Friday, 13 November 2015

Brewing a Hoppy Saison (based on my Prairie 'Merica clone)

After brewing my Maine Beer Co. Peeper clone in late June, my stretch of frantic brewing (for me... 6 batches in 6 weeks!) was over. Enter the summer months... temperatures are a lot higher, making it more difficult to control fermentation adequately (my fermentation chamber became my keezer over a year ago), and I'm often away on weekends off. During the months of July and August, I only brewed one time... and I wanted to make it count; I really had to think hard about what exactly to brew.

It actually turned out to be an easy decision; weeks before, I had ordered one of my favorite Saison yeast strains from my LHBS; because they don't regularly keep it in stock, it can easily take 4 weeks or longer, so I ordered back in early June. Wyeast 3711 French Saison has always given me good results - I like the combination of fruity and pepper flavors that it gives, and I like that it isn't finicky... it's never once crapped out on me and left me wondering if the beer was ever going to finish. With this yeast, I was armed to do a re-brew of one of my all-time favorite homebrews of mine: the Prairie Artisan Ales 'Merica clone, originally brewed almost two years ago.

That beer - a SMaSH Saison brewed with Pilsner malt and hopped heavily with Nelson Sauvin, and dosed with Brettanomyces at bottling - was a real winner. Juicy and tropical, dry, and a touch of funk from the Brett (I actually split the batch, dosing half with Brett and leaving the other half without), it was definitely one of my homebrew highlights of 2013, and likely in the top 10 of all-time. I put the recipe together based on some info I found online (mostly through the brewery's website); after I posted the recipe, they tweeted back to me a couple of recommended minor adjustments to the hop schedule. Since then, I've been wanting to rebrew it, which is what I finally planned to do for my solo summer brew day.

I was initially going to do the exact same recipe, but with everything scaled down to a lower-ABV beer. My 'Merica clone had an OG target of 1.056; the non-Brett portion finished at 1.006, for an ABV of 6.7%. This time, I aimed for 1.048. No particular reason, I just didn't really need a higher-ABV beer. Otherwise, I planned on following Prairie's recommendations... but I changed my mind very close to brew day, and made several alterations:

1) I decided to back off the Nelson a little bit, and add two more varieties, Citra and Centennial. Not that I have anything against Nelson; quite the contrary! However, it IS an extremely expensive and hard to obtain hop, and I really wanted to play with a combination of the three. These three varieties were used in my Societe Brewing The Pupil clone I brewed last year, and worked great together. I wanted to see what this combination would be like with a Saison yeast. Note from the recipe below that Nelson is still the most-used hop.

2) I went with a hopping schedule more similar to my first beer then Prairie's recommendations. Not because I think mine would work better, but because I know my original one worked well on my system the first time. The minor changes include a very small hop addition at 60 minutes (I used Nelson because the package was open; at only 7 grams, I figured it wasn't a big deal to use it), and I took out the 5-minute addition.

3) I added a dry-hop addition; the first (Nelson and Centennial) would be in primary, and the second (Nelson and Citra) a keg-hop before transferring to the serving keg. Not that the first beer didn't have tons of hop flavour and aroma; I just wanted to really try to maximize the hop presence, and see if a keg-hop addition would boost it even more.

So, this beer ended up being more "inspired by" my original clone than a simple rebrew. The mash temp was kept the same as before (151 F). When I went to weigh out the grains (and mill them) the night before brewing, I realized I was almost completely out of Acid malt. Now, I didn't use any Acid malt when I brewed the 'Merica clone, but I use it for almost all my beers now to adjust mash pH. I had planned on using close to 2.5% of the grist as Acid malt, but I only had a mere 22 g on hand... that's about 0.5%. Even with the bump up of salt additions to the mash this time around, my mash pH was still calculated to be higher than I would like (I usually try to target 5.4 or so). But at this point, there was no changing it, so I just had to accept it.

Otherwise, the day went well. My OG came in a bit high (1.051), but I was ok with that. I pitched the yeast at about 64 F and decided to just let it go on its own; being a Saison yeast (Wyeast 3711 French Saison, my typical go-to Saison yeast), I wasn't worried about it getting over 70 F. A couple days after pitching, it got up to 76 F, and started dropping slowly the next day as active fermentation petered out. After close to two weeks, the first round of dry-hops were added to primary, then the beer was racked to the designated dry-hop keg, where the second addition was thrown in. Transferred to the serving keg after another 4-5 days, and carbed.

