Monday, March 20, 2017

Lambic characteristics - FG and IBUs in Geuze

I wanted to put this post to address a couple misconceptions of lambic - bitterness and final gravity (FG). Because modern lambic is generally brewed with aged hops, and the bitter alpha acids in hops oxidize with aging, I think there is the idea that lambic receives no or very little bitterness contribution from hops. And with FG I think there is the idea that, due to the long fermentation and diverse range of microbes with a capacity to attenuate a given wort further than normal brewing yeast, lambic is super-attenuated beyond where other beers might be. While there can be some truth to both of these - lambic can be highly attenuated and aged hops used in lambic probably contribute less bitterness than fresh hops would - this line of thinking over-simplifies lambic and potentially makes a caricature of sorts out of its actual characteristics since lambic can and does have bitterness and it may not be more highly attenuated than saisons or certain Trappist beers.

This post came together from the overlap of a couple different topics that I'm currently looking into. For independent reasons, I've been spending a fair amount of time over the last month or so thinking about the following: hops in lambic (I owe a section on this and should simultaneously update/expand what's on Milk the Funk), final gravities and 'dryness' in beer, and the general brewing process and characteristics of lambic (through a series of interesting discussions with a good friend). I think these topics could see expansion in the future, but for now I'll leave it here.

Girardin Gueuze, which I find has a more
pronounced bitterness than other geuzes.
I should note that the following is the range of information I was able to find, but lambic has considerable diversity among the different producers (as well as with atypical batches within a given producer). I've had conversations with blenders and brewers about 'stuck' barrels that wouldn't attenuate further as well as batches that came out more hoppy than intended and, as such, were still forwardly hoppy after 3-4 years. As shown by the ranges presented in Guinard's book Lambic, there are certainly examples of lambic which are more and less highly attenuated and more and less bitter than the following individual data points. So this is not meant to be exhaustive and all-encompassing, but it is what I was able to find in the published literature, from individuals, and from values reported by breweries.

One last quick note - I'll somewhat indiscriminately compare lambic and geuze in this post. And when I say lambic I may mean both old lambic and gueuze. I realize that in strict definitions one could argue that I ought to treat them more independently, but with the paucity of data I've combined them here.

Lambic and Geuze FG

The reported FGs that I've seen for individual lambic and geuze samples range from ~1.005 to around 1.010 and none of the specific examples are below 1.0045. Note that the scientific literature on lambic is based to a fair degree on one producer. And a case could be made that this producer is not completely representative of other lambic in terms of FG (as well as other characteristics). Anyway, given a FG around 1.005 - 1.010 and a starting gravity in the mid 1.050s, this is an apparent attenuation of about 80-90%. That attenuation is in the range that certain pale ales could fall, and definitely below where some pure culture Belgian beers can be found. See, for example, the saisons presented in the table as well as apparent attenuation of Trappist beers as presented in Brew Like a Monk (where apparent attenuation is generally around 85-90%).

Original gravity, final gravity and apparent attenuation for different lambics, geuzes and saisons.
So lambic FGs aren't necessarily very low, and the attenuation is not abnormally high compared to other Belgian beers of comparable OG. Since we know that lambic microbes can ferment carbohydrates than normal brewing yeast can't, this higher FG likely reflects lambic production methods. The mashing process used in lambic is designed to yield a wort with high extraction from the grains but a fair amount of unfermentable material (for more on turbid mashing, see these two blog posts (first and second) on its use outside of lambic, this section on and this page on Milk the Funk). Some of the starches and proteins survive lambic fermentation. And in the end they don't contribute much in the way of a perception of sweetness, but there is definitively something left when lambic fermentation is complete. So, in practice, the attenuation of lambic is a balance between production methods resulting in a more dextrinous wort and the super-attenuation capacity of the microbes found in lambic, which may differ brewery to brewery.

For some more data on lambic FGs check out this post from Kevin (Belgian Beer Geek). Note that the age of the lambic is variable and some are fairly young as the data are from a geuze blending session. But the data are generally in agreement (Cantillon is higher, many around 1.005 or so). The outlier here is Boon, which has a very highly attenuated lambic. I had heard from blenders that Boon finishes quite low so I'm happy to see some FG measurements on it.

Bitterness in Lambic and Geuze

Modern lambic typically uses aged hops (I've written a bit about historic lambic hopping, where non-aged hops were used, and some modern brews with a bit of non-aged hops here). And in these modern lambics, I get the feeling that popular thought (at least in North America) is that they don't contribute bitterness to the beer. This can be seen, for example, in the IBU range for lambic and geuze in the 2015 BJCP guidelines (note that the GABF guidelines present a more reasonable range). I don't generally take these guidelines to be wonderfully accurate, especially with Belgian beers, but they do show the mentality, accurate or less so, of the people who are involved enough in beer and brewing to make the guidelines. And this thinking is transferred to many who read the guidelines.

Measured IBUs in lambics and geuzes (and Iris).
As hops are aging, acids and oils in the hops will oxidize. In this way, the alpha acids that generally are thought of as contributing the bitterness to a beer are degraded and therefore aged hops used in lambic will likely not have much in the way of alpha acids to contribute. However, oxidation products of both alpha acids and beta acids can also contribute bitterness to a beer. Dr. Tom Shellhammer (a professor at Oregon State) and his research group do quite a bit of hop research, including about the bitterness of oxidized hop acids. I talked about a bit of this research in this post following CBC 2015, and there is more info in this 2016 paper by Algazzali and Shellhammer. Humulinones (oxidized alpha acids) and hulupones (oxidized beta acids) are about 66% and 84% as bitter as isomerized alpha acids. These oxidized acids absorb light at the wavelength used for spectrophotometric IBU measurements. and therefore they contribute to IBU measurements. It is also relevant here that hulupones absorb much less strongly the primary wavelength used to measure IBUs, and therefore a given concentration of beta acids will yield fewer IBUs than the same concentration of alpha acids when measured spectrophotometrically. Given the relative similarities of the bitterness intensities of hulupones and iso-alpha acids, this may be important in the relative bitterness of beers deriving bitterness more from oxidized acids compared to iso-alpha acids.

