Thursday, February 26, 2015

Garnet: Tasting Notes

Background and tasting notes for a blonde sour (Citrine Batch 5) aged on tart cherries.

While at this point I've done plenty of fruited saisons (Demeter Auran, Demeter Vert, Demeter Sinis (Cranberry), Demeter Spectre, etc.), this was only my second time preparing fruited sours.  The first was way back when I blended the first three batches of Citrine, adding gooseberries, rhubarb, blueberries, and kiwi to different portions.  The gooseberry version was a disaster, as the puree that I purchased tasted more like twigs than any sort of gooseberry that I've ever tried.  The blueberry version was okay, just a bit plain without enough funk and acidity to back up the berry flavor.  The kiwi and rhubarb versions were both quite good, in my opinion, and are something I need to get back to.   Luckily, after a few trips to farms around Michigan last summer, I have a decent stockpile of fruit to work through.

This beer went more traditional, using Montmorency tart cherries from a farm in Southwest Michigan.  Alongside this, I also added black raspberries to a Flanders Red to create Amethyst, a beer I'll have notes on in the future.  Amarelle and Morello are the two main tart cherries types grown in the United States.  Montmorency cherries, a type of Amarelle, don't give nearly as deep of a red color as Balaton, a type of Morello, because while the skins of Amarelle cherries are bright red, the insides are more of a pale yellow.  In contrast, with Morello cherries, both the skin and flesh are dark.  That's why Garnet, pictured below, isn't that deep red color one often expects from a kriek, even though I used a typical ratio of two pounds of fruit per gallon of beer (actually two pounds of fruit per gallon of available fermentor space, filling to the top with aged blonde sour).

The process for this one was relatively simple. I took roughly 3 gallons of the ECY20 version of that Citrine batch and transferred onto 6 pounds of tart cherries that we picked up in Michigan over Fourth of July weekend, all in a 3-gallon Better Bottle. This Citrine base was lightly acidic, but a little plain. The was pH down to only 4.2, even with gravity at 1.002. Some faint melon character. I was hoping the cherries will add some depth and acidity, especially with the inclusion of the pits. While I took a bit of a gamble here not having the most interesting Citrine base, I also thought that the beer would have time to evolve while the cherries fermented away, and I didn't want to go with a base that was too acidic, as I still wanted the base beer to be quite drinkable, as I really loathe overly-acidic beers, particular when acetic acid becomes involved. As indicated in the notes below, I may have been a little too conservative using a "bland" base as the resulting beer could certainly use more depth, but the acidity is just where I want it and the drinkability is quite high.




Appearance: Bright deep pink with a nice bubbly head. Pretty clear beer without much, if any, fruit sediment, as the cherries stayed mostly intact during the secondary fermentation period and through the transfer.

Nose: Bright cherry with a bit of skin. Backing wheat with some lemon and moderate acidity. Could use a bit more funk, and also potentially a cherry blend. Next time I'll consider going with a blend of Montmorency and Balaton, both of which I'll hopefully be able to find this summer. I won't have that problem in a few years, as my wife and I will be planting Montmorency and Balaton cherry trees in our backyard this spring, alongside a new apricot tree and a few cider trees that we planted last year.

Flavor: Similar to nose with a bit more lemon. Definite cherry dominance. Could use more earth and skin with more-pronounced Brett and funk. This would work really well with just a bit of something like Ruby, for a bit more funk and earthiness. As it warms, there's just a bit of biscuit and pie crust in the background rounding out the flavor profile.

Mouthfeel: Very light and crisp and moderate acidity. Super clean lactic character with just a bit of lemon juice. Moderate carbonation. Could maybe use just a bit more, though doesn't need to be at saison levels. Super clean, falling off the palate quickly after swallowing.

Overall: A bit simple, but I really like it for what it is. As detailed above, this wasn't the most-inspiring Citrine base and was fairly young, but is a great showcase for the profile of these cherries. With just a bit more depth, and an increased cherry ratio or blend, this could be a really winner. I would maybe even increase the cherries by 50% if using straight Montmorency again. I could see doing a little blend with this for a future beer in the Science & Art series, blending with a Flanders Red, or putting a bit into a blonde Brett saison to add a bit of extra fruit character.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Science & Art #7: Blend & Tasting Notes

Where Science & Art #5 and Science & Art #6 drifted in new directions for the series by being most a blend of dark sours (#5) and bottle conditioned with fruit juice (#6), Science & Art #7 goes right back to where the series started, utilizing only two components.  Similar to what was done with Science & Art #1 and Science & Art #2, this blend takes a blonde Brett saison and marries it to Citrine, creating a fruity, tart, and slightly-funky offering.  In this case, heavy emphasis on fruity given that the blonde saison base for this iteration in the series, Demeter Facile (recipe; tasting notes), is one of the fruitiest beers I've brewed to date, even though it had no actual fruit additions.

