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Last week, I wrote about saison, and mentioned that we were thinking of brewing our own. Well, we did, and today’s post is about that experiment. This brew day presented us with many ‘firsts’; first farmhouse-style beer, first brew with candi syrup, first time making candi syrup, first use of sautéed fruit. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Saison is a bit of a wildcard style; it nearly went extinct in the last century, and its revival is due in great part to the enthusiasm of American brewers.† Essentially, saison is a seasonal farmhouse ale, which I understand were (and sometimes still are) fermented in open vessels, leading to a high proportion of wild yeast and an accompanying ‘funk’ that is a hallmark of the style.‡ However, as many brewers have noted, saison and its cousin farmhouse style, biere de garde, are by nature difficult to pin down. As Phil Markowski put it in his article, “Farmhouse Ales” for All About Beer Magazine,
“A true farmhouse ale conveys a sense of origin; a great one, transcendence. You feel the rusticity, imagine the field and sense the unpredictability of the season—the liquid summation of “terroir.”’
Since we’re not actually brewing on a Flemish or Wallonian farm, this description presents a bit of a challenge. But most American versions are not farm-produced, so we went with the idea that a good saison should evoke the season in which it was brewed.
Inspired by Jason Yester’s description of a Port Brewing saison that used raisins sautéed in red wine (I hope they used port. It just seems appropriate), and David Schollmeyer’s 2011 National Homebrewing Competition gold medal-winning “Chimayo Azul”—which used piloncillo sugar— we started by making our own candi syrup. In this case, ‘we’ means Ben. He cooked up a two-pound batch of dark amber candi syrup using piloncillo, raw sugar, and some white sugar. He also made a one-pound batch with raisins and currants pan-sautéed in brandy. (pic here) The kitchen smelled amazing, let me tell you.
Seven pounds of Bohemian pilsner—because that’s the type we had—and three pounds of rye malt made up the grain bill, and we used one ounce each East Kent Golding, Styrian Bobek, and Styrian Celeja for the hops. One package of Danstar Belle Saison dry yeast went into primary.
Last week, I made the assertion that saison pretty much needs brettanomyces. The plan at this point is to bottle condition, but only using brett for maybe half the bottles, and another Belgian yeast for the others. Then we’ll really see which tastes better. So look for an update on the brett question in a few months or so.
The tap water here is hard and seems to suppress many flavors in the beer, so we usually buy distilled for brewing. This time, we painstakingly filtered nine gallons of water through our Brita pitcher, then added the appropriate minerals back in to achieve Ben’s desired water profile. See recipe below for more details on water, mash temps and times.
At this point, it’s worth noting that some saison recipes call for holding the wort at a specific temperature for a while, and then fermenting without cooling.† We didn’t do that. We did a 90 minute boil, with hop additions at 60 minutes and 15 minutes.
Once it got to a good boil, we stirred in the whole batch of candi syrup, except for the bit that hardened on the bottom of the jar.* To compensate for that loss, we added 6 more ounces of white sugar. After flameout, we cooled the wort as usual, and pitched the yeast.
Saison being an ale, it likes to ferment at reasonably warm temperatures. At this time of year, the garage could not be considered reasonably warm by any standard other than perhaps a penguin’s. Thus, I am now sharing my office with a FastFerment conical fermenter, since this is the warmest room in the house. (pic) If the kreusen ring is any indication, the yeast is quite happy at its current temp of 74F.
In two or three weeks, it’ll be time to bottle the stuff, which means another first for us: Belgian-style bottling with corks and wire cages. I’ll probably tell you all about that adventure, too.
*Note: We learned that adding a bit of lime juice to the boiling candi syrup is good if you want it to harden into candi sugar, and very bad if you want it to stay in liquid form.
“”Chimayo Azul” Belgian Strong Dark Ale – Beer Recipe – American Homebrewers Association.” American Homebrewers Association. Brewers Association. Web. 26 Jan. 2015.
Markowski, Phil. “Farmhouse Ales: Bucolic Beers for the Modern Era.” All About Beer Magazine 1 Mar. 2010. Print.
‡”Farmhouse Ales: What and Why.” Realbeer.com. Real Beer Media, Inc., 1 Jan. 2005. Web. 26 Jan. 2015.
†Yester, Jason. “Saison Resurgence.” Zymurgy 1 July 2014: 36-45. Print.