If you asked my what style of beer I’d want to drink if I had to drink only one for the rest of my life, I’d probably have to say saisons. Admittedly, cheating, because “saison/farmhouse ale” is literally the single most ambiguous category/family of beer. Some potential qualities include:
- Brewed with spices
- Brewed with Brett
- Brewed with different malts
- Open fermented
- No Temp control fermentation
- Belgian or French
- All of the above
- None of the above
It’s as vague of an umbrella category as you can make for beer. Honestly, my criteria for being a saison is this: if you fermented it with a saison yeast strain, it’s technically a saison. That means that, in my opinion, beers like Jester King’s Black Metal is a saison. Sure, they call it a “farmhouse imperial stout”, but it’s a stout fermented with a saison yeast. If you made an IPA and pitched a saison yeast, I’d assume you could call it an IPS, seeing as that’s what we do now with IPLs and IPAs. The world is your oyster, nobody makes it out alive, don’t be afraid to experiment and try new shit.
Point being, saison is as broad and diverse a style as possible, perhaps even more so than “old ale”.
Within this realm, naturally you come to find things that you do and don’t like within it. I don’t like crazy Belgian esters, syrupy maltiness, and overly spicy/herbal flavors. Hit me with some of the Brett C/Brett B citrus drum kit and a boot leather bassline and I’m all for it. My preferred wheelhouse ends up being clean, dry, mildly hopped French saisons, namely the top three I can confidently list being 1) Fantome Saison (only when Danny Prignon gives a shit enough to not have a cracked brew kettle and makes amazingly god-tier shit), 2) Blaugies Saison D’Epeateur (which is what this recipe is loosely based off), and 3) Theriez Xtra (also a favorite of Terry Hawbecker of Bullfrog/Pizza Boy/Intangible Ales fame). Those three beers I could literally drink for the rest of my life and be totally content.
But I digress, and digression is bad. I briefly mentioned it last paragraph, but my basic saison recipe is crafted loosely off of the Blaugies one. The trick here is that it’s brewed with Spelt. It’s definitely gained a lot of popularity these days, and I’m 90% sure Tired Hands uses it in the 4-grain base blend for almost everything, but it’s still a bit of a wildcard to a lot of people. Basically, it’s a sorta proto-wheat, meaning that this shit it really old hat grain. But the flavors you get from it, despite being ancestral to modern wheat today, is totally different. Throw some in a 2-row pale ale and be amazed. It’s adds a little bit of this fruity tartness and a dash of spice. Really only should ever need like a pound or two in a recipe, it’s not something I’d use for a base or as a major player. Just enough to slide in some extra nuance into something.
It’s also worth noting that, when I started brewing this, I also drew a lot of influence from Michael Tonsmeire’s post about brewing his hoppy French saison @ The Mad Fermentationist. So, those two points end up being my main sources of inspiration.
Batch Size: 5.5 gallons
Mash Temp: 148F for 60 min.
Boil Time: 60 min.
Batch Efficiency: 75%
Original Gravity: 1.060 // 14.7 P
Final Gravity: 1.004 (or as low as .999) // 1 P
SRM: 4.1 EBC // 8.1 SRM
- 9# Belgian Pilsner | 68% (Floor-malted; it’s worth ponying up the extra cash for the quality)
- 2# Red/White Wheat | 16%
- 1# Malted Spelt |8%
- 1# Rye | 8% (Flaked or malt, your choice)
- 2 oz Saaz @ 60 min.
- 2 oz Hallertau Mittfruh @ 10 min.
- Wyeast French Saison (3711) – Fermented at Ambient Temp (at least 75F)
There are a few things about this recipe that are key to understanding why it’s my favorite beer to brew. The first is the fact that it’s stupidly versatile to tailor to any need. I’m going to post another recipe (which is more of a blend, honestly), but it’s exact base beer, just I changed the hop schedule. You might be thinking “well, that’s dumb”, but it’s not. This grist will work with almost any hops you want in it. I’ve done Hallertau and Amarillo (and a light dryhop of both) for a very bright, citrusy saison. I’ve done Palisade and Brambling cross for a earthy/spicey/berry saison. I’ve done Nelson Sauvin and Hallertau Blanc for a vinous/grape-y saison. Even this iteration staggers the traditional noble characteristics of Saaz and Hallertau to get a lightly orange peel and floral/herbal tone, which, out of all those I just listed, is more “traditional”.
This is pretty much a blank canvas to go all sorts of Jackson Pollock on. Add fruit, add brett, add wine oak chips, add cider, add honey, add spices. Go ham on this one and it will almost never disappoint.
Another major point on this beer is the yeast. It’s pretty much accepted that this strain is cultured from Thiriez. The nice thing about this particular breed of saison yeast is that, unlike the DuPont strain, it doesn’t fucking stall out. It ferments mostly clean, it loves high temps (seriously, push it up to low 80’s and see what happens), which is great if you don’t have the greatest of fermentation temp control, and it’s a goddamn workhorse. This is the only yeast strain I’ve ever used that has gotten a beer down to .999. Unless you want some residual sugars left, if you mash low and slow, this bitch will eat everything. It will be the driest beer you’ve ever had. This also allows for cutting back on a grist as well, since you’ll pretty much get maximum attenuation out of this every time.
Aside from all the actual, quantitative and qualitative reasons I like this recipe, I also have a lot of sentimental reasons as well. This is the first beer – my beer – that I brewed, professionally, on a large scale, for the public. Legit, I share about 90% of the beer I brew. On the occasion that it’s really fucking good, I might drink a six pack of it myself. I usually bottle and share my beers with friends and regular customers at work. I don’t ask for money (also, technically illegal), all I want is feedback. I’m going to assume most homebrewers know that feeling when someone says they like your beer. It’s a sense of pride, but it’s also this weird happiness of knowing that someone enjoyed something that you made as a labor of love, whether it’s a hobby or a job or just something fun you did with a friend (Note: for what it’s worth, most of my brew days now are done with my dad, and are some of the best Father-Son bonding time we have every month or two).
So, yeah, this beer, in particular has a lot of sentimental value to me. It really was the day that I felt like I had achieved my dream of being a professional brewer. And if that’s what you want, then go for it. Find your recipe that you love and hone that shit razor sharp. Make it yours.