Thursday, 3 January 2013

Brewing an Oxbow Freestyle #5 clone (No.1 in the Maine Beer Clone series)

If I had to pick just one reason to be jealous of the state of Maine, it would be over its number of quality breweries. Sure, they're one of the highest brewery-per-capita states in the U.S., but really, a lot of these breweries make some extremely tasty and original beers. Allagash is, of course, probably the first Maine craft brewery that comes to mind, but if you even look at some of the newer ones that have opened up in just the past few years (e.g. Maine Beer Company, Baxter Brewing, and Rising Tide), you can tell that Mainers definitely have more than their share of great breweries.

Oxbow Brewing
Another fantastic new brewery in Maine is Oxbow Brewing. Located in Newcastle, they're considered a Farmhouse brewery, and while their output is, of course, low compared to a lot of larger breweries, the beers they're making are delicious, and already extremely popular. While Oxbow just opened in 2011, they already have quite a repertoire of beers that they've made available to the public, most of which are in their Freestyle series. Several of the beers in this series are Stouts and IPAs, but the majority of them are different types of Saisons. I've been lucky enough to try a few of the Freestyle beers, my favorite of which is their #5, a "Black Wheat Saison". Dark, spicy, and creamy, it's a delicious beer that, at 5% ABV, won't knock you on your butt like a lot of the higher-alcohol Saisons that you see now.

Back in the summer, I contacted Oxbow and asked them if they would be able to help me with a clone recipe of the Freestyle #5. It took a bit of time, but I eventually got a reply from Tim Adams, co-founder and head brewer at Oxbow, with some quite-detailed notes on brewing their beer:

"It was basically 50% wheat (red & white), 50% french/belgian pale malt. Some aromatic for character and Briess Midnight wheat for color. hold at 148 for 40 min, recirc for 20 mins. Hopped with Saaz and Styrian Goldings to somewhere in the 20 ibu range. 90 minute boil. bittered at 75, some at 10, more at 5, loads in the whirlpool. Pick your favorite saison yeast strain or blend. Ferment in the mid 80s. Cheers! Tim"

This was more information than I was expecting, and much thanks to Tim for the help. When putting the recipe together, I had to make some substitutions due to what was available to me. For the grist, I went with White Wheat malt only (I've never seen Red Wheat at my LHBS), and then a 50/50 mixture of Maris Otter and Pilsner in place of the French/Belgian pale malt. Hopefully it'll get me close. I actually WAS able to order some Midnight Wheat on a group buy... it took a few months to get, hence the reason that I'm just brewing this beer now. This wheat malt is extremely dark (~550 SRM), and, like Carafa Special, doesn't give a lot of bitter, harsh roastiness, due to the lack of a husk. When figuring out how much to add, I eventually decided on a little over 10% of the grist, enough to get the color of the beer to about 36 SRM on BeerSmith... I remember the #5 as being very dark, so I based it on that.

Unfortunately for the hop schedule, I didn't have any Styrian Goldings on hand or even available to order. I subbed in some UK Fuggles based on various online recommendations, as they seem to have relatively-comparable flavor and aroma characteristics to Styrian Goldings. A good proportion of the hops were added at flameout for a 10-minute whirlpool, to try to bump up the aroma of the beer. In fact, looking at the recipe now (after I've brewed the beer), I think I may have overdone it a bit with the 10- and 5-minute additions... we'll see.

For my last Saison, I used the Wyeast 3711 French Saison, which I liked. However, I decided to change for this beer and try the Wyeast 3724 Belgian Saison, a very popular yeast, despite it's notoriety for being slightly difficult. Apparently, the yeast has been known to seemingly "stick" in the mid 1.030s during fermentation; however, supposedly patience and warm temperatures will eventually aid the yeast in finishing with very good attenuation. This is going to be a bit difficult for me to accomplish this time of year, with temperatures already as low as -15 Celsius or even lower, so I purchased a Brew Belt to try to help bring the temperature up to at least the high-70s F.

