Sunday 19 August 2012

Brewing a Saison

All beer styles can be interpreted fairly loosely to some extent, especially by the homebrewer. But not all styles are created equal - while there's a lot of approaches you can take to brewing a Flanders Red, for example, you're more restricted to what you can do with an Oktoberfest (if you want to be authentic, anyway).

There may be no beer style that is more "loose" than Saison, a style that originated in southern Belgium many years ago. Originally thought to be brewed in winter to have on hand in the summer as a refreshing drink for farmhands, Saison has certainly come a long way since. As many families began brewing their own Saison, recipes began evolving at a rapid rate, and "terroir" (the effects the local environment has on the beer) contributed even more to the ever-changing end-products. Now, there are very many interpretations of this wonderful beer style; colors range from light-gold to black, ABVs from 3% table beers to 10% "Super Saisons", and simple 100%-pilsner grists to 8-different malt, heavily-spiced beers.

One thing Saisons generally have in common, however, is high attenuation. It is not-unheard of for final gravities to reach as low as 1.000-1.002, with apparent-attenuation rates as high as 95% being reported by some homebrewers. This is due to the yeast strains used in fermentation, low-temp saccharification rests, and the fact that many Saison strains can handle abnormally-high fermentation temperatures, including up to the mid-90s F. Saisons are also one of the most highly-hopped Belgian beers, especially in terms of flavor and aroma. More brewers are even now dry-hopping their Saisons, which isn't a method usually seen for other Belgian styles.

Anyway, I won't delve too deep into the history and evolution of Saison. An excellent reference for this is "Farmhouse Ales", by Phil Markowski. If you're new to this style of beer, I also recommend seeking out some of the finer commercial versions, especially the ultimate classic, Saison Dupont. While definitely a more "simple" Saison, at least in terms of the recipe (the grist is 100% Belgian pilsner malt), this is an awesome beer packed with flavor, thanks to the highly-expressive yeast used by the Dupont brewery. Also keep in mind that this yeast strain is available to homebrewers as the Wyeast 3724 Belgian Saison. And if you'd like to try a Saison that brings more of terroir into play, seek out any beer made by Fantome, a small brewery in Soy, Belgium that brews extremely innovative, ever-changing, funky Saisons... oh, and they're awesome.

So, for this, my 50th homebrew, there were a lot of Saison recipes to choose from. I finally went with this Printemps (spring season) recipe taken from an article in the May/June 2008 edition of Zymurgy. It's definitely different than your typical beginner's Saison, in that it has a high percentage of malted wheat (~45%), to go with an equal amount of pilsner malt. A bit of Aromatic malt and Carapils make up the remaining grist, along with a pound of table sugar to help make a very dry beer. With a target OG of 1.073 (and a potentially very low FG), this would definitely be considered a "Super" Saison, with an ABV that may reach as high as 8-10%.

As for the hopping, there's a bittering, flavor, and aroma addition for a total of almost 34 IBUs. I changed the bittering hops to East Kent Goldings, since Styrian Goldings were not available. I also didn't have any Tettnanger hops on hand for the flavor addition, so I substituted Saaz, which I'm sure will be fine. Since Saisons are typically more bitter than other Belgian beers, as I mentioned, I added a small amount of gypsum in the mash to increase the sulfate in the water, to slightly (hopefully) accentuate the hop bite of the beer.

While tempted to use the Wyeast 3724 mentioned above, I decided to go with a Saison yeast that produced more citrus flavors, compared to spicy... in this case, Wyeast 3711 French Saison. Also, the temperature range for this yeast isn't quite as high as the 3724 (homebrewers often have to use a heat belt to bring temps up high enough to get the yeast to finish fermenting), so I figured that would be a plus now that my house is cooler thanks to the wonderful world of air conditioners.

My tentative plans for this beer is to bottle half of the 5.5 gallons in a few weeks, and rack the other half to secondary, where I'll pitch the bottle dregs of a Fantome Saison. Not sure how much this will add in terms of funkiness, if anything, but I think it's worth a try. I may also dry-hop with a bit of Sorachi Ace, or even add some raspberries to secondary, and let the beer develop for several months before bottling.

