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.

Tuesday 7 August 2012

NHC 2012 Final Round results

Several months ago, I entered a few beers into the ALES competition in Saskatchewan. This is the only homebrew competition in Canada that is a qualifying round for the National Homebrew Competition (the largest homebrew contest in the world), which takes place in a different city in the U.S. each year. Two of my entries, an Oktoberfest and American IPA (the Alpine Duet clone I brewed in January), won medals (gold and bronze, respectively), and therefore moved on to the final round in Seattle in late June. I was worried about the age of the IPA by the time the competition came around, so I brewed a replacement American IPA in late April - a different recipe, however, due to a shortage of Amarillo hops.

Unfortunately, neither of the beers placed in the final round, but I wasn't exactly disappointed. I didn't have high hopes, what with the quality of beers that I would be competing against. I just recently received the scoresheets for the two beers... it's always nice to get unbiased, informative opinions from BJCP-certified judges, especially ones who have had a lot of experience judging homebrew competitions. Below is a summary of the scores for each beer.

Oktoberfest (Groundskeeper Marzen) - Category 3(b)

The overall score for this beer was 34.3 (in the 'Very Good', 30-37 range) out of 50, which I was actually pleased about. The three individual scores were 36, 34, and 33.

- Aroma: Scores were pretty good here (two 8s and a 10/12), with the judges commenting on the "rich, clean malt" aroma, with it being a bit bready and toasty - pretty much what I would hope for in an Oktoberfest.

- Appearance: No complaints here either (2, 3, and 3/3) with an amber/copper color, great clarity, and excellent head retention.

- Flavor: Not as many comments in this section as I would have liked to see (scores 15, 13, and 12/20). The judge who gave it the highest score said to "eliminate the grainy/astringent element"; the other two judges had no complaints regarding astringency. The only other comment was from the judge who gave the LOWEST score; he simply said "good malt complexity". No other flaws were noted.

- Mouthfeel: Pretty average (3, 3, and 4/5); again, the first judge noted a "slight astringent finish", marking it only as a 1/5 in the astringency section. Another judge said that it "may be overly carbonated"... may?

- Overall: 6, 6, and 7/10. I would agree with the scores for this beer... it's always been one of my favorites that I've brewed. It's definitely a bit too old now (brewed in May, 2011... maybe a fresher batch would have scored even better?), but I think it's held up REALLY well, considering.

American IPA ("Z.E.D. IPA") - Category 14(b)

This beer didn't score as well as the Oktoberfest; the overall score was 27.6/50 (in the "Good" range of 21/29). Individual scores were very consistent with 28, 28, and 27.

- Aroma: Scored pretty well here, with 7, 7, and 8/12. The hop aroma was generally agreed to be very high, with notes of citrus, grass, and pine. The judges all seemed to think that the malt aroma was too-overshadowed by the hops. I have a bit of an issue with this... the BJCP clearly states the following regarding American IPA:
"A prominent to intense hop aroma with a citrusy, floral, perfume-like, resinous, piney, and/or fruity character derived from American hops. Many versions are dry hopped and can have an additional grassy aroma, although this is not required. Some clean malty sweetness may be found in the background, but should be at a lower level than in English examples."
I suppose the judges thought there was no malt aroma (two of them rated the malt aroma as 1/5 in terms of prominence), but one clearly thought there was some there (3/5).

- Appearance: Good scores (2, 3, and 3/3); gold color, with pretty good clarity and a bit of hop haze, and very good head retention.

- Flavor: Here's where the beer stumbled... three 10/20s. Basically, all three judges felt the hopping was too aggressive, with no real malt-backup, causing the beer to finish "fairly harshly". Bitterness was ranked 4/5 by all three, with the malt at 1, 2, and 3/5 (hops were 4, 4 and 5/5).

- Mouthfeel: Again, not so great... 2, 2 and 3/5. "Harshness" was mentioned again, along with astringency by one judge.

- Overall: 5, 5 and 6/10. The notes on flavor and mouthfeel speak for themselves; the judges felt some more malt presence and complexity would really help this beer.

I thought the scoring may have been a bit unfair for the aroma (based on the BJCP guidelines), but I completely agree with all the other comments. I DID overhop this beer, especially in the dry-hop, which accounted for 3 oz each of Citra and Simcoe for a 5-gallon batch. I still have a few of the Duet clones left, and I feel even though they're 5 months bottled now that they're still a better beer. Looking back, I would have probably been better off entering the clone, or at least classifying the new beer as an Imperial IPA!