This is not an article on how to brew the perfect traditional saison, or farmhouse ale. It’s the story of a beer of the moment — an inspiration of improvisation. It has been an embarrassingly long time since I have brewed. So, when the opportunity arose today, I took advantage of it with the ingredients I had on hand.
The inspiration for brewing a saison came from two sources. First, our recent trip to Philadelphia included stops at breweries that featured exceptional saison-based beers. Gerard Olson and Daniel Endicott brew beers at Forest and Main in Ambler, Pennsylvania, that are hybrids of English and Belgian styles. Saison yeast is often well featured. Tom Baker of Earth – Bread + Brewery in the Mt. Airy Neighborhood of Philly served us two saison-inspired beers that knocked our socks off. One was infused with generous amounts of American hops.
The second reason for my wanting to brew a saison was the fact that a packet of Belle Saison dry yeast from Danstar was included in my goodie bag from the National Homebrewers Conference. Maybe I should have put this reason as the first.
From what I can gather from books and online sources, traditional saison recipes start with a base of pilsner malt and often wheat. I had neither in my grain bin this morning when the brewing bug bit. I did, however, have American two-row barley and a bit of malted rye. That would have to do.
I chose Brew in a Bag (BIAB) as the technique for mashing. I like BIAB for moderate gravity beers. Washing the nylon bag is much easier than washing my cylindrical cooler, and my efficiencies are usually pretty close to more traditional mashing methods. When it comes to higher gravity beers, I go back to the mash tun. Picking up a bag full of fifteen pounds of saturated grain, for example gets a bit more tricky.
For the hops, I laid a base bitterness with Hallertau pellets. I went American with the late addition hops, choosing Amarillo for a five-minute addition and Mosaic for the end of the boil. I believe the fruity character of the American hops will compliment the spices that I hope to get from the saison yeast.
Right now, the beer is in my basement at 72˚F (22˚C). I’m hoping the warmer fermentation temperatures will bring out the spicy character of the yeast. I’ve never used it before. I’d love to read about your experience with it in the comments below. I’ll keep you posted on the progress. (Click here to see how it turned out.)
Here’s the recipe:
Spur of the Moment “Saison”
Volume: 5 gallons (19 Liters)
9 lbs. (4 kg.) American two-row
1 lb. (.45 kg.) Malted Rye
1.5 oz. (42.5 g) Hallertau pellets – 60 minutes
1 oz. (28 g) Amarillo pellets – 5 minutes
1 oz. (28 g) Mosaic pellets – flameout
One packet Danstar Belle Saison dry yeast (rehydrated)
Original gravity 1.047
Using the BIAB technique, I added the grain to 6 gallons (23 Liters) water at 159˚F (70.5˚C) in my brew kettle that was lined with a nylon mesh bag. This gave me a mash rest temperature of 151˚F (66˚C), which I held for 60 minutes. After removing the bag of grain from the kettle, I sparged it in a second kettle that held 1.5 gallons (5.7 liters) of water at 170˚F (77˚C). This gave me a wort with the pre-boil volume of almost 7 gallons (26.5 liters).
After establishing the boil, I added the Hallertau hops and set my timer for an hour. Five minutes before the end of the hour, I added the Amarillo hops, followed five minutes later by the Mosaic hops and flameout.
I hydrated the dry yeast in a small volume of boiled and cooled water before adding to the chilled wort in the fermenter. I shook the carboy vigorously for two minutes to aerate.