If you look at measured IBUs in lambic, the values can be fairly high. Especially considering that these are measured IBUs in beers that are multiple years old. I think it is important to remind ourselves that spectrophotometers aren't tongues and they measure the absorption of light at a given wavelength, which is converted to IBUs, rather than measuring the perception of bitterness in beer. So measured IBUs do not necessarily equate to a certain perceived bitterness. Nevertheless humulinones and hulupones are formed by oxidation of acids, are detected by IBU measurements, and give a perceivable bitterness. And this can definitely be detected in certain gueuzes. For example I find Girardin to be fairly hop-forward (at least among lambics).

So I think the potential impact of hops in lambic from a bitterness standpoint tends to be overlooked. I don't mean to suggest that bitterness in lambic is high and a prominent character of the beer in all cases, but it is definitely non-zero and in the range of perception. And this, along with countless other compounds from the ingredients/brewing process, fermentation and aging, contributes to the final character of lambic. Furthermore, in the case of some lambics, it might be more forward such that is can be a prominent differentiating character between different producers.

Summary and Closing Thoughts

To wrap this up, I think both FG and bitterness are overlooked in lambic due to assumptions (very high attenuation and no bitterness) that don't always match the actual characteristics of the beers. Clearly traditional geuze isn't heavy/sweet (I may have a post in the works about FG, so hopefully more on this to come). And it generally isn't bitter in the same way a pale ale might be even though IBU ranges can overlap. So bitterness is generally not a dominant player in lambic, but it is definitely there and it serves a purpose. And, depending on the producer, it may even be fairly apparent.

Looking back over these data, there is a fair range of variability across different producers and/or vintages in terms of geuze attenuation and bitterness. Attenuation in traditional bottled geuze can range from near to 100% (choosing the top end of the range presented by Guinard) down to about 80% (looking at Cantillon). This variability in FG among producers will reflect the specific aspects of their turbid mash schedule as well as potentially their regional microbes. And this can make things complicated for lambic blenders, as I've noted previously in this post about Tilquin. If higher FGs are due in part to specific microbe populations, then blending a higher stable FG lambic with a more attenuated lambic may lead to the high FG no longer being stable. This can be quite problematic for carbonation. On the more positive side, blenders can use variability in bitterness to their advantage, blending down bitterness in certain batches and/or from certain producers and using a more bitter lambic to add its character to a blend.

I think it is interesting to note that Cantillon tends to fall on the high end of IBU measurements here and it is also a bit higher in FG than others. This could be purely coincidental, but there could also be a couple relationships here. There is the potential for causality. I'm not inclined to put too much stock in this as the lambic doesn't seem to have any problems reaching an appropriate acidity. But it is theoretically possible that certain bacteria with higher hop tolerances and lower ability to break down oligosaccharides are favored over more hop-sensitive and attenuative bacteria. Again, I wouldn't put too much stock in this. Also, the higher bitterness and FG may work to support each other. With more residual material in the beer the bitterness may not jump out as much as it would in an especially low FG beer. And therefore, for the same perception, higher hopping rates/a higher concentration of bitter compounds would be needed. Though it could be simply a coincidence. Finally, and possibly most interesting, perhaps the raw ingredients and mashing process used by Cantillon (which, since they are the most known, are also the most followed by turbid mashing brewers in North America) may be sufficiently different from processes and ingredients used by other brewers to cause these higher FGs.

Thanks for reading. That definitely leads to more to look into (especially the final gravities and their reasons). This was mostly a collection of recent thoughts and I expect there will be more thinking about this sort of thing to come. Feel free to add any thoughts of your own here.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Houblonette and brewing in WWI-era France

Much of my beer history research is driven to learn more about a couple specific beers with an ever-present eye on how I could use that info in modern brewing. However, through that I end up looking much further in a couple ways. I'll hunt for contextual information (general brewing, ingredients, etc.) to make better sense of historic brewing info and recipes. But I will also, mostly by chance, happen across something that is intellectually interesting, if not so valuable for practical brewing. This post falls into the latter category and I wanted to share it as it provides some interesting insight into the state of beer, brewing, and public consumption in the north of France during WWI and the lasting implications of the war on brewing.

On October 13th (1914) the Germans entered Lille.
The dark days were about to begin.
I've mentioned this a bit before in other posts - WWI had a significant impact on brewing in Belgium and northern France. This was in addition to the already staggering loss of local populations, either from casualties during the war or from people fleeing their homes and not returning afterward. Raw ingredients were in short supply and were needed more directly for people and animals. So brewing grains, when they could be had, were very expensive. In Lille, for example, 100 kg of malt which would have cost 34 francs in August 1914 before the Germans reached the city (13-October-1914) was selling for 180 francs in 1915. That's almost 6 times as expensive and only in the course of a year! And finally equipment was hard hit. Between incidental damage and looting of equipment, either for scrap or re-purposing (e.g. taking brewing pumps to the trenches to clear water), many brewers were left without the capacity to produce beer even if they had the labor and ingredients necessary to do so.

Brewing in Lille

The information in this post comes mostly from an article in Le Petit Journal du Brasseur in 1919 written by Henry Codvelle which focuses on brewing in Lille during WWI. Lille, as discussed in this post on a paper by Evans  in 1905, was home to bière de garde. While these beers were popular throughout much of the 19th century, their popularity was falling rapidly in the 1900s such that any bière de garde production that survived until the war would have been in the minority of production. In 1909 there were still aged beers (likely the same as bières de garde) being made in northern France along with young beers, blonds and browns, stronger 'luxury' beers, and a small set of wheat beers (see this FB post and this FB post). So the brewing scene is fairly diverse in the region and production of bière de garde probably makes it until WWI, though not as a main product of breweries.

Beer production in N France, 1909 (from Petit Journal du Brasseur, 1910). Volume estimates made by assuming an 
average beer strength of 3.8 degrees, estimated from the same article, and in two different units (see note below).