The process to this blend wasn't terribly complicated, as I had an extra fermenting bucket full of Demeter Facile as well as several carboys of fermenting Citrine (my house blonde wild) to pick from.    In this case, I selected a batch of Citrine (dreg blend version) that was mildly funky and tart, but had a nice lemon and pineapple character, as I thought that would pair quite well with the orange, lemon, and tropical fruit character coming out of the Demeter Facile.  I was aiming for something that would be dry and lightly-acidic and would be popping with fruit character, even though it would contain almost no residual sweetness.

For this blend, the final ratio was 5 gallons of Demeter Facile and 1 gallon of Citrine.  To accomplish this, I transferred the Demeter Facile to a bottling bucket, and then used an auto-siphon to rack the 1 gallon of Citrine into the bucket, keeping the tubing inside of the Facile that was already transferred.  I flushed the bucket with CO2 prior to adding the Facile, and also added a blanket of CO2 on top of the Facile prior to adding the Citrine.  I also purged the auto-siphon with CO2.  All of this was certainly overkill, as the beer was set to condition with Brett, which would pull out any oxygen pickup quite quickly.  

I then added the priming sugar, aiming for 3 volumes, and carefully mixed that in.  This was a little bit lower than my typical blonde saisons, but given the fruity profile I was going for, I knew it wouldn't be as crisp as many blonde saisons that I've done, and I wanted the carbonation to be a little bit lighter so that it would linger on the palate a bit longer.



Appearance: Slightly-hazy light orange color with a big, fluffy head that lingers for quite a long time, leaving plenty of lacing on the glass on the way down.

Nose: Orange and lemon with a bit of pineapple and other tropical fruit. Light grass and a bit of wheat. Excessively fruity, just as I was hoping for. As with Demeter Facile, this beer is quite reminiscent of SweeTarts up front.

Flavor: Loads of fruit with oranges, lemon, pineapple, and guava. Moderate tartness. Just a bit of chewy wheat on the backend. Subtle funk coming from the Citrine, but the Facile really dominates here. Almost the same flavor and tartness that you'd get from a "tropical"-flavored candy or ice cream.

Mouthfeel: Light-medium body with plus carbonation and a light acidity through the finish. Super fruity and tart throughout. Great body with ample carbonation; never seems too thin. 

Overall: The Citrine didn't add too much, but I think it rounds the beer out nicely. This is just over-the-top fruity and reminds me a bit of some Fantome beers I've had (minus the peach), as well as some aged Sanctification. Not saying this is in the same league as those beers, but this definitely has similar qualities. I will definitely make this again, and as with many beers, will experiment with conditioning this with honey or fruit juice. I'd really enjoy seeing what would happen if I conditioned this with something like passion fruit, apricot, or mango juice. Maybe juice from some of the lemon guavas that I'm so fond of.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Science & Art #6: Blend & Tasting Notes

Science & Art #6 was a first in the series in that in addition to blending several beers, I also blended in fruit juice to add the sugar necessary to bottle condition the batch.  To start, I had plenty of Demeter Automne (recipe; tasting notes), as that was a 10-gallon batch and I didn't really need 10 gallons of funky pumpkin saison to get me through the fall season, so I knew that  wanted to do something interesting with the second half of the batch.  I considered adding red wine-soaked oak cubes or blending in some dry commercial French (or French-style) cidre such as Etienne Dupont Cidre Bouché or Virtue Percheron.  

Ultimately, when I found tart cherry juice without any preservatives at a local specialty foods shop, I decided to blend that in and use its sugars for conditioning, as that has been something I have wanted to try.  It's a nice twist on conditioning with honey, and Logsdon Farmhouse Ales has done a great job with this method, conditioning its beers (mainly saisons, including the outstanding Seizoen Bretta) with pear juice.

Once I knew what I was working with, I decided which batch of Citrine I would use to blend with the Demeter Automne.  I ultimately, selected a batch of Citrine that was fermented with East Coast Yeast 20 (Bug County), as that wasn't too acidic and added a nice, subtle fruitiness and mild funk that I thought would complement both the Demeter Automne and the cherry juice.  At the point of blending (September 2014), the Citrine was about nine months old.  The final blend ratio was 3.75 gallons of Demeter Automne, 1 gallon of Citrine, and 45 ounces of Montmorency tart cherry juice.  Based on my calculations, the sugars in the juice used should create about 3 volumes of CO2, toward the low end of where I like my saisons, but I generally go around there for darker saisons.  The total yield was 39 375mL bottles and 6 750ml bottles.

In order to determine the amount of cherry juice that I needed to use, I first used a priming calculator to figure out how much sugar I would need in grams.  Since the sugars in the cherry juice should be 100% fermentable, I could then figure out how many grams of sugar I would need from the juice.  From there, since the nutrition label would tell me how many ounces of juice I would need to use to reach the right number of grams of sugar.  Regrettably, I didn't write down the exact numbers.

However, as an example, assume that the priming calculator told me that for 4.75 gallons of beer, I would need 100 grams of sugar.  Then, I look to the nutrition label and see that one serving of cherry juice is 8 fluid ounces and each serving contains 20 grams of sugar.  That would then tell me that I would need 5 servings of juice to get to 100 grams of sugar.  Multiple 5 servings by the serving size of 8, and I'd be using 40 fluid ounces of juice in that scenario.

