Recipe Review: Saisons By: Ben Bakelaar

Recipe Review: Saisons

 

This past spring, I got into Saisons. Like, really into them. I’m not sure exactly what the trigger was, but I remember one day just hopping into my car and heading down to The Best Beer Store (https://sites.google.com/site/thebestbeerstore/new-arrivals) in Edison. I walked out of the store an hour later with a wine box full of those beautiful Belgian champagne bottles. It was time for some R&D! Over the next week (or was it the next day?) I sampled and compared 7-10 different saisons. I think this is what inspired me to purchase Farmhouse Ales by Phil Markowski (http://www.amazon.com/Farmhouse-Ales-Culture-Craftsmanship-Tradition/dp/0937381845) which gives as thorough a history of the Saison and biere de garde styles as you will find. They roll up under the title of “farmhouse ales” because that is just what they were - beer that farmers in the Wallonia region of Belgium brewed, for themselves and their workers. There was nothing particularly special about them - they were designed to be functional, quenching thirst while not inebriating workers, tasty but not cloying, simple to brew but flexible enough to incorporate whatever was laying around the farm. Spontaneous fermentation was certainly part of this historical style, as pure yeast strains were only invented during the Industrial Revolution and even then these farmers were as far from cities as you could get. That is likely why saisons are known for their spicy, earthy, funky character - wild yeast tends to do that.

 

After nearly becoming extinct in the early 20th century, saisons became a regional specialty beer which allowed them to survive and slowly flourish. Fast-forward to the present and I think it is safe to say that this past summer the US went crazy for saisons! Everybody was trying them, everybody was brewing them - it’s a style that is open for interpretation (much like stouts) because the base is so simple and the resulting flavors so complex. And remember, complex flavor does not always mean a complex recipe.

 

For my first saison, I decided to stick as closely as possible to my favorite commercial example, Saison Dupont. Farmhouse Ales reports the following recipe for it:

 

Saison Vieille Provision (Brasserie Dupont - Tourpes, Belgium)

Original gravity: 1.054 SG (13.5 plato)

ABV: 6.5%

Yeast attenuation: 93%

Malts: 100% Pilsner

Hops: East Kent Goldings and Styrian Goldings (two additions)

Yeast: House ale yeast

Primary fermentation temperature: 85-95f

Storage period: 6-8 weeks in bottle at 74-75f

 

Converting that to a recipe you can enter in BeerSmith and purchase at love2brew.com:

/

8 lbs Pilsner malt

1 oz East Kent Goldingsat 60 min

0.5 oz East Kent Goldingsat 15 min

1 vial White Labs Belgian Saison Yeast(WLP656)

 

I brewed that back in mid-April. Two weeks later, I was doing another batch. For that batch, I decided to up the grains by 1 lb (to get a slightly higher ABV) and include an additional 1 oz of aroma hops.

 

9 lbs Pilsner malt

1 oz East Kent Goldingsat 60 min

0.5 oz East Kent Goldingsat 20 min

1 oz East Kent Goldingsat 5 min

1 vial White Labs Belgian Saison Yeast(WLP656)

 

 

I should mention two things - first, due to an offer I couldn’t refuse I had purchased 1 pound of East Kent Goldings (instead of a few ounces), and I was also experimenting with harvesting my yeast. I didn’t do anything special, just dump the bottom of the carboy (after racking out the beer) into a sanitized mason jar, top it off with distilled water, and seal it up until the next use. This worked for me, and really helped keep the cost of brewing down - you are saving yourself $7-$10 each time you re-use your yeast, and $2-$5 per batch when using bulk hops.  [Editor’s note:  Contact us at support@love2brew.comfor special pricing regarding bulk hops]

 

At this point my notes aren’t complete enough, but I am pretty sure that the first batch came out the best - it was the most balanced, tastiest, and closest to the commercial style.