Crate from an old N France brewery.
From the collection of D. Thiriez.
The table above, from Le Petit Journal du Brasseur 1910, shows the number of breweries and production levels for municipal regions (so city proper and surrounding area) in northern France in 1909. As you can see the city of Lille was a major production center. It accounts for almost more production within the city limits than in any other municipal area, and Lille contributes 5% of the total French beer production. Note that the gravity estimates in the above table were made assuming that the journal article is internally consistent - that the gravities in degrees Belgian (well, of the possible options degrees Belgian is my best guess) as reported are the same units as would be used for production volumes in degrees*hl. This could very well be flawed, in which case the production volumes are probably based on Plato or Baumé, for which the estimate is repeated with the equivalent Plato gravity (9.8 P is about 3.8 Belgian).

In 1914, before the Germans reached Lille, there were 26 breweries (not a large number, the author notes, but some were quite large and had attached malthouses). This means the brewing scene in Lille was either quite a bit smaller than the 1909 numbers, or the breweries in Lille are potentially quite large probably a bit of both. 26 breweries brewing about 770,000 hl per year means each brewer brewing a bit over 80 hl per day every day of the year (or about 32 hl per day every day, so somewhat less massive but still a fair average for every day of the year, depending on which of the above gravity estimates is right). In May 1915 the occupying Germans prohibited brewing in the city under penalty of imprisonment. But it didn't take long until they made a slight reversal and designated 4 brewers who could continue production to supply the German army. Of these 4, 2 closed nearly immediately, leaving 2 operating breweries in the city about a year after the occupation began. Those two breweries, which operating for the benefit of the occupying Germans, didn't make it to the end of the war as they closed in 1917. So Lille went from 5% of total French production in the city proper, and the biggest brewing region in the north of France by a large margin, to having only 2 breweries in (legal) operation in the city in about 5 years. And none remaining by 8 years' time.


But the Lilloise, being crafty and with un-sated thirst, devised ways around this. One such product was Houblonette, which in large part prompted this post. Houblonette seems to fall somewhere between a naturally carbonated soda and some sort of fermented sugar water. It was produced by both the "unauthorized" breweries (later its commercial production was restricted and there were specific "authorized" Houblonette breweries) and the public. When the English arrived in Lille, Houblonette was the only product from the three remaining Lille breweries (out of the pre-war 26) who were still able to do anything. Houblonette was a fermented product, though I'm unclear on the degree to which it was fermented. And with a bit of searching I haven't been able to find any specifics about it other than what is in this article. So the very, very limited amount of info about it that I have comes from this article, and much of the following is guesswork based on that and general info about beer/brewing at the time.

Houblonette: "a true beer without malt". Hmm, I'm suspicious...

Houbonette is described as consisting of boiled water, sugar, a bit of alcohol, and hops. The taste carries some of the bitterness from the hops and it was carbonated and served from bottles or kegs. Based on beer strengths of the region of the time, I'm going to guess that it was likely not much more than 2% ABV, and it easily could have been less. I suspect it was meant to be consumed quite young such that there was still some sugar around. Both the addition of alcohol the development of carbonation when put in sealed containers for serving suggests that producers were not relying on this sugar as a primary driver of alcohol as opposed to taste and carbonation. I imagine that if it was allowed to ferment to dryness it would be pretty unpleasant. Note however, that according to Johnson 1918 the sugars used in Belgium of this era were not fully fermentable and left much more residual material than the sorts of sugars used in English brewing at the time. So it is possible that the sugar was rather unrefined. This is supported by the use of molasses in place of sugar at times when molasses could be smuggled through.

Crate from an old Lille brewery.
From the collection of D. Thiriez.
Houblonette was produced by the commercial breweries as well as at home. And, according to Mr. Codvelle, the people of Lille were able to access it quite easily (and apparently did so eagerly) from one of those two sources. Though prices weren't always great due to the high cost of sugar. In October 1917 the price of Houblonette was roughly twice that of pre-war beer (26 Francs for 160 L of beer pre-war, 50 France for 160 L Houblonette in Oct-1917). As such, it would be reasonable to guess that the amount of sugar used in Houblonette could be quite low. The Lilloise apparently gained a taste for it as home production of Houblonette continued and hops could be bought in grocery stores for private production for at least a couple years after the war.

Lasting consequences of WWI on brewing and beer in Lille

As mentioned above, none of the 26 pre-war Lille brewers were still brewing at the end of the war. And between damage to buildings, near complete loss of equipment from looting by the Germans or destruction, and short supplies/high costs of labor, brewers weren't in a good position to restart their activities. However by 1919, 18 breweries were able to re-open. This required a bit of non-ideal and re-purposed equipment but Mr. Codvelle asserts that the beer was good. But the consequences of the war were wider-reaching for brewers. Prices had to go up significantly (in 1919 160 L of beer cost 115 Francs compared to 26 in 1914, note that I don't know anything about inflation/other products like bread to normalize this increase and all other price comparisons above).

And, more worrying for the brewer, the people were increasingly no longer turning to beer as their drink of choice. French soldiers were now accustomed to wine (thanks to JC and Guillaume for translation help with the related idiomatic expression there!) and, even though wine was much more expensive post-war as well, its consumption was much higher than when it was inexpensive before the war. Finally, as mentioned above, people were also used to producing Houblonette at home.

While the author leaves this article with a bit of optimism looking toward how the future might go for the Lille brewers now that they were starting back up, what we know about brewing in northern France would say otherwise. The north, pre-WWI, was a region choosing beer as its preferred drink. As this article makes clear, this is no longer the case in 1919 and there is a growing influence of wine. It appears this held strong and WWI had a much more significant and lasting impact on brewing than was clear in the immediate post-war era.

Thankfully some brewers did continue. And, perhaps more importantly there is a growing wave of newer brewers in the north of France who, over the last 20+ years, are rebuilding the reputation of northern France as a region with beers of great character.

20-Feb-17 note - an earlier version of this post used only degrees Belgian for volume estimates. The post has been updated to include both Belgian and Plato to minimize the potential for error.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

2016 reflections and 2017 goals

As the year draws to a close, it's time for another round of reflection and setting goals for the following year. As I look back on the year, I'm generally happy with what I accomplished but I was unable to make progress on many goals. Out of the year I had about 4 months of so where I could reasonably brew, and this was quite limiting.