A picture and full tastings notes are below.  At this point, the beer is around 4.5 months old.



Appearance: Light mahogany color with an eggshell-white head that's fairly long-lasting. Plenty of visible active carbonation. Quite clear.

Nose: Bright, fresh tart cherry with backing earth and mild funk. Just a touch of background clove, maybe a hint of cinnamon. A bit of the biscuit character of the base beer as it warms.

Flavor: Cherry pie with a light acidity. Earthy with a bit of pie crust and biscuit. Slight spice and fall notes without being too far in any one direction.  A bit leafy through the finish.

Mouthfeel: Very dry finish, though a bit chewy initially. Acidity is above a tartness, but not at all to the level where I'd consider it too acidic or even distracting.  It very much reminds me of a tart cherry as opposed to any specific lactic or acetic character.  Moderate to high carbonation, just about where I want it.  The cherry character lingers through the finish.

Overall: I quite like this beer.  I like the base beer of Demeter Automne well enough, but this is much, much better.  It's amazing how much just enough cherry juice to bottle condition really changed this beer alongside the Citrine addition.  I would like to try again next year and also use some fresh-pressed juice from cider apples, but this one will definitely stay in the repertoire and hopefully be a future seasonal once we open Ambrosia.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Demeter Facile: Tasting Notes

After nearly three months in the bottle, I'm getting around to posting tasting notes for Demeter Facile (recipe).  The idea behind this one was to go with a (relatively) simple malt bill and fairly-minimal hop additions so that I could get a beer that showed off the character of my current house blend (Ambrosia 005) of saison yeast (Saccharomyces), Brettanomyces strains, and lactic acid bacteria (LAB).  Overall, I'm quite happy with the results, and this is something that I will most definitely be brewing again in the future.  I'll also plan to do an oak-aged version soon enough.




Appearance: Quite clear.  Color is a medium yellow with a sizable initial head that fizzles down a bit quickly.  Could be better in this area, though the retention isn't horrible.  

Nose: Begins with yellow and orange SweeTarts, leading into faint tropical fruit.  A bit of apricot. Light grass and wheat.  Some honey as it starts to warm, potentially from the bit of honey malt that I used in this one.  (While I wanted to keep it simple, I love honey malt in saisons and couldn't resist).  Hints of lime zest as well, lingering after the more-upfront mango and tangerine subside.

Flavor: Similar notes as the nose, but with a light-to-moderate tartness through the finish.  Just where I like it, tart without really being sour.  Maybe a bit of pineapple that I wasn't really getting from the nose.  Mango, tangerine, and light lemon/lime seem to be the dominant characteristics.  I'm guessing this is mostly from the yeast and bacteria rather than the hops, as I didn't use much Centennial, and it's not the light orange and generic citrus that I typically associate with Centennial.

Mouthfeel: Light and airy, definite saison carbonation.  Could use a bit more body.  Might need to up the adjuncts next time.  Really easy drinking; the bottle goes down way too quickly.

Overall: I really like this beer and am pretty damn pleased with what my standard blend did with an otherwise-simple base beer.  I'd like to try bottle conditioning this with honey at some point, and also potentially with a tropical fruit juice.  As mentioned above, a bit of oak could also add a bit of complexity.  

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Commercial Review: Crooked Stave Surette Reserva (Dry Hopped)

Long before I started focusing on brewing saisons and similar beers, I was frequently seeking out any and all new saisons, sours, and similar beers.  While my focus now is more on homebrew, I still try to seek out great commercial examples of these beers.  As much as I homebrew, there are still so many commercial examples with unique ingredients, processes, yeast/bacteria combinations, etc., and trying them out is a great way to get a feel for something unique without having to brew a different batch.  This is great, of course, since I'm frequently coming up with way more ideas than I can possibly execute.  

I've been trying to get better about taking actual notes (meaning more than the 140 characters allowed by Untappd) when I try beers, and while I'm on my (hopefully) short brewing hiatus (twin boys born in November 2014!), I thought a good way to keep up the blog would be to have my thoughts on some commercial breweries and beer.  I'll start things off here with a beer review, and plan to include more commercial reviews, and also have brewery profiles where I will give background on a brewery, its equipment and production volume, special beers, and the person or people behind that brewery.  Brewery background is something I've really been focused on as I start very preliminary planning for eventually opening up my own small place.  Of course, to the extent possible, I focus on breweries specializing in saisons and mixed fermentation beers.  I closely followed/am following the development of places like Casey Brewing & Blending, Haw River Farmhouse Ales, and Wolves & People.

With that background behind us, below are some thoughts on Crooked Stave's Surette Reserva (Dry Hopped), which is a dry-hopped version of their standard Surette, which itself is a mixed fermentation saison that is part of their year-round lineup.  Per a response from Crooked Stave's Twitter account, the dry hops were a mixture of Pacifica, Motueka, and Wakatu.




