A few weeks ago, I brewed a French saison, a nice choice for the spring/summertime. However, I won’t be tasting it anytime soon. That’s because it’s souring in a barrel. A barrel in my apartment? Thankfully, no. This brew was part of a collaboration between my homebrew club, the Austin Zealots, and Jester King, a local wild ale brewery. Roughly a dozen members brewed 5 gallons of their favorite saison recipe, transferred it to a barrel previously inoculated by good souring bugs, and stored at the brewery. As planned, the barrel will be emptied sometime in early 2015, so my patience will be rewarded. This blog post details the recipe, fermentation, and transfer to the barrel. Cheers, and happy brewing!
Saisons are one of my favorite Belgian/French styles. Since I especially enjoy sour/Brett versions, I jumped at the opportunity to join the sour barrel project. Since this was going to be blended with other saisons, I kept the recipe simple. For the grist and hops, I went with something very similar to Jamil’s recipe in Brewing Classic Styles, mainly adjusting the total grist to fit my all-grain system efficiency. The recipe, as seen at the end of the post, consists of mostly German pilsner malt, with touches of wheat, Munich, and Caravienne. A key part of any saison is keeping it dry, so in addition to the malt, I added 0.75 lb of highly fermentable table sugar. Combined with proper pitch rates and fermentation temperatures, this should dry out nicely. In the hops department, only a small addition of bitterness is needed, around 20 IBUs.
The majority of the character in saisons is yeast derived. In fact, you really can’t brew a proper saison without a saison yeast. Fortunately, there are many yeast choices for saison fermentation. All things considered, I prefer the Wyeast Belgian Saison strain. I find it gives the best spicy/pepper character, balancing nicely with the fruity esters, and is typically my strain of choice. Unfortunately, this strain can be very tricky, often getting stuck, requiring much care and temperature control. Since I needed to get this batch out the door in 3 weeks, I went with Wyeast French Saison instead. It’s a monster of a yeast strain, ferments well, without getting stuck over a broad range of temperatures. It’s not my favorite, but still produces a nice saison, usually a bit on the fruitier side. Either way, you’ll get a tasty saison.
Nothing too special here. Easy, single-infusion mash and boil techniques. The only key point here is a low mash rest 147-149 F. This helps dry the beer out. If you are an extract brewer, you might drop some of the malt extract and add more sugar to get this drying effect. Also, using the freshest malt extract is especially key for saison brews since fresh malt extract has the highest degree of fermentability.
Saison is tough style to ferment if you live in the polar vortex. This is because elevated temperatures, 75-85+ F, are needed to get the complex esters/phenols and attenuation. Living in Texas, this is no problem, as my apartment has been 78 F since March. For this brew, I pitched at 72 F and let it free rise to 78 F, where it fermented nicely for 3 weeks, before transferring it to a keg for storage. I’ve tasted saisons in which the brewer pitched and fermented at 90 F with great results; try it if you’re brave!
If you were wondering if my brewing techniques dried it out, then you’ll happy to know that it finished at 1.002! I was shocked at first, thinking my hydrometer was broken. however, checking with several homebrewers and bloggers, I found that many have achieved the same results with the Wyeast French Saison strain, including Michael Tonsmeire of the Mad Fermentationist Blog. I’m happy to be in good company! For re-brews, I’ll likely mash a little higher to see if it makes any difference. Also, I might try dropping the sugar addition to see if that increases the final gravity as well.
Transfer to Barrel
Last week, my fellow Zealots and I went to Jester King to add my saison to the barrel. This was really fun, especially since the brewery was giving tours while we were doing the transfer, so I felt more like a professional than an enthusiast. Anyway, the room smelled fantastic: woody, musty, very rustic. It made me want to move from my apartment to a farm. Barrel transfer was easy from a keg, pushing the beer via CO2. Afterwards, we enjoyed many of the nice Jester Kings wild ales.
Have you ever brewed a saison or barrel-aged a beer? Leave some feedback in the comment section below. For updates on the barrel project saison, look here or on twitter @apthomebrewer. Cheers, and happy brewing!
Recipe: Barrel Project French Saison
5 Gallon Batch, all-grain
Stats: OG 1.052 FG 1.002 ABV 6.5% IBU: ~20, 85% mash efficiency
6 lbs Pilsner Malt
1 lb White Wheat
12 oz Table Sugar
8 oz Caravienne
8 oz Munich Malt
Single-infusion mash at 147 F 60 min, mashout at 170 F 10 min
Boil addition of Magnum to get you to 20 IBUs
1 packet of Wyeast French Saison, fermented at 75+F
Added 1 tsp gypsum to nice clean soft-ish water