Enjoying a Belgian Super Saison in the sunroom. Image (c) TheElectricBrewery.com
They say that to be considered a 'real' craft brewer, one that beer geeks will take seriously, there are two styles of beer that absolutely must be included in your regular line-up. The first one should be obvious to most: A hoppy American IPA, the top selling craft beer style in America for many years now (and showing no signs of ever slowing down). The second style may come as a surprise to some: A Saison.
Saison (sometimes referred to as Farmhouse Ale) began as a crisp, quenching pale ale brewed in the cooler, less active months in farmhouses in Wallonia, the French-speaking region of Belgium. Before refrigeration, brewing was restricted to the cooler months before flowering crops released wild yeasts into the air and brewers could no longer control their fermentations.
At harvest time farmers required teams of field workers who in return required plenty of beer, for refreshment and energy. Saisons provided the answer: Beers which could be brewed during the winter and stored for consumption during the summer harvest. "Saison" is French for "season" and the beer style evolved to meet this specific requirement.
These farmhouse beers traditionally were lower in alcohol content, typically around 3 to 3.5% ABV on average, as they were served to farm workers. With typical allotments in the range of 4-5 liters per worker per day, lower alcohol was very important if productive work was expected. As the style became more popular for pleasurable drinking than for farmworker survival, brewers began making them stronger. Today, most Saisons are in the 5 to 8% ABV range. Because of the wide variety of strengths, three classifications exist:
Table Saison: 3.5 – 5.0% ABV
Standard Saison: 5.0 – 7.0% ABV
Super Saison: 7.0 – 9.5% ABV
Our recipe here at 7.9% is well into the 'Super' Saison range. Feel free to make a lower alcohol version if you like by reducing the amount of grain and table sugar, but keep the relative percentages the same. The hopping rate should also be reduced, keeping the gravity to IBU ratio close to the same as our original recipe.
Saison has gained enormous popularity over recent years, possibly due to the magazine Men's Journal naming Saison Dupont "the Best Beer in the World" in 2005.
Saison Dupont. The definitive example of this beer style. Image (c) growlermag.com
Saison is certainly a popular style amongst craft beer aficionados including Garrett Oliver (gastronome and brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery) who in his 2010 book The Brewmaster's Table concludes "If I were forced to choose one style to drink with every meal for the rest of my life, saison would have to be it. At any given time there is at least one case of saison in my cellar. Saison is not just versatile – it’s downright promiscuous. It seems to go with almost everything. The combination of dynamic bitterness, scouring carbonation, bright aromatics, spicy flavors, pepper notes, dark earthy underpinnings, and racy acidity gives these beers a hook to hang their hat on for a wide range of dishes.”
According to the 2015 BJCP style guidelines, Saison is a wide and varied style that can not only include low to high alcohol content but also run from pale to dark brown in colour (5 to 22 SRM) and include flavours such as: Fruity, citric, spicy, earthy, musty, grainy, peppery, hoppy, herbal, bitter, tart, prickly (due to high carbonation), and perhaps even funky or slightly sour if some non-Saccharomyces wild yeast is also used.
What makes a Saison a Saison?
Some brewers will say that pretty much any beer fermented with a Saison yeast automatically becomes a Saison given how wide and varied the style is, but I think most Saisons share some common traits, including:
Dry: The finishing gravity in a Saison must be low and there's no such thing as 'too' low. There should be no residual sweetness. Do what you have to do to dry it out, including swapping out up to 20% of the base pilsner malt with simple sugar if you have to. With 7.6% simple table sugar, mine finished at 1.003 for a whopping 95% attenuation. Doing a multi-temperature step mash as recommended in our recipe (instead of a single temperature infusion mash) also helps ensure high fermentability.
Spicy and Earthy: The interesting flavours found in a Saison are yeast derived. Saison is not typically spiced. Most of the spicy, peppery flavours come from the yeast. It's for this reason that the yeast makes or breaks the style. Dozens of speciality Saison yeast are available from various manufacturers, all producing slightly different results. For our recipe we used White Labs WLP565 Belgian Saison Yeast which is said to be sourced from Brasserie Dupont, makers of the classic beer that defines the style.
Lively: A Saison needs high a higher than normal carbonation level. Around 2.5 to 3.5 volumes of C02 minimum, and possibly as high as 4.5 or even higher. (In his book Brew like a Monk, Stan Hieronymus mentions that Westmalle goes to 4.0, Duvel to 4.25, and Orval as high as 5.0). If bottling, make sure to use thicker bottles rated to higher carbonation levels such as champagne bottles.
Follow our recipe below and brew up your own fruity and spicy Saison. Enjoy!