Appearance: Pours hazy with a light peach color. There's an initial two-finger white head that quickly dissipates down into a collar around the edges of the glass, leaving a bit of lacing behind. No apparent rising carbonation.


Nose: The first whiff does not bring forward as much New Zealand hop goodness as I was expecting.  It doesn't quite explode with hop character like some other dry-hopped Crooked Stave beers have, e.g., Dry-Hopped L'Brett d'Or.  Instead, the nose is more muted, with faint hints of gooseberry and green grape.  As it warms, there's just a hint of oak.  It could use a little more oomph, but overall it's nice enough.

Flavor: Here's where the beer really shines.  While the hop character is still pretty subdued, the light Brett fruitiness and light-to-moderate acidity fit together quite well.  The mouthfeel is fantastic.  It could use a bit more carbonation, but the body is light without being too thin, and the acidity is slightly puckering, but certainly not to the point where it detracts at all from drinkability.  As with the nose, hints of barrel come through toward the back end.

Overall: A really nice beer that I would happily consume on a regular basis if given the chance.   It's fairly similar to the regular Surette, but with a bit more tartness and less oak and funk.  Although they don't stand out too much, the hops have to be contributing a decent dose of fruitiness, as this beer tends more toward the gooseberry, white-wine-type character you get from New Zealand hops, as opposed to a more stone-fruit character in the regular Surette.

Homebrew Thoughts: This is the sort of beer that I would really love to be able emulate on the homebrew scale.  I'm planning on getting some smaller barrels in the coming years, and would love to make sure that all of my saisons (or at least most of them, keeping a clean petit saison as a crushable, everyday brew) take a pass through.  The dry-hopping is something I love, and Crooked Stave has done a great job with.  Using tropical and citrus-heavy hops as dry hops in a wild and/or sour beer is a great idea, as they play off of the fruity character that many Brett strains create.  


Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Saisons & Farmhouse Ales: General Thoughts & Brewing Overview

Recently there was a thread in the homebrew forum on TalkBeer.com where a user had some questions on brewing saisons and farmhouse ales. I eventually posted plenty of my thoughts here, but the thread also gave me the idea to do an overview post on my saison brewing process and thoughts on brewing saisons in general.  I've been brewing for just over four years now, and the last 2-2.5 years have been focused almost entirely on saisons and other mixed fermentation beers.  For the most part, my saisons tend to have Brettanomyces and/or lactic acid bacteria (LAB).  I feel that this offers greater opportunity to create complex flavor profiles, and also keeps away comparisons to Saison Dupont, which is nearly impossible to rival when dealing with clean saisons (though Off Color comes damn close with their Apex Predator).  At the same time, I have found a place for light, clean saisons as a way to bring an approachable example of the style to those who are otherwise unfamiliar with beers of the farmhouse tradition.  When I eventually start up my own brewery, it'll focus exclusively on saisons and wilds, but everything won't be too crazy, as I'd love to offer a low-ABV saison with a fairly-light yeast profile to get people started down the farmhouse track.

A word of caution.  Portions of like may seem like a bit of stream-of-consciousness rambling.  I think about saisons and future brewing plans constantly every day, so it's been hard to contain and edit my thoughts, though hopefully I haven't gone too overboard.  Since I feel like every good blog post should have a picture, below is one that seems appropriate.  It's a picture of one of my saisons in a glass with the future logo of Ambrosia Ales, sitting atop a table littered with coasters from many fantastic saison, lambic, and other wild beer producers.



GENERAL

Since the question always comes up, what is saison?  The following is simply my opinion; there are certainly many valid opinions, including Shaun Hill of Hill Farmstead recently indicating that the term shouldn't even be used by American brewers in this interview with Good Beer Hunting.  I take a very broad approach, using the label for any beer that is yeast-forward using a Belgian strain with or without Brettanomyces or lactic acid bacteria.  The only other requisite characteristic as far as I'm concerned is that the beer finishes quite dry.  From there, it doesn't matter to me whether the beer is light or dark; high or low ABV; or makes use of fruit, spices, or other adjuncts.  To differentiate, I will sometimes use "saison" to refer to beers that are clean and crisp, rendering them quite drinkable, whereas farmhouse is a term I use for beers that are more toward the pre-Industrial beers of Wallonia that would have been funky and/or sour.

As mentioned above, I typically gravitate toward saisons that utilize Brettanomyces, LAB, and/or other non-traditional (or traditional, depending on how far back you look) fermenters in addition to Saccharomyces.  Given that, most of this post will focus on beers along those lines, but I'll first provide some quick thoughts on "clean" saisons that are fermented solely with one ore more Saccharomyces strains.

