Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Great Saison Experiment: 8 Strains - Part 2

Part 1 Malt, Hops, Mash ....Continued

So with the malt bill and hopping already covered we can move onto the part that matters the most for Saison - Yeast. There are several yeast forward beer styles (hefeweizen, wit, all other French/Belgian beers with the exception of Biere de Garde), but Saison stands out. The malt and hops just provide a foundation (mouthfeel, background flavors) for the yeast derived flavors to build on. So for me the most important ingredient for my Saison is what yeast I use.  My next step was to hunt down the best yeasts. I did some important research and narrowed down my choices to 8. (I may do another round next month because there are more I want to try - many more)

No yeast was (directly) bought in the making of this beer
  1. French Saison Wyeast 3711 - harvested from last year's French Saison - 5 gal batch
  2. Saison Dupont - harvested from a 750 ml - 5 gal batch
  3. Brett Drie - used yeast cake from ESBrett - 5 gal btach
  4. ECY03 - 1/2 vial (birthday gift from a homebrew friend) - 1 gal batch - If anyone knows more about the actual yeasts in the blends please leave a comment.
  5. ECY08 1/2 vial (birthday gift from a homebrew friend) - 1 gal batch -  If anyone knows more about the actual yeasts in the blends please leave a comment.
  6. Lost Abbey Red Barn - harvest from a very fresh 750 ml -  1 gal batch -  hope it's the same yeast as Carnevale which is sweeping competitions this year.
  7. Southampton Saison Deluxe - harvested from a 1 yr old bottle -  1 gal batch - Phil Markowski literally wrote the book on Farmhouse beers
  8. Logsdon Seizon Bretta - harvested from 750 ml -  1 gal batch -  Have heard great things and enjoyed the interview over on Embrace The Funk
For all the yeast (except the Logsdon, pitched directly), I made a 4 oz - 1.030 starter which was poured directly into the bottle. Then 3 - 4 days later I added another 6 oz - 1.030 starter to the bottle. (For the 1 gal batches, that was the limit of the stepping up.) For the Saison Dupont and French Saison, I started stepping them up about 3 weeks before brew day. After the 6 oz starter, I added 32 oz - 1.030 starter to a 1 gal container and poured the entire contents of each starter bottle. Then 3 days before brew day I added an additional 32 oz - 1.030 wort to the Dupont, French Saison and old Brett Drie yeast cake. All the starters were showing nice krausens by brew day.

As for fermentation profile, I am going to keep this round simple instead of the preferred temperature ramping I normally do. All 20 gals were pitched at ~ 70F and kept in ambient closest conditions (~75F). I did not use any exterior cooling or water baths, I allowed all the beer's temperatures to free rise during fermentation. The next round of testing will experiment with higher fermentation temperatures (using heating blankets).

5 Gallon Batches (Brett Drie in corny, French Saison, Dupont)
Day 2
Day 5

 1 Gallon Batches (Lost Abbey, SoutHampton, ECY03, ECY08, Logsdon)
Day 2
Day 5

 I tried to emulate my water profile to the one listed in Farmhouse beers. Basically, the Saison water profile is low in all minerals except Sulfate and Bicarbonates. The higher sulfate level will help to enhance the dry and bitter mouthfeel. I do not pretend to be an expert, I just created a close approximation of the profile with San Diego water cut with R/O and some other salts added (see below).

Active fermentation took off for all the batches after a short lag time with the exception of the Logsdon yeast which did not have a starter, activity took about 36 hrs. The next phase of this experiment will be tasting notes, which I will try to get a panel together for.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Great Saison Experiment: 8 Strains - Part 1

The year of experimentation continues. Saison has increasing become one of my favorite styles to brew (and consume) since I have delved into more examples of the style and read Farmhouse Ales. For me the style allows for a lot of creative freedom, which is a main reason that I homebrew. After all the research I have done both from tasting and reading, I have formulated my basic recipe:

