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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Saison Season

Belgian Farmhouse Ale:  Saison Season
Over the weekend I brewed one of my most favorite styles, Belgian Saison. This is a style that is extremely difficult both in brewing and in quantifying. Why is this a difficult style? The saison was traditionally brewed after harvest time, stored over the winter months, and then served to farm hands during the spring and summer months. The sasion was brewed with whatever grains the farm grew. Barley, rye, wheat, it was all fair game. Plus, many farms did not have temperature control during fermentation and the yeast evolved to work in warmer temps.  The beer had to be big enough to last for months but also light enough to be thirst quenching in the heat.
The BJCP says this about saison “A refreshing, medium to strong fruity/spicy ale with a distinctive yellow-orange color, highly carbonated, well hopped, and dry with a quenching acidity”.
Many commercial examples use spices such as coriander to bolster the spice flavor. Follow a few simple steps and you won’t need to! The first and most important thing is…Temp Control! Previously I wrote about why it is important to keep your fermenting beer cool. Well….now it is important to be able to keep it warm!
When fermenting a sasion you want to start fermentation at about 65-68 F. Once vigorous primary fermentation slows down start slowly increasing the temperature, a few degrees a day is good up to 80 F. Leave the fermenter at 80 for 7 to 10 days. The saison yeast will produce a lot of spice and fruit flavor/aroma especially once you start bumping up the heat. This will also help the yeast clean up after themselves as well as fully attenuate the beer. Saison yeast is notorious for not fully attenuating, while the heat normally is enough you may need to pitch clean, neutral ale yeast like WLP 001 or Wyeast 1056. If you do so, remember to let the beer cool back down first! You really don’t want to pitch 001 or 1056 at 80 F!
Three inexpensive pieces of equipment make the heating easy, controllable, and repeatable. First, I recommend a temperature controller. Most temp controllers offered can be adjusted from heating to cooling and back with a simple switch of a jumper. The directions included with the temp controller should show you how. You simply plug in the heating or cooling device, set you desired temp and away you go! The second piece is a thermowell. It’s a carboy bung/water lock with a long metal tube in it. This allows you to place the temp controller probe in solution, measuring the actual temp of the beer and not just the ambient room temperature. Ambient can be as much as 5 to 10 degrees below actual. Third (and most importantly), you need the heating unit. There are several common heating units available from home brew stores. The heat belt and the heat wrap are the two most common. Both gently heat the beer over a wide surface area and don’t automatically shut off like heating pads. That being said, if you have a heating pad you could use it, just make sure you set it on low and don’t place it under the carboy.

All Grain Recipe:
10 lbs. Pilsner malt
0.66 lb. Cara-Red malt
0.66 lb. Munich malt (10L)
0.66 Wheat malt
1 lb sugar (blonde Belgian candi or table sugar/cane sugar)
1 oz Hallertau @ 60 min.
1.5 oz Hallertau @ 5 min.
1 vial WLP 568 Belgian Saison Blend (any of the saison yeasts will work, personally I've a hard time with wlp 565)
Mash low aiming for 149-ish for 90 mins. Then boil for 90 mins (due to the pils malt), add hops according to the schedule above and add sugar at 20 minutes till end of boil. Ferment at 67 for 2 to 3 days, as primary subsides slowly increase the temp a few degrees a day until you are at 80F. Leave at 80F for 7 to 10 days. Carbonate at a slightly higher level than normal to help perceived dryness and bitterness.

Extract Recipe:
7 lbs. liquid Light malt extract
0.5 lb liquid wheat malt extract
0.5 lb. Munich malt extract if possible, if not possible use 0.66 lb Munich malt and partial mash or use in steeping grains. (Munich does much better in a partial mash, I’ll cover that in an upcoming post)
0.66 Cara-Red malt
1 lb sugar (blonde Belgian candi or table sugar/cane sugar)
1 oz Hallertau @ 60 min
1 oz Hallertau @ 5 min
Steep grain at 150F for 20 minutes, boil for 60 min adding hops according to schedule, add sugar at 20 minutes till end of boil. Ferment as described above.

What to take this to the next level?
Once you have brewed this a time or two and know what to expect try adding something new. As I said in the beginning this was traditionally brewed with whatever grains the farm grew. Try adding a half pound of rye malt, some new Belgian malt, or even toast your own buckwheat or sorghum grain and  use that in your steep or mash.
In the end you will have a spicy, fruity, dry, thirst quenching beer!

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