Without getting too personal and off the topic of beer, 2016 led me to a lot of instability which was
Carboys and bottles aging at a friend's house
reflected in brewing. I spent about 1/4 of the year living and working in Germany and additionally about 1/3 of the year on couches and spare bedrooms on either side of international moves (5 out of the last 13 months if you count December 2015). So the European work seriously cut into brewing time and my overall sense of stability and feeling like I had a home. I'm very thankful for the friends that housed me (Jess & Neil, Andrea, Marcus & Dana, Jay & Tracy) and my beer (Mark, Jess & Neil) for giving me the stability that I had and the opportunity to tuck some (well, lots and lots) of beer away for aging to come back to. My generally sanity and ability to do pretty much anything beer-related in the past year is thanks in large part to these friends.

On the whole the past year has made me feel at times like a "theoretical brewer" rather than a brewer. I took about 1 year off of brewing and spent much of this time looking through historic recipes. By the end of this I noticed that I was having a harder time contextualizing what specifics meant. This is coming back quickly, so it was illustrative of how easy it is to pick back up when you think about beer way too much. But it also illustrated to me how quickly I lost parts of practical brewing intuition that I had worked hard to earn. I’m happy to be getting these back and am looking forward to continued brewing within a select range of styles and process, while being mindful to not let beer take over too much as it has before. So with that preface to 2016, I’m going to look back on the year in beer for me.

Brasserie Au Baron in northern France.
2016 in review

Europe travels: Being based in Germany for work opened the door to many great travel opportunities (beer, wine, food, etc.). Most of these were focused on Belgium and Northern France and the continued ability to make repeat visits helped to continue building relationships with European brewers and beer enthusiasts, and some of the Americans that share a similar passion and travel frequently. This has by far been the highlight of the last few years of beer to me – the connections I’ve made and what I’ve learned from others about Belgian beer and Belgian culture due to making those connections.

Historic Research: 2016 was a great year for the historic Belgian & French beer research I’ve been doing. Being based in Europe helped a lot for having discussions with people who really know this stuff and for tracking down resource material. Thanks to the many people who have helped with this research (especially Thierry, Niels, and Yvan). The research has led to some interviews and presentations, and it looks like there may be more on that in the coming year.

Lambic fermenting at Oud Beersel There is more on this below in the 2017 goals, but one of the highlights of the year in beer for me was being invited to join toward the end of the year. This site is a great resource and a massive amount of time and work went into building the site into what it is today. I’ve so far under-performed in my contributions (based on the same schedule-related constraints that limited brewing in the few months that I was able to). But I’ve got some plans to make up for that in 2017.

2016 goals: Looking back at the goals I made for 2016, I generally didn’t make a lot of progress. As outlined above, I’m neither surprised nor disappointed by this. There were only about 5 months out of the year that I could brew, based on travel for work, so not making much brewing progress was to be expected and perhaps my goals were a bit ambitious. But anyway, I should address whether these are still goals to me know and if I should prioritize them for 2017

House Mixed Culture: I've made essentially no progress here. I’ve been brewing basically two types of beers (low-OG saison & saison-like beers and lambic-inspired mixed-fermentation beers) and I am keeping the microbes for those two categories mutually exclusive for now. But I’ve been happy with my results on either end, and I could start working toward a mixed culture that I’ll use for saison-oriented beers. For now I think I’ve found the base yeast for building that culture. If I continue to work on the culture, it will have to be something I could package fairly young and be happy with to allow for the quicker turnaround beers I’ve been brewing without overcarbing too much in the bottle, which may be a concern with the work I’ve been doing (in mashing and yeast strain) to raise my FGs. So we’ll see how this goes.

Spontaneous beer: Progress has been minimal here, and this is something I’d like to try to prioritize going forward. I did include a spontaneous component in some --recent blending--, but so far no fully spontaneous blends and it is unlikely that there will be any soon. So I guess I need to get some more base beers in and keep practicing my blending in general. This is definitely not the sort of thing that I will make regular steady progress at and it is more likely going to come in major steps when I have beers that work out well and are aged enough to use in blends.

Hops: The past year has brought me even further from new and non-European hops. At this point I am firmly rooted in landrace hops form continental Europe and the UK. Every so often I'll venture out of this for newer European hops of more noble-oriented US hops (something like Sterling, Willamette, etc.). But my taste preferences have been further solidified by my extended time in Europe. This is unlikely to change and I’m happy to focus on noble-type hops. But I would like to find hops that are grown closer to me that I like as much as the classic European varieties, especially given my focus on using local malt.

2017 Goals

Hoppy Belgian-inspired beers: My trend toward hoppier Belgian-inspired beers has continued through 2016. I've had multiple friends comment on this when I give them my homebrews, and I think my use of European hops is improving. I’d like to continue brewing in this direction with inspiration from breweries like Thiriez, De La Senne, De Ranke and Seizoensbrouwerij Vandewalle.

Volume of Le Petit Journal du Brasseur
Historic research: I plan to prioritize the historic beer research again this year. Hopefully I’ll be able to make progress organizing thoughts for other beers like lambic, bière de garde and saison. I’m planning to return to Europe in the coming year, at least for leisure and possibly for another temporary move, so I plan to take advantage of that opportunity to work on more sources. There are some talks already scheduled for the coming year and hopefully I can work in some more as well. In the latter half of 2016 I was invited to join This is an amazing resource and I’m really excited to be involved. But unfortunately between finishing my thesis and multiple trans-ocean work trips, I haven’t been able to contribute much yet. I hope to change this in first few months of next year.

Blending and spontaneous beers: I’ve got a lot of aging beer sitting around that I need to be putting to use. Just before heading off for a research cruise in December and January I made about 80 liters of blends of mixed-culture beer that was between 47 and 15 months old (see this post and this post from the facebook page), but there are a lot of aging carboys left to use. So hopefully in the coming year I can continue learning about blending and tasting my blends to see what worked better or worse as they age. The first big blending I did in spring 2015 has already helped me out there, but of course there is more to be done. Part of this will include continuing to brew spontaneous beers to hopefully create a fully spontaneous product in the next year or two. We’ll see about that.