Malt Bill

  • 0-10% sugar (used on beers above 1.050, possible creative twist with using unique sugar types: piloncillo, jaggery, candi sugar, turbinado, treacle, sorghum, palm sugar, honey, date syrup)
  • 10-25% non-barley grain (this addition gives the beer its historic rustic note without dominating the flavor profile, also helps with head retention and mouthfeel, possible creative twist using non-standard grain types: spelt, triticale, rye, millet, bulgar wheat, pearled farro, amaranth, oats, buckwheat..)
  • Balance - Pilsner malt (I haven't been able to nail down a specific brand I like, but I always think it is best to try to keep it as traditional as possible. I'm using Weyermann because that is what I could get locally in a 55 lb sack. I'd like to try the Briess Less Modified Pilsner Malt or some Franco-Belges.
  • *Acid Malt can be added to adjust mash pH or  at 10-15% to add some tartness


  • You need firm bitterness, but your IBUs don't need to be very high because of the super low finishing gravity. I use around .5 IBU/OG Ratio and I find this works pretty well. My palate doesn't like much bitterness so you can adjust accordingly.
  • I like a neutral hop like Magnum for the main bittering charge. Then for aroma, you can either go spicy (Saaz or similar) or earthy (Styrian Goldings or similar) with about an ounce (or two) near the end of the boil.
  • Recently I have been experimenting with dry-hopping and have really enjoyed the results. I suggest tasting the beer after fermentation and finding a complimenting hop flavor. Last year, the citrus from the WY 3711 yeast went great with Amarillo hops. This year I'm going to try some home grown Cascade (big grapefruit) in the 3711 batch and probably more Saaz in the Dupont version.


  • Step Mash - Traditional. Dank Brewer outlines a typical Saison mash profile that is well proven.
  • Single Infusion Mash -  For homebrew simplicity, I use around 148-150 for O.G. <1.050 and highly attenuative yeast (Wyeast 3711). If you are brewing a higher gravity saison and/or using a less attenutive yeast (Dupont), try mashing closer to 145- 147.
  • You will also probably need some acid malt or other way to lower your mash pH for better conversion.

For this big batch of Saison I wanted to know more about what each yeast strain adds to the beer so I kept the recipe fairly simple. I had 2 choices to make 20 gals, I could either brew 2 - 10 gal batches or brew 1 concentrated batch and dilute in the fermentor. In an effort to keep everything consistant I went with the latter. I designed my recipe for double the strength of everything I wanted. So the actual batch had an O.G. of 1.088, 42 IBUs and 8 SRM. And somehow I fit 31 lbs of grain into my 10 gal Igloo mash tun.

Recipe: 2012 Table Saison

Batch Size 20.0 gal        O.G.-1.044           F.G.-TBD
IBU-21                             SRM-4                 ABV-TBD

Grain Bill (77% Efficiency):
25 lb Pilsner Malt (78%)
5 lb Rolled Oats (16%)
1 lb Acid Malt (3%)
1 lb Piloncillo (3%)

2 oz Super Styrian, 9.5%, pellet, 90 min 38.7 IBU (From Niko Brew)
2 oz Styrian Golding, 4.5%, pellet, 10 min 3.8 IBU

Water Profile, Yeast Varieties and Fermentation will be discussed in Part 2.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Dreg Series: Red Poppy Flanders Red

I'm finally back into trying some more sour beer dregs. I have had Lost Abbey Red Poppy on my list for a couple years (since the beginning). It is one of my favorite sour beers and it's too bad about the limited supply ( I have been reading that they are planning to expand). Red Poppy is just a great balanced beer that has obvious complexity. I'm not sure if that statement makes sense to anyone else. I mean that I can clearly taste each ingredient when I'm searching for it and when I just take a sip without thinking the beer is just so easy to enjoy.

For this batch I used a gallon of wort from my 2012 Flanders Red and pitched the dregs from a 2012 Red Poppy bottle. I shared the bottle with a couple of sour beer loving friends and then foil capped it. That night I added 2 oz of 1.030 wort and gave it a good shake. Four days later, I added another 4 oz of 1.030 wort and I saw some active fermentation in the bottle. After another 3-4 days the whole 6 oz starter was swirled and pitched into the gallon of wort. I had pretty active fermentation in 24 hours. And the beer seemed to primarily ferment out in about a week.

I haven't take a taste because it is only a gallon batch, but I probably will in a few months. The beer will also be getting ~.25 oz of medium toast French Oak cubes.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Sour Beer: 2012 Flanders Red

I'm now on my 3rd annual batch of Flander's Red. It is a style that I really like and will continue to try to perfect for my taste. Every year I have made some small changes to the malt bill and pitched onto my original Roeselare yeast. Last year's batch was more sour  than the first year's, but still not as sour as I would like. I am also at the point that I know for a great Flanders Red, you really should do some blending. The last batches have been great on their own, but I can always find an area in the beer that I would like to improve (lactic acid level, oak level, Brett level, acetic acid level, color, malt complexity...)