I've long thought that if a brewery is going to offer something to introduce saison to a broader set of customers, something along the lines of a sub-5% ABV clean saison would be perfect.  When sticking with a beer fermented solely with a saison strain, the first question is whether you want to go with a beer that is phenolic and spicy, or tends toward the fruity side of things.  Comparing to other styles, I think you could go toward the spicy side to "replace" something like a pilsner.  You would want to keep the phenolics to a low level, complementing the dryness of the beer without being overpowering.  The drinker should smell and taste something beyond clean grain/malt, but without being able to specifically say what it is.  I've encountered this effect when introducing light-beer drinkers to something like Penrose Devoir or Stillwater Classique, both fantastic beers and excellent examples of what an approachable saison can be.  I would keep hops and malt relatively simple, focusing on the yeast without too many distractions.  I haven't truly brewed something like this, but plan to in the future, likely utilizing Wyeast 3726 (Farmhouse Ale), which is reportedly the Blaugies strain.  Another option would be using one of the abbey/Trappist strains, which are often used for Belgian Blondes, a style that can have considerable overlap with saisons, often times seeming to be one in the same.  For example, are the great beers from De La Senne (such as Taras Boulba) saisons, Belgian Blondes, or something else?  (Not that it truly matters what you call these beers; they're absolutely delightful no matter the terminology.)

On the fruity side, I think you can go a bit more complicated, as this would be less of your straight light-beer substitute, and be more comparable to something like an introductory American Pale Ale.  The idea here is that you'd have something with light-to-moderate bitterness (probably sub-30 IBU) and use the yeast and hops to accentuate citrus and/or tropical fruit notes.  In my experience, I've found that strains/blends like East Coast Yeast 08 Saison Brasserie can pair perfectly with flameout additions of American hops to offer an easy-drinking beer.  This is example what I did when I brewed my initial batch of Saison Faible (recipe; tasting notes), a beer I definitely intend to brew again in the future.  The aforementioned Apex Predator is a great example of a very fruit-forward clean saison.  While the comparison to an APA is further off than a lightly-phenolic strain to a light beer, it still offers consumers a starting point, drawing parallels to the fruitiness that American hops bring to pale ales, while taking things in a slightly-different direction.

INGREDIENTS

Yeast/Bacteria

First, and most importantly, the yeast and other fermenters.  Since saison is such a wide-ranging "style," a lot of your yeast decision depends on what you're looking for, as people certainly have different goals. If you're shooting for something that's more funky, spicy, and phenolic, I'd recommend just going with Saccharomyces in the primary, letting it get down quite low, and then adding dregs/Brett in secondary or at bottling. Nearly any saison strain should work for that, though as many others do, I would caution using Wyeast French Saison (3711) as it tends to get overly spicy and one dimensional.  It will get your beer dry, but doesn't offer the complexity of things like White Labs Saison II (WLP566) and Wyeast Farmhouse, which are both a bit more spicy rather than fruity.  However, many brewers do have success blending in a little bit of 3711 with a more-interesting saison strain, as it is a workhorse that will ensure the beer finishes dry no matter the recipe and fermentation temperature.

If you prefer saisons that are fruitier with some tartness, I'd go with something along the lines of The Yeast Bay Wallonian Farmhouse or ECY08 (Saison Blend). I would then also pitch this alongside a healthy dose of Brett that tends to be fruity-heavy in primary before it starts working on the Sacch.-created compounds. Here, best bets in my opinion are Brett Claussenii (WLP645) and "Brett" Trois (WLP644) (not really Brett).  I use both.  You could then also go with some fruitier American hops at flameout or for dry-hopping.  Think intense tropical- and citrus-forward hops, just only use a third or a half of what you'd use for a bigger IPA.

In terms of fermentation temperature, I've honestly had success anywhere from the low 60s to the upper 70s when going with a fruitier saison strain paired with Brett, with fermentations taking about 2 weeks at the upper end of the range, and more toward 4 weeks at the lower end. However, the flavor profiles aren't too noticeably different.  Thus, when using Brett, I think you can go with a more Laissez-faire attitude.  Results will likely differ, but that's part of the fun of brewing these beers.  Each batch is unique.  With that said, you can always achieve more-consistent results through blending.

Now, with regard to temperature, you need to be much more careful if you're going to be barrel-aging or using other methods of fermentation that may expose the fermentation to oxygen.  If this is the case, you need to ensure you keep temperatures down, as otherwise you run the risk of dealing with an acetobacter infection.  Saisons should be crisp and refreshing, and the vinegar produced by acetobacter completely destroys that possibility.  When dealing with strict Saccharomyces fermentations, also make sure to maintain temperature control and take detailed notes, as a clean saison fermented at 70*F will taste much different from one fermented at 80*F.  With clean fermentations, I also recommend starting in the upper 60s or maybe low 70s, and then let the yeast free rise or slowly push it upward into the upper 70s or 80s.  Going too quickly may result in fusel alcohols and other off flavors.

One final note on using bacteria (and this is more of a preference than a hard and fast rule), and that is to keep the bacteria in check.  Aside from avoiding vinegar, you also want lactic acid kept to a background note.  Saisons are great with a nice tartness, but should not be overly sour to the point where that is the dominant character of the beer.