Hopefully you all have some good goals for the New Year as well!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Recipes and Brewdays: Turbid Mashed Petite Saisons

After many months focused on historic beer research and beer travels, I'm stably back home (BC, Canada) and am back to brewing. The blog's facebook page has been actively reflecting this with photos, partial recipes and process info, but it's time to put some of the new brews up on the blog itself. My latest brew excluded, my activity so far has focused on brewing and re-brewing two basic recipes - a grisette and a 1.030 OG saison. Through posts, interviews and presentations I've put forward a lot of my recent thoughts on grisette (see these posts, an AHA presentation if you are an AHA member, this interview with Basic Brewing Radio, and this interview with Fuhmentaboudit!) so this post will focus on low-strength saisons. These are some of my favorite beers to drink and with the warm weather of summer when I returned to brewing they are what I've wanted.

The finished wort.
When I think about commercial low-strength saisons, one primary example comes to mind as my clear favorite - La Petite Princesse from Brasserie Thiriez. Regular followers of this blog and friends of mine will known I am a vocal proponent of this beer. This brew started as a collaborative brew with Jester King (following their Le Petit Prince closely) and Daniel continues to brew it. I love how refreshing this beer is and how it carries way more flavor than you would expect from a ~1.020-1.025 beer. Of course there are other great examples out there (including the Jester King beer, which is great but unfortunately I am much less familiar with it, and Brasserie Dupont's Biolégère/Avril). Unfortunately none of these examples are especially widely available, at least fresh examples. So if you're curious about this sort of beer but you can't find a commercial example, either local or imported, then you may just have to try brewing your own.

I broke down my thinking in building a low-OG saison recipe in this recent post discussion my recipe formulation process. All of the goals and general plans for the brew are outlined there so here I'll jump into the recipe.

Malt #46 - Concerto barley.
Grains and mashing: Before getting into recipes/brewdays I want to spend a bit of time focusing on grain and mashing, both because I made very deliberate and potentially unique choices in this beer and because I am using malts that are not available to a wide audience. I am now almost exclusively using locally grown and malted barley for my base malt in all my brewing. This malt comes from my friend Mike who runs a small floor maltery (Doehnel Floor Malting) and who is involved with Skagit Valley Malting. While this may mean some of my malt specifics might be less useful to an audience that can't get these malts, I'll try to provide a bit more detail about the malts. Hopefully the end result of this is more thinking about/knowledge about malt that couldn't be gained by simply listing a style or internationally available commercial producer.

I've been using Doehnel batch #46 as the base malt for my recent low-OG saisons. This malt is made from Concerto barley (a spring 2 row variety). It has a very thin husk and a lightly colored blue aleurone (which you can sort of see in the photo). Although it is kilned to around a pilsner level in terms of color, it is richer and tastes somewhere between pils and vienna. The FAN is fairly low, which makes it suitable for more intensive mashing procedures. The friability is in between pilsner and North American malts and the difference in extract between coarse and fine grind is low, suggesting a fairly well-modified malt (a good amount more modified than what I've been using for grisettes). So to sum that up, very light color but rich flavor, low FAN so I'll want to address that in mashing, and pretty good modification. Without analyzing spec sheets, if you were to try to come up with a similar base malt from commercial varieties maybe consider a more characterful pils like some of the special pils malts Weyermann has (Barke and/or floor malted), or blending in continental European pale malts and/or Vienna with your base pils.

Based on discussions with Mike and the malt I've been able to get form him, I've had the opportunity to work with more intensive mashing procedures. I feel like I am getting a good graininess out of this (turbid wort tastes unlike any wort I've tasted from a normal mash), and I think it is helping me to brew very light beers which don't seem to be lacking malt character and complexity. But I can't approach the tastings in an unbiased way and I haven't done any comparisons with the same recipe made from normally mashed wort. Anyway, the opportunity to get a bit more involved in mashing leads me to the inspiration on that side - historic texts.

Pulling some turbid wort.
My recent low-OG saisons take inspiration from a text written by George Johnson in 1918 (see this post for a discussion of that text) as well as other historic texts such as Evans, 1905 (as discussed in this post) discussing turbid mashing for a wider range than considered by most in the modern world (the original historic texts are also linked in both of those posts). Johnson's text promotes turbid mashing as a technique that is desirable for producing low-gravity beers of fairly rapid turnaround. This is different from turbid mashing in lambic, where a major goal of turbid mashing is to provide carbohydrate and nutrient sources for a diverse range of microbes with diverse metabolic capacities and needs over a long time. But there is reasoning for Johnsons's advice - lower attenuation and the additional extraction from turbid mashing would work well, at least in theory, in low-OG beers. So I wanted to try it out.


Target OG: 1.030
Actual OG: 1.032
FG: 1.008
ABV: 3.1 %
Batch Size: ~7 gal / 26.5 L in carboys

The first mash step.
70.6% Doehnel #46
17.6% Flaked Wheat
11.8% Flaked Oats

I won't discuss mashing in length here as that is covered in this post focused on Johnson's text (this was also linked to above). In brief, this is a turbid mash with one pull of turbid wort (more are optional). There is a beta glucan rest around 108 F / 42 C which is rather dry, a protein rest around 125 F / 51.7 C, and a saccharification rest around 156 F / 69 C. The turbid pull comes between the second and third rests and optionally spends some time at a saccharificaiton rest while it is heated to boiling. After the main mash is drained the turbid portion is added back and allowed to rest at a high saccharification temp for a fair amount of time. This is then drained and the grain is sparged more or less as normal.

Just after turning the flame off and adding whirlpool hops.
I'm used to a 'Cantillon-style' turbid mash and am comfortable with that, but this was my first time I've used a turbid mash modeled after Johnson, 1918. Things went generally smoothly, but as with any somewhat complicated process that you try for the first time, it didn't all go exactly as planned. My turbid pull didn't get as much time at a saccharification temp before boiling as I would have liked, and in general I didn't hit my target temps as closely as desired. This probably influences the lower than expected attenuation, but the beer doesn't taste sweet or heavy and I'm pretty happy with how it came out. I suspect more experience with this mash and a bit more focus on brew day will help for next time.