Recipe targets: (5.5 gallons, 75% efficiency): OG 1.073, FG 1.005-1.008?, IBU 34, SRM 6, ABV ~8-9%

Grains & Other:
2.61kg Bohemian Pilsner
2.61 kg Wheat malt
227 g Aromatic malt
227 g Carapils
113g Rice hulls
454 g table sugar (added when fermentation starts to slow)

EKG - 49 g (4.5% AA) @ 60 min
Saaz - 28 g (5.5% AA) @ 20 min
Saaz - 28 g @ 0 min

1/2 tsp yeast nutrient @ 15 min
1/2 tab Irish moss @ 5 min

Yeast: Wyeast 3711 French Saison (PD July 7th, with a 2.25 L starter)

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; mash water treated with 4 g of gypsum

- Brewed August 6th, 2012, by myself. 50-minute saccharification rest with 16 L of water (I think I accidentally added ~2 L too much here), for a mash temp of 152 F, a little above my target of 151 F. Mashed-out with 9.65 L water at ~203 F, resulting temp 167 F. Let rest for another 10 minutes, then vorlaufed 3-4 L and drained into kettle. Sparged with 16 L of 168 F water, stirred well, and left for 5 minutes before vorlaufing and draining into kettle again, for a total volume of 7.5 gallons.

- SG 1.045 (target 1.048 before sugar addition). 90-minute boil. Began chilling at flameout, and added last Saaz addition a few minutes afterwards. Had down to 68-70 F after 40 minutes. Poured into BB and set in ice water to drop temp a few more degrees. OG 1.062 before sugar (so, 1.070 including) - a bit low, but not surprising considering the extra volume before and after the boil (say ~1/4 gallon). When temp dropped to 66 F, pitched yeast slurry, aerating by shaking well for several minutes before and after. Placed BB in sink, no ice water, to let ferment to as high as it will go.

- 7/8/12 - In AM, bubbling q 2 seconds or so, temp 70 F. By PM, bubbling at least 2 times per second, temp high at 76 F.

- 8/8/12 - In PM, bubbling q second, temp 77 F. Added sugar (boiled and cooled in 1-2 cups of water) to fermenter. A few hours later, bubbling 2 x per second again, and the temp exceeded the 78 F on the fermometer.

- 14/8/12 - Took a gravity reading... already down to 1.006. The sample I tasted was quite citrusy, with some spiciness as well, and a bit of warmth from the alcohol (already ~8.4% ABV).

- 28/8/12 - FG 1.004... ABV going to come in at about 8.6%.

- 5/9/12 - Bottled ~2.5 gallons, using 98 g table sugar for a target of 3.5 vol CO2 with a max temp of 80 F reached. Added ~1/4 package of Champagne yeast, rehydrated. Racked the other 8 L into secondary, onto 600 g of frozen, and then thawed raspberries.

- 6/9/12 - Pitched in the bottle dregs of a Fantome Saison into the raspberry-half. Not sure how much sugars are really left for the Fantome yeast to have an effect, but what the heck.

- 16/10/12 - Tasting of the plain portion.

- 18/1/13 - Bottled the raspberry portion. FG 1.002. Used 70 g table sugar, aiming for 3 vol CO2 for 2.1 gallons with a max temp of 80 F reached.

- 18/12/13 - Long overdue, but here are the tasting notes... was waiting to see if some funk would develop, but it didn't. However, the result is still a pretty tasty raspberry Saison.


  1. Sounds like it's going to be a good one!

  2. Thanks... looking forward to hearing how yours turns out as well!

  3. Nothing better than a great Saison during the summer months. I just tapped a keg of the second batch of my favourite Saison recipe—77% Pilsner, 12% Rye, 9% table sugar, 2% Caramunich 120, and 34IBU of all Nelson Sauvin hops.

  4. We need an update...

    1. Bottling most of it tomorrow, actually... going to rack about 8 L on some raspberries, and pitch the bottle dregs of a Fantome Saison in a day or two.