I have to say that, despite being a very tasty beer, I prefer the original 'Merica clone. This beer DOES have plenty of tropical fruit and citrus in both the aroma and taste, and the Nelson is quite apparent (being so dominant as usual), but it was just SO in your face when used completely on its own... in a wonderful, wonderful way. I also find this beer to have a slight carbonic bite in the finish; the bitterness isn't too high, but there's just something that was a tad bit off.

In the end, though, still a really good beer, I think. We had no problem polishing this keg off a few weeks ago (I really have to start posting more), and I think lovers of hoppy Saisons would be impressed with the hop presence in this beer. If you can get your hands on some Nelson and Citra, give it a try!

Recipe Targets: (5.5 gallons, 75% efficiency) OG 1.048, FG ~1.004, IBU ~45, SRM 3.5, ABV ~6%

4.25 kg (99.5%) Pilsner
22 g (0.5%) Acid malt

Nelson Sauvin - 7 g (11.6% AA) @ 60 min
Nelson Sauvin - 28 g @ 10 min

Citra - 28 g @ 0 min (with a 15 min hop steep)
Nelson Sauvin - 42 g @ 0 min (with a 15 min hop steep)

Centennial - 40 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)
Nelson Sauvin - 42 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)

Citra - 28 g dry-hop for 5 more days (keg)
Nelson Sauvin - 42 g dry-hop for 5 more days (keg)

Misc: 1/2 tab Irish Moss at 5 min

Yeast: Wyeast 3711 French Saison (with a starter)

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; 3 g Gypsum and 5 g calcium chloride added to mash

- Brewed on July 29th, 2015, by myself. 50-minute mash with 13 L of strike water, mashed in at target of 151 F. Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 6.5 L of boiling water. Sparged with ~4.5 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~7.25 gallons.

- SG 1.038 (target 1.036). 90-minute boil. Final volume ~5.75 gallons; OG high at 1.051. Chilled to low-60s F, then poured into Better Bottle. Aerated with 60 seconds of pure O2, pitched yeast starter at 64 F.

- Great fermentation over the first few days, temp hovering around 70 F for the first day, eventually rising to as high as 76 F by the second day. Began to slow after day 3, temp dropping only slightly ever day. FG finally reached as low as 1.003.

- Added first round of dry hops to primary on August 11th; five days later, racked to CO2-purged dry-hop keg and added second dry hops. Cold-crashed five days later and transferred to serving keg and began carbing with CO2.

Appearance: Pours with a moderate-sized head that quickly fades to 1/2-finger... too fast for the style. Body is a light yellow color, and quite hazy/murky (I assume from all the dry-hopping). Not the prettiest beer.

Aroma: Nice smack of tropical hop goodness, with a fair amount of citrus in there, too. There is definitely a background of Belgian phenolic spiciness from the yeast, but various fruit wins out by far.

Taste: Ditto; very tropical and citrusy. Nelson sticks out more than anything else with its characteristic gooseberry flavour, but this beer has more citrus than the first iteration, with a little spicy phenolics backing it all up. Moderate bitterness in the finish; bit of a carbonic bite. Quite dry.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light bodied, with carbonation that borders somewhere between medium and medium-low... could definitely be higher for the style.

Overall: Very enjoyable, but in the end I'd have to say I prefer my straight 'Merica clone, i.e. all Nelson Sauvin.


  1. Looks cool, a little wheat or something else and it'd have more head retention. I've done several similar hoppy saison style beers and they all turned out nice (3711, Wallonian from Yeastbay, Saison/Brett from Yeastbay, and Belgian dry ale from Yeastbay).

  2. Snap! I brewed something similar, but with Nelson, Galax and Sorachi Ace (originally just Sorachi and Nelson, cos I've heard it a pretty insane combo.) but added the galaxy as nelson/galaxy play so well. lemony/juicyness is the aim. so fingers cross.
    using my bretted saison recipe and WLP670. which took off in under 24Hours, despite no starter.
    should be ready for the end of summer here in new zealand (the home of Nelson Sauvin, and much easier to get i might add)