Hopping: ~1 g/l Sterling pellets to bitter with 30 min left in the boil (calculates out to a contribution of 21 IBU, but from brewing with this same sterling before I think it is closer to 10-15), and ~5 g/l Hallertau Tradition whole hops at flame out for a 25 minute hop stand/whirlpool. The end result is a calculated 40 IBU but I think it is more likely on the 30 side. And the hopping, as is clear from this recipe, is balanced toward the flavor side rather than bitterness.

Racking onto dry hops.
Fermentation: I used yeast cultured from a bottle of Thiriez beer. This is what I've been using in most of my beers lately and I quite like it. I've talked a fair bit about this yeast but, in brief, it is different from Wyeast 3711 in fermentation behavior/appearance, attenuation, and flavor/aroma profile. If I am going to use a single yeast strain then this is the one I want to use.

The carboys fermented in the low 70s F / ~22-23 C. The beers were given on the order of a week for primary and then one carboy was racked onto ~1 g/l Styrian Golding pellets. This beer was given 6 days of contact time at room temp. The non-dry hopped version was bottled 12 days after brew and the dry hopped was bottled 14 days after brew. This is a bit longer than I've been giving other similar beers recently based on my schedule/availability. I've generally been shooting for around 10 days brew to bottle, with both dry hopped and non-dry hopped beers.

The beers were given a couple weeks conditioning at room temps (so for me that is around 64 F / 18 C, I'd like to condition a bit warmer) with corked 750s conditioned horizontally. After the conditioning time the beer was moved to a cooler room and the horizontal bottles were put upright or left horizontal, depending on what storage space I had open for them.

I'm quite happy with how the final beers came out, especially the dry hopped version. Perhaps I'll put up some tasting notes in the coming week(s).

Monday, October 3, 2016

What is Grisette part II - updated and abridged

Grisette has become a defining element of this blog since writing my first post on the topic (What is Grisette) about a year ago. This post marked the start of seriously focusing on digging up historic sources to understand what grisette was. At that time I had been watching pro brewers around me and elsewhere in North America applying the name to wide range of beers without any real understanding of that it meant. This is because basically nobody knew what it meant with any detail. People had ideas, myself included, but at best they were all based on a couple pages of information in modern English-language sources. I don't mean to downplay the value of those sources, which focus on other beers, as they present great info. And they played a prominent role in keeping grisette alive/in the minds of brewers. Many of us wouldn't have heard of grisette without those books and  I've even talked to a European professional brewer who learned of the style through Farmhouse Ales by Markowski. But for a more full understanding, excepting the information from those who drank historic grisettes such as Leon Voisin of Brasserie Voisin as quoted in Farmhouse Ales, the information in these texts all came from historic Belgian sources that are out there somewhere. So I wanted to dig those up for more details.

What it looks like when I try to organize thoughts on grisette.
This research on grisette also took me to 1800s and 1900s Belgian primary and secondary sources on other historic beers, which has now become a main focus of this blog. I expect to move more focus in those directions and let my mental organization of thoughts on grisette slip a bit. With grisette, for blog posts and especially for presentations/interviews, I would spend a lot of time working to build the information I had into an organized structure. With a recent presentation in Vancouver and one more grisette event coming up - a podcast/radio recording - I am going through this again. And I decided I should use the opportunity to transfer the same organization to the blog.

My first post on the topic was mostly an organization of what info there already was available in English, including the conflicting pieces of info, and a beginning analysis of labels. This post has by far been the blog's most successful and I think it did a good job of setting me up for what was to come with the historic sources. But the real substance of my research came in later posts and presentations. Unfortunately those posts have seen many fewer reads and not all the presentations are available to everyone, so I think some of the later work I've done to update and expand upon what grisette was may be lost to many. Similarly, the recipe I posted previously was brewed before I all of the more serious research (as was mentioned in that recipe post with some caveats). I still feel that recipe fairly accurately could produce a grisette, but I think you could also make a more "grisette-y" recipe. I gave a more grisette-focused recipe in my talks here and there including my NHC presentation, but again, this is not available to everyone. So I'd like to update that first post and recipe with the subsequent research I've done, in a more clear, concise and universally accessible way.

A lost grisette - label form Jacques Triffin.
I expect there could be more posts on grisette to come for this blog, and I'll certainly keep looking for info on the style, but with less focus than before. This summary will serve as a brief overview of what I know now before I shift focus to other topics. Much like the previous posts, this info is built on what I have seen and extrapolating from there, so parts of this understanding may be refined/changed as I learn more. So here it is: What is Grisette, part II. This might read a little choppy as I'm trying to keep it pretty short and quick. If you are interested in more information, these other posts from the blog and recordings of interviews/presentations (below) go into the information in more detail. These will also be linked again in the rapid fire-style list of grisette characteristics below where they are relevant.
Grisette Fundamentals

What: A fairly clear pale wheat beer that was a refreshing drink in the summertime. The beer was generally but not always lower strength. There were multiple classes of grisette. Ordinary grisettes were fundamentally designed to not be aged. There were aged versions of girsette that changed some of the fundamental structure to benefit aging, but in general it is not a beer for aging, both in recipe formulation and practice.

Based on the hopping rates and lack of aging as well as the historical descriptions, I don't think grisette would have been an acidic beer. Some examples of certain classes from some producers may have had some, but on the whole it seems from the record, including descriptions of the beer, that grisette was not an acidic beer. Multiple texts make a point of noting that the brewers who know how to make grisette were few and didn't like to talk about how they make it, so there isn't a lot of info.

Where: Grisette comes from the Hainaut province of Belgium, and specifically the earlier info I've seen comes form Scheldt and Dender river areas. Bigger cities in the Hainaut province like Charleroi and Tournai had grisette brewers at one point, as well as many smaller towns in the province.

When: I believe grisette started in the 1700s. The earliest source I have seen is from 1812, which mentions a brewery that has established itself via it's grisettes. This brewery was distributing the beer, at least somewhat locally if not also exporting, suggesting: a) they weren't small, b) they had been making grisette for a while, and c) people liked to drink it.