Historically, here have been my changes:

2010 Flanders Red to 2011 Flanders Red
  • 30% Pilsner Malt swapped with 25% Maris Otter
  • 3% Wheat Malt swapped with 13% Flaked Corn
  • San Diego (hard) tap water to Soft Water Profile
  • WLP001 +  Roeselare yeast (No Starter) to  Roeselare yeast cake and US-05 after 3 days
  • 2 oz of French Oak Medium Toast to 1 oz of French Oak Medium Toast
2011 Flanders Red to 2012 Flanders Red
  • 25% Maris Otter scrapped in favor of more Munich and Vienna
  • 13% Flaked Corn swapped for 16% Flaked Wheat
  • All Specialty Malts increased 2 oz
  • Mash Temp from 154 to 158
  • Roeselare yeast cake and US-05 after 3 days changed to  Roeselare yeast cake/WLP530

Brew Day or should I say Brew Days were a bit mixed for this beer. My 1st attempt at brewing this beer ended with 10 gals of mash dumping all over my good buddy Ben's garage and drive-way. I guess I should have listened to him when he said that he thought that trash can was a bit too "flimsy". So that ended attempt #1 and gave me a great opportunity to clean his garage and drive-way for the next 2 hours. Lesson Learned.

 Brew Day #2 had to be planned shortly after because I had already taken the last batch off the yeast cake. I stored the yeast cake in a 1/2 gallon growler until it was time to pitch. My best time to brew ended up being when my wife was at wine book club on a Thursday night. So a weekday brew was in order. I had been wanting to experiment with shorter mash times and with no Pilsner in the boil I was fine with a 60 min boil.

Brew Day schedule start to finish:
5:55 Heat 4 gal Mash Water
6:10 Mash in
6:20 Heat 5 gal Sparge Water
6:40 Recirculate Mash
6:45 Transfer Sparge Water to Bucket, Run-off Mash into Heated Kettle, Start Hand Sparging
7:15 Boiling, Add hops
7:30 Clean Mash Tun, Sanitize Carboy
8:00 Add Chiller and Nutrients
8:15 Boil Off - Chillin
8:55 Ready to Rack
9:00 In Carboy
9:15 All Equipment Cleaned and Stored.

Recipe: 2012 Flander's Red

Batch Size 6.0 gal    O.G.-1.062      F.G.-TBD
IBU-15                         SRM-16          ABV-TBD   

Grain Bill (77% Efficiency):
5.5 lb  Munich Malt 10L (44%)

3.5 lb Vienna Malt (28%)
2 lb Flaked Wheat (16%)
8 oz Aromatic Malt (4%)
8 oz Caramunich I (4%)
8 oz Special B (4%) 
.8 oz Golding, 5.5%, pellet, 90 min 15.3 IBU
3rd pitch of Wyeast Rosealare
1 vial White Labs 530 Abbey Ale
Brew Day:
Brewed: 5/14/10
see picture
Mash Details:
Mash Volume: 4 gal 
Sacc Rest. Temp/Time: 158F @ 60min
Batch Sparge Volume: 5 gal
Sparge Temp/Time: 170F 
Boil Details:
Boil Volume: 7 gal
Boil Time: 60min
Ferment Details:
O.G.: 1.062
Ferment Temp: 67F
Length: 10 days and then ambient in house
The Abbey Ale yeast took off. I tried to mash a bit higher to make sure that attenuative yeast wouldn't dry the beer out too much, so I'll have to take a sample to find out. I have high hopes for this year's batch and stay tuned for the tasting on last year's batch.

Update 06/18/12 - 1.026 after Primary
I am a bit surprised how high the gravity is after primary fermentation with Abbey Ale yeast, as it has good attenuation. Well, I guess this leaves plenty of sugar for the bug mixture to work its magic. I hope the beer doesn't get too funky as the previous batches have a decent level of Brett funk (still towards the cherry pie flavor that I crave). The beer already had some light tartness, but was overall very clean. Not really even any noticeable Belgian phenols or esters from the Abbey Ale yeast. Next update in 5 months.
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