old farmhouse wild yeasts.

The yeasts used to brew Saisons benefit from warm fermentation temperatures; indeed, some of the characteristic flavors of a Saison are created BY the warmer fermentation. Hence the use of a Brew Belt, a small heating element that wraps around the bucket and maintains a constant high-70’s to low 80’s temperature. My house right now averages around 60°F, which is not suitable for this brew.

Notes on fruit: strawberries? Because I had some left over from something I baked…

 

 

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