Nick Carr on January 23, 2015 0 Comments History of Saison This beer’s history is reflected in its name. The word “saison” means season in French and speaks to its intimate connection to the seasons. Bière de Saison (beer of season) was originally brewed in the 1700’s in Wallonia, the French speaking part of Belgium. Traditionally, this was a homebrewed farmhouse ale with only a few encompassing characteristics. Brewed in the cooler season and allowed to mature through the winter, Saisons were an important mainstay for both the farmer and his seasonal summer workers. The seasonality tied to brewing this style created its few binding characteristics. These beers were meant to be “laid down” until the warm growing season, so they had to be strong enough to whether a storage time of several months, but at the same time not strong enough that farmhands couldn’t continue working after quenching their thirsts. They were unfiltered, bottle conditioned, and often quite heavily hopped because of these same long storage times. It was also quite dry because any residual sugars would have decreased the beer’s stability during the hot summer months when it was most needed. Beyond these few linking factors Saison’s are wide open to interpretation. Many of the early farmer-brewers likely brewed with only things available on the farm, so there would have been noticeable variation. Ancient brewing practices opened the door to probable infection by wild yeasts giving many of these beers a slightly “wild” edge. Sometimes spices or other “growables” were thrown in the kettle and the range of yeast; their interaction with wild strains and varying fermentation temperatures could build a rather large Saisonesque brewing palate. Style Profile & Characteristics The guidelines for the Saison beer style are set by the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) Style Committee. The below details are a summary of what a Saison should represent. Quick Characteristics Color Range: 5 – 14 SRM (pale) 15 – 22 SRM (dark) Original Gravity: 1.048 – 1.065 OG (standard) Final Gravity: 1.002 – 1.008 FG (standard) IBU Range: 22 – 35 ABV Range: 3.5 – 8.0% (table) 5.0 – 7.0% (standard) Appearance: Usually pale orange. Can range from light gold to amber orange. Likely hazy with long-lasting head. Aroma: Fruity esters dominate. Low to moderate hops. Little malts. Notes of herbs, spices & alcohol aromas. Flavor: Fruity & spicy flavors prevail. Malts, yeast & tart sourness linger. Low hoppiness. Dry finish with bitter spicy aftertaste. Mouthfeel: Light to medium mouthfeel with high carbonation & effervescence. Tart is common. Dry finish. Food Pairings: Roasted chicken, Arugula salad with goat cheese, Shellfish, Charcuterie, Asiago & parmesan The BJCP classifies the Saison beer style as an “Strong Belgian Beer” and it can be found in their guidelines as sub-category 25B. Other Styles Include: 25A — Belgian Blonde Ale 25C — Belgian Golden Strong Ale Appearance: Saisons are often pale orange but can be anywhere from a light golden into a darker amber orange. A big, rocky, and long lasting head is common, which creates iconic “Belgian lace” as it drops and fades. Clarity is usually poor because of the lack of filtering. A drifting haze is common and the beer is often quite effervescent. Aroma: Malt character is light to nonexistent. Instead the nose will be dominated by fruity esters, often citrus like orange and lemon. There will be little herb, spice, or alcohol aroma present and only low to moderate hop. If spicy aromas are present they will come from spices added or the peppery phenolics of the Belgian yeast. The hops may also give a low spicy or floral note. A low to moderate sourness or acidity is likely to be present. All these subtle notes; the spice, sour, and hop aromatics usually increase with the beer’s strength. Alcohols remain mild, appearing spicy, and never hot. There should be absolutely no diacetyl. Mouthfeel: Mouthfeel will be light to medium with a playfulness brought on by high carbonation and an effervescent signature. A tart character is common but should not cause puckering, instead remaining as a low refreshing sensation across the palate. Alcohol can be medium to medium-high but warming should be relatively low. A dry finish and prickly acidity across the tongue should balance. Taste: Some combination of fruity and spicy flavors will be the main players. Soft malt characters, some alcohol presence and tart sourness will paint the background. Fruit, as in the nose, often comes through as some sort of citrus. Spices may be added, which can increase overall complexity, but should not overpower. Yeast will be a major player in creating a spicy character and these peppery phenols can be present instead of or along with other spices. These phenols will complement any hop bitterness, though they are often lower in intensity then in other Belgian beers. Hop flavor can range from low to moderate, adding earthy and spicy notes to the whole. Hop bitterness should not overwhelm other characters, even though it can be of moderate to high intensity. As the strength of a Saison increases, sweetness will tend to drop; and spices, hops, and sourness will become more apparent. Extremely high attenuation, along with high carbonation, and the use of moderately sulfate-rich water come together to create a drying