Finally, as saison is a style that originated in the agricultural regions of Belgium, using locally-harvested yeast or that borrowed from nearby farms, catching your own wild yeast to use as a sole fermenter (if you're lucky) or, more likely as part of a blend offers great opportunities to add depth, nuance, and a distinct house character.  This has been done by breweries such as Jester King and Plan Bee.

Water


For the most part, when I've seen discussions surrounding water profiles for saisons, people tend to recommend high sulfate levels (often over 100 ppm) to accentuate the dryness of the beer.  I'd offer advice to the contrary.  Personally, I find that the very low finishing gravity (approaching 1.000) that can be achieved through proper fermentation procedure (especially when saison yeast is paired with Brett and/or LAB) achieves the requisite dryness.  Instead, I like to keep the sulfate at a moderate level and instead accentuate the malt flavor and give some perceived body through chloride and sodium additions.  I generally put the sodium levels right around 50 ppm, thereby accentuating the flavors of the beer without approaching any sort of actual salty flavor.  With chloride, I'll push toward 100 ppm, thereby providing some grain and malt flavor to complement what the yeast and hops are doing for the flavor profile.  This also protects against the beer seeming overly thin.


One minor caveat to my statement about sulfate additions is that I will push the levels to 100 ppm when I'm doing a very hoppy saison, e.g., my Wallonian Pale Ale.  Even here, however, I keep the sulfate at the same level as the chloride.

When dealing with mineral additions, and throughout the saison brew process, pH is also incredibly important.  First, since many saisons are using exclusively or nearly-exclusively Pilsner malt, you really need to make sure your mash pH is in order and doesn't get too high.  The ideal mash range is often given somewhere in the area of 5.2 to 5.5.  Personally, I like to keep it right at the bottom of that range for saisons, as the lower pH tends to soften the overall profile of the been, enhancing the overall perception and drinkability.  If you're adding your minerals to the mash rather than to the kettle, keep in mind what effect they'll have on pH, and then use either acid malt or lactic/phosphoric acid to adjust to the appropriate level.  Depending on your base water, malt profile, and mineral additions, the amount of acid malt that may be required could be enough to give a little bit of acidity to the finished beer.

If you're taking care to adjust the pH of your mash, make sure to pay attention to the pH of the sparge water as well.  It's important here to keep that pH low so as to not pull tannins from the mash as you sparge.  I typically just use lactic acid to adjust the sparge water to the same pH as I had the mash.

For all my pH adjustments (actually, for the entire recipe), I use the BrewCipher spreadsheet.  With regard to mineral additions, I generally add everything to the kettle so that I can use only acid to adjust mash and sparge pH.  I can then adjust mineral additions for flavor without worrying about their effect on mash pH.  Starting around a year ago, each recipe post on this blog details the mineral and acid additions, including timing and (sometimes) rationale.


Hops



Really, this is mostly going to be about personal preference.  The one "rule" I would have is that IBUs should be kept in check, as the dryness achieved by the extreme attentuation will enhance bitterness levels.  Thus, for a typical saison, I recommend sticking at 30 IBU or less, potentially then pushing things up to 50 or so IBUs if you're looking for a really hoppy saison akin to the Wallonian Pale Ale that I mentioned above.  Even then, I wouldn't go much higher as you'll be getting that dry, bitter profile and can then focus more on flavor and aroma hops so that the beer really pops.


From there, the hops you use will really depend on what your goal is.  If you're doing a clean saison that tends toward the phenolic/spicy side of the style, sticking with Noble and other European hops (and their American counterparts) is probably the best bet, keeping aroma and flavor additions to a minimal, and using minimal (if any) dry hops.  This same advice would like apply if you're using Brettanomyces to achieve a funky, earthy finishing profile.  On the other hand, if you're using a more-fruity, ester-heavy strain, then American and Southern Hemisphere hops work really well.  You can go with citrus-heavy or tropical hops, as both will play well with the fruity character created by something like The Yeast Bay Wallonian Farmhouse or East Coast Yeast Saison Brasserie.  These hops also work quite well when you add in a little bit of tartness through the addition of bacteria.


Grain


Malt might not be the least-important of the four main ingredients, but it's my least-favorite component, so it goes last.  In practice, there are so many different directions that you can go with the malt profile of a saison, so I really can't give too many broad generalizations.  I'll give a bit on my preferences and general techniques, offer a few pointers, and then discuss things to avoid because, in reality, by altering the water profile and fermentation of a given beer, you can turn almost any malt bill into a saison.  I say almost because caramel/Crystal malt has no place in a saison.  None.  (Okay, maybe a bit of CaraMunich for color, but I'd even discourage that.)  Other than that, let the experimentation begin.

Non-barley additions work fantastic in saisons, providing some additional mouthfeel and comlexity, particularly when you're dealing with a Pilsner base.  It's always nice to get at least 10-20% wheat, spelt, oats, rye, flaked corn, etc. in there for some additional mouthfeel.  One caution with rye is that it can get fairly spicy as you go above 10% of the grain bill, so be careful crossing that threshold if you're already using a yeast that's going to put out plenty of phenolics, as that may result in any overly-peppery, one-dimensional beer.