Hops: This post goes into more detail on this. Belgian (likely Belgian landrace hops, which are no longer in much production) were probably generally used. Likely coming from the Hainaut province, though possibly from Aalst or Poperinge for the bigger breweries/those who could afford these hops. Some brewers, especially those making higher classes of grisette, would also have used imported hops at times such as German (Hallertau) Czech hops (Saaz) and English hops (East Kent Goldings). Some general historic sources of the time suggest that German hops were not always thought to be the preferred choice for imported hops. On the order of 3-4 g/l for an ordinary grisette is the right sort of level. Hopping was generally balanced toward bitterness rather than flavor.

With Blegian landrace hops no longer around much, I used Czech Saaz.
English hops would also have been a historically accurate choice.
The beer may also have been dry hopped by some producers. If so, this was probably with a fairly
low dose (<1 g/l) and with better quality hops. So a producer, at least one who could do so, would have favored Czech or English hops for this. Dry hopping would have been done at storage/serving temps after fermentation, probably with a reasonable contact time.

Malt: Grisette was a wheat beer and the wheat was malted. I have seen no mention of grains other than wheat and barley in the historic grisette literature. I think one could possibly add some other grains to their beer, though the more those other components express themselves in the finished beer, the less closely it would follow historic grisette. The breakdown given in Pelset's 1874 text, the one source that goes into detail on the beer, is to use roughly 88% malted barley (spring 6 row) and 12% malted wheat. The wheat was more of a chitted wheat with very little germination time and the kilning temperatures were very low. Not far away from wind dried malt. Other sources mention that the barley would have been a winter 6 row. Given the nature of the beer, a spring 6 row is probably better.

Yeast: In short, I have no clear answer. I think one of the terms used to describe yeast character for this beer, both by me and other sources, can be confusing - 'clean'. A clean yeast profile can refer to a more flavor-neutral yeast in Saccharomyces comparisons (something toward a lager or American ale strain compared to a more expressive yeast like many Belgian strains, especially saison yeasts). Alternatively, clean can be used to describe pure Saccharomyces beers from brett beers.

Grisette wort ready for fermentation.
There are a couple things about grisette yeast/fermentation that I am sure of. 1) They were ales. 2) Based on this, for most of their history they would have been mixed-culture beers. 3) The average grisette was not an aged beer. Therefore this mixed culture wouldn't get a chance to express itself much.

I find no clear meaning to 'clean' as it refers to grisette. They certainly would have been 'cleaner' than saisons for most of their shared history because grisette wasn't generally aged enough for the mixed culture to express itself while saison was an aged beer. So a grisette that comes across as a Saccharomyces only beer, or perhaps with just a hint of additional yeast or bacteria, is definitely cleaner than historic saison, which was a beer that often could have had a final flavor profile with quite a bit in common with lambic.

So based on what I have, I think one could make a grisette with a saison yeast that is 'clean' in the sense of not having any or much expression of brett or bacteria as well as one with a yeast that is 'clean' in the sense of less Saccharomyces expression than a saison yeast. I think there is a case for both to have some accuracy/validity and I don't feel I can recommend one over the other.

For my personal tastes, I'll lean toward the former generally. I'll also add these two bits that support a saison or saison-like yeast. Firstly, in Farmhouse Ales, Markowski states that oral accounts from those who drank grisette describe the beers as saison-like. And secondly, the modern Belgian (and French) brewers who know beer history use saison yeast when when they make grisettes. They make these beers rather irregularly, but De La Senne has been known to make some (including one with Thiriez).

A recipe:

This recipe reflects historic research but it is shifted towards modern ingredients (no landrace Belgian hops, and also some grain/malt substitutions that I think are reasonable) and also slightly by my personal tastes (mostly when it comes to hopping). So it is a 'modernized' grisette recipe. I am adding more finishing hops than I think would have been used in historic grisette. I am also not using enough bittering hops, but that is probably partly balanced out by hop quality. I could post here what is listed in historic texts for recipes but they are incomplete and I haven't brewed exactly what is listed. And based on how much ingredients have changed between then and now, I'm not sure that such a recipe would have much value. Another caveat that I bring up regularly when talking about historic beers is that they are heterogeneous entities within time across different producers as well as through time. There is not one absolute answer for what a given beer was. And finally, I'm not comfortable putting a recipe up here that I haven't brewed in case it is way off when using modern ingredients. But if you really want that and enough people hassle me for it then perhaps I could be convinced to do that.

So here is a recipe I think accurately reflects much of historic grisette with some small exchanges to bring it into the modern world. If one were to 'modernize' grisette, I think it would modernize in this direction. If you wanted to make this recipe more like historic grisette, you could drop the late hopping rate (or eliminate late hops altogether) and increase the bittering hops. The wheat is also higher than the ~12% listed in Pelset.

Malt #47 during testing and selection at Doehnel Floor Malting.
Target OG: Around 1.034
FG: Around 1.006, depending on yeast, grist, and mashing
ABV: 3.5-4%
Calculated IBU: ~30
SRM: Around 3

Grist: For a base I am using a locally sourced and somewhat unique malt. I'm sorry this isn't especially helpful for those looking to use the same, but here is some reasoning for why I choose it and some ideas for substitutions. I am choosing it for three main reasons: 1) it is a good malt/I like the way it tastes, 2) it is local, and 3) I think that while it is a 2 row rather than a 6 row, in certain respects it is more similar to historic malts than many modern malts. It is a feed variety, so not malting specific. It has a high amount of husk material per kernel. This is clear when chewing on the grains, but can also be noticed from holding and breaking kernels. The protein is above typical British malt levels and in the range of/on the higher end of Continental European malts. This specific malt is also a bit undermodified and has a low friability and high B-glucans. It is the same color range as a continental European pils malt.

If you are looking for something unique/with these sorts of specifications, check to see if you have a local/somewhat local craft maltster. These maltsters are more likely to be using less typical grains and/or make more unique products. If you wanted to use a more major commercial malt, you could source a commercial 6 row pils from some suppliers. Otherwise a continental European 2 row pils would still be fine and make a good beer. Generally speaking we won't be getting exactly up to historic grisette on the raw ingredient end so my philosophy here is to not stress much about it and choose ingredients with intention to either make the best beer, or approach historic beer (possibly both) depending on your tastes and goals.

