Thursday, December 1, 2011

Of Saison(s) and Sours

While I've been enjoying saisons for close to five years now, I've never really got into drinking the commercial examples due to their (typically) high amounts of alcohol and propensity to be sold in 750ml bottles - the exception being Ommegang's Hennepin. What's more, while I have brewed a few saisons over the years, I've never actually brewed one below seven percent. I'd always start out with the intention of making a 3.5% beer, but inevitably change my mind after taking a look at the BJCP guidelines or talking to my big-beer obsessed friends. And who really want's a little saison when you could have something big, spiced, and worthy of corked, labeled bottles?!

I am glad to say I'm going to finally brew that little saison after all these years. I've been doing a lot of reading on the style and traditional brewing methods and I think I have a pretty good plan of attack. My goal is to essentially brew two or three variants of saisons, one a low gravity (1.038-40ish) brew that I'll ferment normally and drink relatively young. The other two, will be a split batch (a bit larger at 1.055-60?) and will receive some sort of bugs for long aging and will hopefully result in some funky complexity. Now comes the hard part... actually doing it.

In preparation for this undertaking, I went out the other day and picked up some yeasts to get me on my way. Here is what I got:

WLP 566 Saison II
WLP 677 Lacto 
WLP 653 Brett L
WLP 650 Brett B
WLP 645 Brett C
WY3522 Ardennes
WY3711 French Saison

Ok, so I am thinking the Saison II would be a great yeast for the petite saison, sans bugs, and the Ardennes/Frensh Saison strains would probably lend itself well to the bugs. However, I'm not really sure what bugs would be best used in each batch and with what yeasts. From my reading I know many old style saisons did develop brett and/or lacto character from extended aging and that is something I would definitely like to try to replicate.

As for base recipes, I am still considering all options, but I think I'll go really simple for the petite saison with something like 85% pils, 10% wheat, and maybe 5% munich. The other versions I am not so sure about. In all, I would like to have these batches brewed and fermenting by the end of December and I'll probably brew the Saison II batch this weekend as the yeast is nearly expired. I was contemplating adding fruit to one of the split batches eventually, though hopefully someone can chime in whether or not that is a good thing.

If any of you have experience brewing saisons and/or souring them, I'd love to hear your opinions on recipes, techniques, and the whole bit. I figure this will be a nice change of pace from my usual English-beer stuff and give me a chance to play around with sours - other than my usual batches of Berliner Weisses and hodge-podge sour dregs sours. Should be interesting!


  1. I have a bit of experience to share with you.
    I am a huge fan of the table strength Saisons because you get all that great complex flavor in an easy-drinking form. Plus that style of beer goes well with almost every food.

    One tip I will use next year in my pale Saisons is to use an interesting grain to pair with the Pils base. I tried a few beers that had some interesting grains like spelt or rye and it really adds to that farm-house/rustic taste.

    As for bugs, you have a nice selection to choose from. It is important to think backwards from the final product you want. For example, how sour do you want it to finish?(just tart then I suggest some acid malt)If you want it very sour then the lacto will need a good starter (apple juice is great) and a head start on the Sacc strains.

    And then with your selection of Bretts, you have a big range of flavors. One suggestion here: with Saison yeast drying a beer out so much you can get away with bottle dosing with Brett (use a pipette) and bottling in thick bottles. This way you can try each of your batches with each strain of Brett.

    And for the Sacc strains, I have seen more and more people blending their Saison strains to form their house Saison strain. For example, if you want big phenols (Ardennes) and nice traditional pepper notes (WLP566), but limit the citrus notes and still get a dry beer (French Saison), I would go 20% Ardennes, 70% WLP655 and 10% French. You get the idea.

    And what about a Dark Saison - Fantome Noel? - yum. And they sour and age incredibly well.

  2. Jeff,

    Thanks for the great comment. I am liking the idea of adding some character grain, like rye, to the table saison. I actually have some spelt too. I'll probably just ferment this one with the Saison II as I already have a starter made up for it.

    For the other two batches, I am thinking one with lacto + brett(L) + pedio would be good (really sour and funky) and the other with more of a brett aroma, similar to Orval (brett b/c?). A dark saison sounds wonderful, it's been a while since I've had a good one. I'll definitely brew one.

    I also have a bottle each of Russian River's Consecration and Supplication that I would like to use the dregs from at some point.

    Lastly, it's funny you mentioned the yeast blending, as I have done quite a bit of that with my English ales. I've had good results and some not so great. I bet it's probably a bit easier using the Belgian strains.

    Thanks again for the info.

  3. 3711 is a straight beast. One of my favorite yeasts all time for sure. This recent batch came out as one of my favorites:

    Half just got 3711 and the other was pitched with Brett B at the same time. While young the Brett is very nice.

    While no Brett expert I will say that if you are looking for Orval funk stay away from C. It is not bad, just lacks a lot of funk.

    I'd definitely pitch both dregs into whichever batch you decide to sour. RR dregs are miracle workers for sours.


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