Testing a simple way to boost the temperature in our fermentation fridges beyond room temperature as White Labs WLP565 Belgian Saison Yeast likes to ferment as high as 90-95F. A single 23W compact fluorescent bulb was able to take a 5-6 gallons of water up to 90F slowly over a few days which is perfect for our use. Photo (c) TheElectricBrewery.com
If you're looking for something more like a traditional 6.5% ABV Saison Dupont, remove all speciality malts (wheat, Munich II, and Caramunich II) and lower the pilsner malt to 17.25 lbs and lower the sugar to 1.6 lbs.
Add 500mg potassium metabisulphite to 20 gallons water to remove chlorine/chloramine (as required).
Water treated with brewing salts to: Ca=50, Mg=10, Na=16, Cl=70, S04=70
(Hit minimums on Ca and Mg, keep the Cl:SO4 ratio low and equal).
For complete details on how to adjust your water, refer to our step by step Water Adjustments guide.
1.5 qt/lb mash thickness.
Start the mash at 147F for 90 mins (beta rest).
Ramp up to 155F and hold for 30 mins (alpha rest).
Then raise to 168F and hold for 10 mins (mashout).
The lower the temperature the longer it takes for starches to convert to sugars, so the beta rest is held longer than the alpha rest. Mashing at two different conversion temperatures (first at the lower beta amylase temperatures followed by the higher alpha amylase temperature) helps create a highly fermentable wort as we want this beer to finish very dry. If your system does not allow for step mashes, try a single infusion mash at 150F for 90 mins, followed by a mashout to 168F for 10 mins (if possible).
60-90 min fly sparge with ~5.6-5.8 pH water. Collect 14.9 gallons in boil kettle.
Boil for 90 minutes. Lid on at flameout, start chilling immediately.
Cool wort to 64F and aerate well. Pure oxygen from a tank may be used at a rate of 1 litre per minute for 90 seconds.
Pitch yeast and ferment at 66F for the first 3 days then allow the temperature to rise to 85-90F until complete (raise a few degrees per day). Do not allow temperature to drop. If yeast seems to be stalling, do not be afraid to raise temperature as high as 95F to ensure proper attenuation as this yeast works well at higher temperatures. If the temperature is not raised this way the strain tends to stall out in fermentation at the 75% mark and then sometimes restart as long as two weeks later. Some brewers have had to resort to champagne yeast to finish. Assume fermentation is done if the gravity does not change over ~3 days once near the target final gravity of 1.003. For me it takes approximately 14 days to reach final gravity and being careful to never let the temperature drop means no stalling occurs.
Rack to CO2 purged brite tank (secondary), crash chill to near freezing (if possible, but not critical), add 1 tsp of unflavoured gelatin dissolved in a cup of hot distilled water per 5 gallons of beer, and let clear for 2-3 days.
Package as you would normally. Though some will argue that this style of Belgian beer is best when bottled, if I still had to bottle I wouldn't be brewing beer. So I keg and then force carbonate. This beer should be served at higher than normal carbonation, around 2.5 to 3.5 volumes of C02 minimum, and possibly as high as 4.5. If bottling, make sure to use thicker bottles rated to higher carbonation levels such as champagne bottles. The beer will improve greatly if kept near freezing for 4 weeks before serving and will continue to change over time. Sampling is recommended. I use a lagering/conditioning fridge that holds 6 kegs, set to just above freezing that holds a small 5 pound CO2 tank so that the kegs can condition/lager and carbonate at the same time.
Joined: 21 Dec 2010 Posts: 555 Location: Webster NY
Link Posted: Thu May 25, 2017 1:19 pm Post subject:
I have my annual saison in the fermenter right now. Always refreshing on those hot summer evenings. I add bitter orange peel, black pepper, fresh ginger root and fresh sweet orange peel at the 10 minute mark.
Link Posted: Sat Jul 29, 2017 11:56 am Post subject:
I brewed this about 12 days ago. Mash efficiency on this system keeps improving, up to 88% now. I kept all the percentages the same but lowered the amounts so I could have 6.5% beer. I ferment in a ssbrewtech bucket inside a converted refrigerator/fermentation chamber so I can really keep an eye on the temp during fermentation. Fermentation did start off nicely in the beggining however it's been very slow and sluggish lately. I have slowly increased the temp to about 95. My last gravity readings corrected is 1.018 at 12 days. At what point do you think I might need to add another yeast to fully attenuate it, or should I try to be more patient. If I need to add another yeast, should I lower the temp of the wort down from 95 to the 68-70 range before I pitch it? I have some us-05 or Lalvin ec 1118 ready if needed.
Link Posted: Tue Aug 29, 2017 7:37 pm Post subject:
Just tapped this today. Very tasty! I thought it initially tasted sweet but the FG is 1.005. I retested my hydrometer to make sure my error chart was correct but it's consistent with my previous results. Overall I'm very pleased with it. I had my wife, whom doesn't like beer, sample this recipe and a Dupont and she said they taste very similar so I consider this batch a success!
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