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Session of the Season Saison

July 10th, 2014 // By // Recipe of the Month // View Comments

It’s time to beat the heat! (Or at least work with it…) This month’s recipe was born out of my frustration brewing and chilling in the high temperatures we have to deal with during the Indiana summer. I am not able to get my wort down to my desired temperatures in a timely fashion, and my last pale ale was just slightly fruitier than I would have liked because of my ambient fermentation temperatures. So I thought to myself, why not brew a style that ferments well at higher temperatures, and which would benefit from warm weather? After doing some research and discussion with others, I settled on doing a saison. As I have a spot in my heart for sessionable beers, I thought I would try for a “table” strength saison, which weighs in on the low end of what we know today as a saison, which sometimes ranges up to 8%+ in alcoholic strength.

There has been an explosion in interest around Biere de Saison. A recent article in Zymurgy highlights this interest, as well as multiple conversations I’ve had with local homebrewers. Saisons are popular as a style without too many restraints, though they do have a few commonalities. Saisons tend to have a characteristic dryness that is coupled with earthy and spicy yeast notes. Brewers do add in their own spices from time to time to increase those spicy flavors, but generally they should come from the yeast. Fruity esters are also a characteristic of saisons, and are one of the main reasons why I decided it would be a good style for these hot days, as fruity esters are produced by yeast at higher temperatures. Hops should be moderate, low to medium in aroma and flavor, and can be medium to high in bitterness, though the dry finish combined with some sulfates can make saisons with a lower number of IBUs come off as more hoppy and bitter than they actually are.

This recipe keeps things relatively simple. I have included a pound of corn sugar to add simple fermentables that will ferment out completely, leaving a drier beer. Munich, aromatic, and some flaked wheat round out the specialty grains in order to add some breadiness, malt aroma, and body, respectively. You could use Belgian Pilsner for the base malt in an all-grain to be more traditional and to get a lighter color, but to keep it simple, I use Belgian pale malt and a low mash temperature of 146F to increase fermentability, though you may need to increase the mash time, as beta amylases which are more active in this temperature range are slower than alpha amylases. I use Tettnang for bittering and Saaz for flavor and aroma; nothing like noble hops for a noble, sessionable seasonal!

Now onto yeast: the heart of the saison! This is often a true statement, as the proper yeast will not only give the proper flavor profile, but also be able to highly attenuate a saison to get the proper dry finish. The obvious choice is Wyeast 3724 Belgian Saison yeast, but this yeast needs VERY high fermentation temperatures, and has been known to stall out. Wyeast 3711 French Saison yeast is an excellent choice, as it has a temperature range that works well in the mid-70s and doesn’t seem to have the same challenges that the Belgian Saison strain has. Of course, this is your playground, have fun with it! I might also suggest the Lallemand Belle Saison dry yeast; I am currently conducting my own experiments with this yeast. Other suggestions would be Wyeast 3522 Belgian Ardennes or Wyeast 3787 Trappist High Gravity. Pitch plenty of yeast, whether that means making a starter or multiple packs!
Here we go, brew along with us! Have fun, and feel free to share your experiences and thoughts with us. Cheers!

Session of the Season Saison Recipe (for final volume of 5.5 gallons)

Estimated O.G. 1.044
Estimated F.G. 1.007
Estimated ABV = 4.9%
Estimated Bitterness = 24 IBUs

Grain Bill & Fermentables
5 lbs. Belgian pale malt
2 lbs. Munich malt
0.5 lbs. Aromatic malt
0.5 lbs. flaked wheat
1 lb. corn sugar, added with 10 minutes left in the boil

1 oz Tettnang (4.1% AA) added at the beginning of the 60 minute boil
1 oz Saaz, added with 20 minutes left in the boil
1 oz Saaz, added with 10 minutes left in the boil

Wyeast 3711XL French Saison, Wyeast 3787XL Trappist High Gravity, Wyeast 3522XL Belgian Ardennes, or Lallemand Belle Saison yeast. If using a liquid yeast strain, pitch 2 packs or do an appropriate yeast starter.

Brewing Process

  • Mash at 146F for 60 to 75 minutes. Optionally, you may mash at 144F for 30 to 45 minutes, then raise mash temperature to 154F and hold for 30 minutes. Proceed with boil as normal, adding corn sugar with 10 minutes left in the boil.
  • Ferment at 72-75F for 2 weeks.
  • A secondary fermentation isn’t neccessary, as saisons can be a bit more cloudy.
  • This beer may benefit from some conditioning time.

Extract Version: Replace the Belgian pale malt with 3 lbs. light dry malt extract. Put the specialty grains in a muslin bag and steep for 30 minutes at 150-155F. Remove and drain, turn off flame, and add light dry malt extract (you can add corn sugar at this point too, if you so desire.) Stir in thoroughly, turn flame back on and bring to a boil. Follow hop and fermentation schedule above.


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