Aside form these adjuncts, using 5-20% of something like Munich or Vienna is nice as well if you want to have a bit more bready flavor than what you'd get using only Pilsner for your barley component of the mash. Higher than that and I think you get too much of a bready or doughy character that can begin to detract from the yeast.  Personally, I also like using 5-10% honey malt, as that adds a nice layer of flavor without detracting from other components of the beer.  (Of course, you can use actual honey, too.)

When dealing with a dark saison, I recommend against overly-roasty malts, as those will contrast with the flavors created by the yeast.  When going with a darker beer, I recommend using something like Carafa II or III for most of the color, and then accenting the beer with malts like Chocolate or Special B, if you're looking for chocolate or dark fruit character, respectively.  Again, I'd stay aware from any straight caramel/Crystal malts, as those add caramel-like sweetness that contrasts the dry nature of the beer, while Special B at least offers some dark fruit notes that can add a nice twist to a darker example of the style.  If you want to call me an idiot and say I'm way off base with the caramel/Crystal thoughts, just point me toward this interview with Alexandre Dumont de Chassart of Brasserie de Jandrain-Jandrenouille, one of Belgium's best saison producers, where he discusses using caramel malt in their beer V Cense.

Fruit, Spices, & Other Additions


Given that the idea behind saison really depends on dryness and being yeast-forward, there really isn't anything out of bounds here.  Cherries or other fruit?  Sure.  Citrus zest?  Most definitely.  Spicing to complement the yeast?  When used in moderation, absolutely.  Coffee in a dark saison?  Works as well.  Really, here, just let experimentation run wild.  Keep things to a minimum at the beginning, as you can always add more.


With fruit additions, I think that you want to be considerate of the underlying beer, so my rule is to cut the typical lambic level in half, starting at one pound per gallon for common fruits like cherries, raspberries, grapes, etc.  If you're going with some more exotic and pungent, e.g., passion fruit or pineapple, think about cutting that down to half a pound per gallon or less.  You want the fruit to complement the yeast profile of the beer.  If you're just going to have the fruit dominate, you might as well just brew a clean ale and add all the fruit to that beer.

Since there's such a wide range of possibilities here, instead of going through everything, I'll offer a few examples of my own recipes that use fruit and/or spices:

As you can see, I've tended to use fruit more often than spices, but there are plenty of commercial examples using nearly anything you can imagine.  Some things I'd like to work with in the future include grains of paradise, grapefruit zest, rhubarb, yuzu, sumac, wine grapes, hibiscus, lilac, tea, and plenty of oak cubes soaked in different wines/spirits.

PROCESS

Some of these things I've gone over above, but here's more of an overview of how process might differ from a typical ale.  Again, first and foremost, temperature and pH are going to be key throughout the saison brew and fermentation process.  If you want to achieve the requisite saison yeast character and mouthfeel, these are two most-focus variables.

A few other things you may want to consider:
  • If you want the resulting beer to be more ester heavy, go with a little bit less oxygen.  I use 30 seconds of pure O2 through a diffusion stone per 5 gallons, as opposed to the general recommendation of 45-60 seconds for an ale of standard strength in the range of 1.040 to 1.050.  (Remember, many saisons will ferment down to near 1.000, so the alcohol will build up fast compared to a beer that finishes at 1.010-1.015.)
  • If you're looking for more acidity and/or funk, starting out (and also to shorten the timeline), I recommend doing a cleaner saison with just Sacch. and Brett, and then always keep on hand some base blonde wild for blending (even half a gallon of that in 5 gallons of beer without lactic acid will make a noticeable difference).  For ideas and notes on blending, see my post (and accompanying links) on my Science & Art series of blended saisons and wilds.
  • I always use double the recommended rate of yeast nutrient per the recommendation in Farmhouse Ales. I don't know if it really makes a difference, but it's not hurting anything and the stuff isn't expensive.
  • If you're messing with water profiles, a lot of people recommend heavier sulfate additions in saisons. Again, I really don't like this. The finishing gravity is low enough to make it dry, and 25-30 IBUs will give it a nice bitter edge. I favor keeping chloride and sulfate roughly the same, aiming for no higher than 75-100 ppm.
  • If you're dealing with pH, keeping the mash pH down in the range of 5.2-5.4 (room temperature) really helps smooth things out.  There's a very-detailed discussion at this Braukaiser page.
  • For mash temperature, you really can't go wrong.  Different temperatures will yield different results, but if you know your fermenters, you'll be able to get the beer sufficiently dry.  For a clean saison, I like something that finishes fast and dry, and would recommend staying under 150* F.  For something with Brett or bacteria, push that number up for increased funk and acidity levels.  The higher you go, the more you'll allow the non-Saccharomyces fermenters to do the work, though saison strains can tackle plenty of complex sugars all on their own.

