Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Brewlog: Saison #3

The second of the two batches brewed during my recent travels...

Batch #24, 6/8/06: Saison #3

Any beer geek worth their salt knows that Saison is in vogue right now. Though the original Saisons of Wallonia, long since lost, were presumably more a "family" of beers defined only by their archaic and odd production methods - a relic of pre-modern brewing - the modern interpretations of these "farmhouse ales" are evolving into a more cohesive style. Still managing a wide range between the various interpretations, most commercial Saisons do have some common elements: the use of non-barley adjunct grains, stronger than normal (for a Belgian) hopping, liberal spicing, warm fermentation (70-90 degrees), and utterly crazy yeast strains that produce some of the funkiest flavors you'll taste this side of a lambic.

Shortly after moving to the Sacrament Sprawl two years ago, I was able to try some previously unavailable (to me) commercial examples of Saison, formost amongst them the classic and definative Saison Dupont, and the overlooked local gem, Jack Russel Farmhouse Ale. I quickly latched onto these beers and declared Saison my favorite style. Between the oddball grains, spicing, & crazy yeast, Saisons seemed to provide a new frontier in flavor, going places I didn't think beer could go. Indeed, bringing me flavors I didn't think I would be able to taste, let alone appreciate. It was the ultimate treat for a tired, old epicurean. Additionally, the style tends to be damed drinkable and refreshing.

Last summer, I brewed several beers using the Saison Dupont yeast strain, commercially available as WLP 565. The first of these, which I based very closely off a Hennepin clone recipe taken from an issue of Zymurgy, I count as my most successful beer ever. The second, well, we don't talk about that one very much. Let's just say, be careful with your spices. Especially with the lemon peel... The third didn't really end up being a traditional saison at all. Through successive and obsessive tweaking, that one has morphed into this strange, big quadrupel/braggot thing, with cranberries and cherries incorporated, and which is now sitting in the fermenters still, with some oak chips and some Brettanomyces Claussenii. So that makes the beer I just brewed the third Saison I've attempted.

Scared by what happened with Saison #2, I decided to back off on the spicing, returning to what I'd done with the first recipe, and even scaling back the lemon peel. Otherwise, the recipe is closely inspired by that used for Saison #1, with some tweaking of the adjunct grains based on what I had on hand. Anyway, here goes...

  • 7 gallons Yreka tap water, untreated (like I said, the stuff is good)
  • 4oz Belgian pale malt
  • 4oz Belgian aromatic
  • 4oz honey malt
  • 6oz rolled oats

  • 4 lbs 60/40 wheat dried malt extract
  • 2 lbs extra light pale dried malt extract
  • 2 lbs regular ol' table sugar - it's cheap, and every bit as good as the rip-off "candi" sugar


  • 1oz 7.0% Styrian Goldings at 60 minutes
  • 1oz 3.8% Saaz 5 minutes

Spicing: all spices added at 15 minutes

  • 1 tsp coriander (cracked)
  • 1 tsp black pepper (cracked)
  • 6 cardmom pods (the contents thereof - discard the pods themselves)
  • 2 tsp dried lemon peel
  • A one inch piece of ginger, diced



"Mini-mash" the grains, steeping just below 150 for at least 30 minutes - again, I advocate the mini-mash proceedure here because I think it's really important to get some flavor and fermentables out of those adjunct grains, and also, the oats will only contribute ugly starch without some conversion action.

Add the dried malt extracts and bring to boil. Commence 90 minute boil (you could reduce your original volume and do a 60 minute boil for lower caramelization, but at this point I'm superstitious about the 90 minute boil). Hop according to schedule. At 15 minutes, add two tsp Irish moss. At 10 minutes, add the sugar (add late to avoid caramelization and get greater hop utilization earlier in the boil). Knock out and cool according to your preferred method. Final wort volume should be just at five gallons if your boil was sufficiently vigorous. Next, aerate, transfer, and pitch yeast. The O.G. on mine was 1.069...


What came out of this batch was unexpected and, I think, promising. The honey malt is aptly named - it really does seem to convey a honey flavor. Also, the oats came through strongly. I'd included them in the recipe primarily to support the lattice-like head that is characteristic of the style, but with the mini-mash, they seem to have contributed substantially to the flavor, too... What results tasted like an uber-sweet oatmeal. Not bad at all, just strange. And perhaps, just the kind of strangeness that works in a Saison. I'm really eager to see what those yeasties will do with those oats... The spicing is more mild this time, largely due to a weak crack on the pepper and coriander, but I think I'm okay with that. The lower lemon-peel level seems to have turned out well, and should shine nicely in the finished beer. But, foremost, I'm really interested in what's going to happen between the grains and the yeast... The hopping was a bit harder to discern. Strong hopping for a Belgian is weak hopping for most any other beer, and this wort was so sweet that it was hard to get a solid reading on the hop character behind all the sweetness. It's definately there, mind you, and at an appropriate level. It's just hard to detect the nuances. Whatever the case, I'm confident it will turn out well.

Updates will follow as the (unfortunately) slow-working WLP 565 works its way through this one.


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