I'm hoping that on my next trip to Portland (or even better, maybe a first trip to Newcastle?), I'll be able to track down the Freestyle #5 again. May not be too likely outside of the brewery tasting room, since they continue to release new Freestyle beers, but I'd love to be able to actually compare the real thing to my effort! I'd also really like for this to be the first in a series of Maine brewery clones; I may try putting out some feelers to some other brewers, to see if they're as generous with recipe info as Tim has been!

Recipe targets: (5.5 gallons, 75% efficiency) OG 1.045, FG 1.007, IBU 22, SRM 36.5, ABV 5%

1.64 kg (41.4%) White Wheat malt
817 g (20.7%) Maris Otter
817 g (20.7%) Pilsner malt
454 g (11.5%) Midnight Wheat
227 g (5.7%) Aromatic malt

Saaz - 21 g (2.4% AA) @ 75 min
Fuggles - 9 g (5% AA) @ 75 min
Saaz - 28 g @ 10 min
Fuggles - 28 g @ 10 min
Saaz - 28 g @ 5 min
Fuggles - 28 g @ 5 min
Saaz - 49 g @ 0 min
Fuggles - 49 g @ 0 min

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

Yeast: Wyeast 3724 Belgian Saison (PD Dec. 14/2012, with a 1 L starter)

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered

- Brewed December 31st, 2012, by myself. 50-minute mash with 12.5 L of strike water, mashed in at 148 F. Mashed out for 10 minutes with 7 L of boiling water, resulting temp 163 F. Sparged with ~4.5 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~7.3 gallons in the kettle.

- SG 1.034 (target). 90-minute boil. 10-minute whirlpool at flame-out. Chilled to 62 F in about 20 minutes with immersion chiller. Poured into Better Bottle. OG a bit high at 1.048. Pitched yeast starter at 65 F, aerated by shaking for several minutes before and after pitching. Placed BB in room with ambient temp set to 70 F, with a small space-heater on as well.

1/1/13 - In AM, the airlock is bubbling almost every second, but the temp is only at 72 F. I attached the Brew Belt and bumped up the space heater temp as well. By the evening, the temp on the fermometer was past its max (78 F), and the ambient temp was 82 F, so I assume fermentation temp is around the low to mid-80s.

2/1/13 - Temp still above 78 F, but airlock activity has already slowed to every 2 seconds.

6/1/13 - Gravity at 1.015. Trying to keep the temperature up...

14/1/13 - Gravity still only down to 1.013. Leaving the space heater and Brew Belt on.

9/2/13 - Turned off the space heater a couple of weeks ago, temp stayed consistently around 76-78 F. Even after 6 weeks, FG only at 1.011. That actually proves to be an apparent attenuation of 77%, which is in the range listed on the Wyeast website. Bottled with 157 g table sugar, aiming for 3 vol CO2 for 4.75 gallons with max temp of 85 F (?) reached.

15/4/13 - Tasting notes here. Spicy and easy-drinking.


  1. Is this otherwise known as zombie freestyle? If so, it has a very clean fermentation profile, I'm shocked by the lack of estery spicy notes from the yeast, it was very much like a dark wheat, or even a dry stout. The head retention was great, the body for being so dry was smooth, not yeasty, or slick, but had a nice thickness to it. I did not get hops, or a lot of yeast spicyness I see in a more traditional saison.
    This was enjoyed by both me and my wife.

    1. Yep, this is the one. Glad you enjoyed it. I'm still not sure exactly what I'm smelling/tasting in this beer (and this is why I haven't reviewed it on here yet); you would expect to get SOME hop character with 3.5 oz in the whirlpool! But, I don't think I get a lot, either.

      Thanks for the notes! I like what the Midnight Wheat added to it. Really wish I could try the commercial beer again, but that probably won't happen.