CONCLUSION

Saison has become such a wide-ranging idea that it's really difficult to place in a neat box.  Here, I've only scratched the surface with what you can do.  For instance, I haven't tackled thoughts on barrel-aging (yet).  If nothing else, hopefully this post has served to pique people's interest in brewing dry, refreshing beers with a Belgian influence.  There are many other great resources out there.  If you're interested in learning more about the subject, I can't recommend Phil Markowski's Farmhouse Ales enough.  In particular, the essay on saison from Yvan de Baets (of the aforementioned De La Senne) is phenomenal.  

Any thoughts, questions, or concerns?  Did I leave anything out?  I'm always up for saison discussion, so please comment away!  In the future, I hope to have a post or set of posts highlighting the different characteristics of most of the available commercial saison strains and blends, pairing plenty of them with different Brettanomyces offerings and/or lactic acid bacteria.  I also plan to do a post on what I believe the ideal saison-focused brewery would offer and how it would operate, as it's something I've put a lot of thought into and would like to attempt in the not-so-distant future.

Cheers!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Science & Art #5: Blend & Tasting Notes


With Science & Art #4 being unique as the first in the series that didn't use Citrine, this one is unique in that it is the first dark blend. It's also the beer blend that uses something other than different saisons as a sizable portion of the blend, with a Flanders-style wild being the largest component of the blend. In the end, this one ended up being 50% Flanders-style wild and 50% dark saison. The Flanders-style component is made up of two batches of Ruby (Batch 02 (recipe lost due to a computer issue, unfortunately) and Batch 03), and the saison component is made up of Demeter Rouge and Demeter Sinis (Cranberry). The final blend was as follows:

  • 2 gallons of Ruby (Batch 03) 
  • 2 gallons of Demeter Rouge 
  • 0.5 gallons of Ruby (Batch 02) 
  • 0.5 gallons of Demeter Sinis (Cranberry) 

Overall, I think this blend really captured what I was looking for, which was to take the fruitiness of Demeter Rouge, but cut back on the acidity created by the passion fruit. Oddly enough, this was accomplished by cutting the beer with a sour Flanders-style base, albeit versions of that beer that were more funky than acidic, particularly given the age of the "young" Ruby that was used. The Demeter Sinis (Cranberry) added a nice bit of cranberry alongside some earthy, spicy notes from the black cardamom and lavender used in that beer. Finally, the Ruby additions allowed some mild funk along with notes of strawberry, raspberry, and general jam character, which is something I've had in my recent dark wild beers, particularly Biere de Nord (which I actually thought about using a bit of in this blend, but determined it wasn't necessary).

In terms of process, the Demeter Rouge, Ruby (Batch 02), and Demeter Sinis (Cranberry) were all already carbonated, so I had to be careful on that front. The Demeter Rouge was carbonated to around 2.0 volumes in a keg, and the latter two had already been bottle conditioned and were probably around 2.5 and 3.0 volumes, respectively. Given this, I opted to only aim for 2.0 volumes when using the priming calculator, assuming that this would eventually get me somewhere in the 2.5-3.0 volume range. 

In the future, once I hopefully open up a small brewery and have my own little barrel room, I'll be able to blend components without worrying about needing to pull from previously-bottled batches. One thing I'm planning on doing in the future to have more for blending is to take a half gallon or gallon of each batch and let it continue to age in a growler or gallon jug. That way, I can have uncarbonated beer for blending, and also add wine- or spirit-soaked oak cubes to portions of a batch for greater complexity. I've done smaller portions with oak cubes in the past, but never with the general intention of saving that beer for blending.

With that, the full tasting notes for this blend are below. Follow additional views on this beer, take a look at its page on Untappd.



Appearance: Deep mahogany with an even stronger reddish hue under bright light. Head fizzes up light brown, a bit darker and thicker than with cola. Could go for better retention and stability, though it's not too bad considering that a decent chunk of this beer is Flanders-style wild.

Aroma: Initial nose is quite fruity with cranberry and cherry leading the way. A hint of orange zest alongside faint coffee and chocolate notes. A touch of roasted malt and hints of cardamom. Lactic acidity in the back along with a touch of earthy funk. There's a general fruity, berry-jam character to it as well, which I attribute to the Ruby variations included in the blend. Strawberries and raspberries more and more as it warms. Just a hint of tropical fruit. The cranberry, of course is from the cranberry version of Demeter Sinis, and the cherry comes from the Demeter Rouge. The passion fruit in the Demeter Rouge is only there in faint tropical notes. 

Flavor: The tropical character comes through plenty more in the flavor, along with more noticeable acidity. Cherry, cranberry, and jam there as well. A bit of earth and funk, though that's relatively minor. Hints of red wine.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light and moderately acidic. Carbonation moderate as well, hitting about where I wanted it to be. It's elevated over typical clean ale levels, but not nearly high enough to be at saison level. The beer is a bit light, and could use some extra body. It would have been great to have been able to put this in a red wine barrel, picking up some oak character, tannin, and body.

Overall: I'm quite happy with this blend. Other than the aforementioned lack in body, there isn't too much that I would change here. I think this one definitely accomplished the foremost blending goal of creating something more interesting and enjoyable than any individual component.