 

Next, one of the homebrew clubs in the area that I am part of (PALE ALES out of Princeton area) decided to do a saison for their group brew. This recipe below was designed by a committee of group members, and so was quite different than the other recipes I had done so far.

 

10 gallon batch size

16 lbs Pilsner malt

4 lbs Munich malt

3 oz Styrian Goldingsat 60 min

2 oz Hallertauer Hersbruckerat 15 min

1 vial of East Coast Yeast ECY08 Saison Brasserie (Substitute 1 vial White Labs Belgian Saison Yeast(WLP656))

 

Replacing 20% of the grain bill with Munich malt which is sweeter than Pilsner definitely had an effect. This beer tasted totally different than the first two batches. In fact, many of the other members added some wheat malt and spices like coriander. This had the effect of basically turning the saison into a wheat/wit beer, which is fine if that’s what you like, but to me it wasn’t really a saison.

 

Jumping ahead to mid-June, I brewed my fourth batch. This time I used a different base recipe from the Farmhouse Ales book.

 

Saison d’Erezee Printemps (Brasserie Fantome - Soy, Belgium)

Original gravity: 1.066SG (16.5 plato)

ABV: 7%

Malts: Pilsner and Munich

Hops: Hallertauer

Yeast: Ale yeast

Primary fermentation temperature: 82f

Storage period: 6 days at 37f

 

Again, converting that to a modern recipe:

 

9 lbs Pilsner malt

1 lb Munich malt

1 oz East Kent Goldingsat 60 min

1 oz East Kent Goldingsat 15 min

1 vial White Labs Belgian Saison Yeast(WLP656)

 

The addition of munich malt gave it a sweeter taste than my first two batches, although at 10% it was lower than the PALE ALES brew. I think that this one needed something else to balance that sweetness, perhaps an herb or spice which farmers would traditionally add (whatever they had available). I definitely preferred the 100% Pilsner base. It really lets the yeast complexity shine through.

 

My fifth batch was brewed mid-July, and since I had brewed the recipe several times before, I decided to go a little crazy. I cleared out all the “extra” hops from my fridge that I had accumulated over the past year - I figured there were already a few commercial examples of “hoppy” saisons so why not give it a shot.

 

10 lbs Pilsner malt

2 oz Clusterat 60 min

2 oz Cascadeat 30 min

1 oz Northern Brewerat 10 min

0.5 oz Challengerat 10 min

0.5 oz Cascadeat 1 min

0.5 oz Clusterat 1 min

1 vial White Labs Belgian Saison Yeast(WLP656)

 

When I sampled the beer after fermentation was done, it was - how can I say - interesting. The flavor wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t exactly pleasant either. It actually had a sort of pineapple flavor to it - so I decided to keep the crazy going, and poured in a few cans of Goya pineapple juice that I had laying around. After an appropriate amount of aging (several weeks) the flavors finally blended together and I had on my hands what I imagine is the world’s first “Pineapple Saison”! Even then, the beer wasn’t exactly pleasant. It was extremely hoppy, but the complex Belgian yeast and the pineapple juice helped mellow it just enough that it was drinkable. It’s probably one of the most creative beers I’ve made so far, and I plan to brew it again, just for fun, next summer. I’ll probably tone down the hops a bit, try to pick some more complementary hop combinations, and make sure it ferments at a high enough temperature to really produce some strong esters to compete with the hops.

 

So, there you have it. About 4 months of brewing the same style, with lots of variation in between. Was there a method to my madness? No, not really! And that was part of the fun. I plan on doing it all over again this coming spring/summer. Saison is such a great, drinkable, tasty style - if you aren’t a hop head or wit lover, it’s the next most distinct style I can think of for summer drinking. Let me know in the comments what you think, and any stories you have about brewing the same recipe/style multiple times. Next week, I’ll get back to the winter season and talk about the pumpkin milk stout recipe that I’ve brewed twice now, and I’ll show you the third version of the recipe I’m formulating!