finish and bitter spicy aftertaste. Bitterness is often perceived at a higher level than the IBU rating. *Reference: The 2015 BJCP Style Guidelines Award-Winning Examples of the Style Daily Wages from Brasserie Saint James (Reno, NV) — Great American Beer Festival Winner, Gold, 2014. Available at Saint James Un Atout from Beachwood BBQ & Brewing (Long Beach, CA) — Great American Beer Festival Winner, Silver, 2014. Available at Beachwood BBQ and other places around California (see website for full list) Belgian Farmhouse Saison from Aspen Brewing Company (Aspen, CO) — World Beer Cup Winner, Gold, 2014 (also Great American Beer Festival Winner, Silver, 2012) Spring seasonal, available in draft and 22oz. bottles at the brewery and in many bottle shops in Colorado. They also have a limited addition Brettanomyces barrel-aged version. Temporis from Croce di Malto (Italy) — World Beer Cup Winner, Silver, 2014. May be hard to come by in the states Saison from TAPS Fish House and Brewery (Corona, CA) — World Beer Cup Winner, Bronze, 2014. TAPS has 8 rotating taps… call for availability Liopard Oir Farmhouse Saison from Lavery Brewing Company (Erie, PA) — Great American Beer Festival Winner, Gold, 2013. Available across multiple locations in PA and a couple other states. (Check website to see list) Urban Farmhouse Ale from The Commons Brewery (Portland, OR) — Great American Beer Festival Winner, Silver, 2013. Available year around in draft and bottle at multiple places in western Oregon. Tips for Brewing Saison Recipe If you’re interested in brewing your own Saison at home, here are a few things you should know going into it. Click Here to Buy a Saison Ingredient Kit Water: Hard water is common in Wallonia and accentuates the drying finish and bitterness. If you do not have hard water, add gypsum to your brewing water to recreate the water of this style’s roots. Yeast: Brewing a Saison is first and foremost about the yeast. It is the yeast that gives the beer much of its spicy, tart, and funky farmhouse character. White Labs sells three Saison yeasts; WLP565 Belgian Saison I, WLP566 Belgian Saison II, and WLP585 Belgian Saison III. Each has slightly different attenuation and flocculation characteristics with attenuation running the highest in the WLP566. Remember you want to make a dry beer so attenuation is important. That being said, often yeasts are blended in Saisons, so it is possible to mix WLP565, which has an attenuation of 65–75% and a habit of stalling out, with something like WLP001 California Ale Yeast (as suggested by white labs) or some other yeast. Using a blend of yeasts or using different yeasts at different points in the fermentation gives you the option of creating something truly unique. Wyeast also carries two strains of Saison yeast; 3724 Belgian Saison and 3711 French Saison. The Belgian strain has an amazing temperature range of up to 90°F. White Labs: Belgian Saison I (WLP565), Belgian Saison II (WLP566), and Belgian Saison III (WLP585) Wyeast: Belgian Saison (3724) and French Saison (3711) The best way to go about seeing how each yeast strain will react and what they offer is to split a recipe. Start with a 5 gallon batch recipe; go through your brewing process, but when it’s time to ferment, break it up into smaller batches. As an example you could ferment 5 one gallon batches, each with a different yeast. You will end up with 5 very distinctive beers. Try them, select the ones you like and either make a full batch with a single strain or do another split batch this time blending them or finishing a given fermentation with a different strain. The Grain Bill: The grain bill for a Saison recipe can vary widely. You can use a single Pils malt, a combination of pilsner malts from different origins, or mix in some other malts to build complexity and color. Crystal malt can be added to create a darker Saison, Vienna and/or Munich malts can contribute added complexity, even wheat malt is sometimes used. Whichever, if any, you decide to add, the lot should not make up more than about 15% of the grain bill. Extract: For those that are not all grain brewing yet you can use a Pils liquid extract and steep a small bag of specialty grain to add color and complexity or add a small amount of a darker malt extract to darken the color. Sourness: To add sourness acidified malt can be added to the grain bill. Lactobacillus bacteria can also be blended with your yeast to add sour notes. Adjuncts: Adding adjuncts such as Belgian candi sugar, honey, or even a syrup can add interesting flavors and more alcohol without increasing the body. These should be added into the same 5 to 15% of any additional grains. The Mash: A Saison’s body is usually light to medium making it necessary for all grain brewers, using a single step mash, to stay at the low end of the mashing temperature range, between 146-150°F. This will increase the breakdown of complex sugars to simpler sugars by beta amylase, producing a highly attenuated beer. Hops: For authenticity’s sake stick to Noble hop varieties, such as Tettnanger, East Kent Goldings, Northern Brewer, or Styrian. If you want to dry hop… do it. Also, spices are often added to stronger Saisons. I would suggest brewing your first batch without spices, but you have the itch to add something, both coriander and bitter orange peel are good choices. Cheers!