Racking the beer onto dry hops.
79% Doehnel Floor Malting #47 - An undermodified spring 2 Row feed barley malt (variety - Austenson).
14% Malted wheat (I used N American white wheat malt, but European wheat malt might be a better choice if you have access to it).
7% Flaked wheat - these two are used to try to emulate a chitted wheat. If you have chitted wheat you can replace both wheats here with that.

Hops: Using Saaz would probably not have been common at many standard historic grisette breweries, though they may have been used in higher-class grisettes. As mentioned, to make this more historically accurate you can shift the hops earlier in the boil. Additionally with Czech hops, depending on the brewing season (see the hopping grisette post) and the category of grisette, the amount may be a bit lower. If you want to follow Pelset's info more closely, perhaps you could do ~3 g/l Saaz to bitter and no finishing hops. But I'm not sure that would make the sort of beer I want and I haven't tried it yet. So here's what I do:

2 g/l Czech Saaz boiled for 60 minutes (targeting ~18 IBU)
2 g/l Czech Saaz boiled for 15 minutes (targeting ~9 IBU)
Dry hop (optional): 0.5 g/l Styrian Golding for ~5 days. This is quite noticeable in the finished beer and you could experiment with going lower.

Mash: This is informed by the grains I am using, historic Belgian mashing in general, specific grisette mashing, and modern Belgian mashing. I don't have a specific and complete mashing profile for historic grisette at the moment.

My B-glucan rest.
This is very thick to account for additional infusions to come.
-Dough in in the B-glucan range (something like 108-113 F / 42.2-45 C), 10 min rest
-Raise to a protein rest by infusion (something like 125-131 F / 52-55 C), 15 min rest
-Raise to saccharification by infusion (something like 149 F / 65 C), 50 min rest
-A Belgian brewer would probably then do a high saccharification step around 162 F / 72 C or so (possibly in conjunction with a first sacch step being shorter than I did) and/or a mash out close to denaturing enzymes but probably at a low enough temp where you would still get some conversion for a bit. I leave it here and don't do a mash out.

90 minutes. Historically this could have been even longer. Probably not much shorter, and more likely longer than shorter.

Yeast and Fermentation:
The fermentation potential (to use a saison yeast or not) is discussed above and I have discussed aspects of it in my interview with Basic Brewing Radio, my AHA HomebrewCon talk, and this quick interview with Basic Brewing Radio at HomebrewCon (see this FB post).

Recently I have been using the Thiriez yeast, cultured from a bottle, and I like it quite a bit. Otherwise I am partial to a blend of 3711/3724 (favoring the 3724) if you want to go in  more saison yeast-driven route. If you don't want to go this way, I like Wyeast 3787 fermented cool for beers of this nature. Those are just some ideas, and you should use either your favorite saison yeast or blend, or your favorite more neutral Belgian ale yeast.

A head-to-head tasting of 3 different grisette homebrews.
With Thiriez yeast I pitch around 68 F / 20 C and raise to 72-74 F / 22.2-23.3 C over the first 3-4 days. I let a warm primary go for 5-7 days and then I let it return to room temp (for me this is about 64-66 F / 17.8-18.9 C) for 5-6 days. If I am dry hopping I rack on to the dry hops around day 5-6 and I give about 5-6 days of contact time on the hops at room temperature. I am generally bottling at 10-14 days. I'll let bottles condition for a couple weeks before drinking them.

You might find a different timeline and temperature range is best based on your yeast choice, but overall grisette is generally not a beer designed for age and something like 3-4 weeks grain to glass (at least when you start drinking it) is probably not far off what would have been done. Some grisettes were aged longer and some may have been consumed even sooner, so you can play around with this timeline a bit. But for a young/ordinary grisette I would try keep the grain to glass time pretty quick.

So there's a rundown for now, balancing being quick with being thorough. I suppose now all that's left is for you to take this info and brew your own version, following more or less closely depending on your taste preferences and goals. And then drink it. Cheers!

My latest batch of grisette following this recipe.
De La Senne / Thiriez Birthday Session grisette.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Thoughts on recipe formulation

Grab yourself a beer. Philosophical ramblings on beer are probably best served with a beer as accompaniment. And preferably a beer you like and want to re-brew or brew something similar to. That will help for the following discussion.

I'd like to present a rundown of how I go about formulating recipes, focusing on the thought process I go through for ingredient and process selection. On the logistics/calculations side I use BeerSmith, so I won't do any discussion of calculations/etc. I also won't spend time on ingredient selection in the sense of not using old/bad malt or hops. You should taste and smell your ingredients so you get familiar with what good hops of a given variety smell like compared to bad hops, and what fresh malt tastes/feels like compared to stale malt. In full disclosure, I'm a person that spends an unreasonable amount of time thinking about beer and I try to take pretty detailed notes. In-depth thinking about beer is part of how I approach it and I enjoy it but it might not work for everyone. Not everyone is in a beer or brewing-related hobby/business to spend lots of time thinking about beer (though those people probably don't spend much time reading blogs either). So no worries if this isn't for you. But this is how I do it.

I don't mean to suggest that this is all easy and this is probably geared to the intermediate to more advanced brewer. But I think the considerations I discuss below can be helpful to some degree no matter what level of brewing you are at. If you are just beginning and are making your first recipes, taking initial steps toward thinking in this way will help you ask questions to be more likely to get the answers you are looking for more clearly. When a brewer says something like 'I want to brew a -blank-' and asks for advice, I regularly follow that up with questions about the different directions within that idea/style/etc. which one could go to try to best be able to offer guidance toward their end goal. And if you are very experienced with making recipes, thinking in this sort of way will make active ingredient and process decisions easy (rather than just doing something a certain way because you've always done it that way or because someone else did it that way).

Reading and critically analyzing your beer and commercial beer give you a great tool set for creating recipes. I take lots
of notes to help this: brew logs at bottom left, commercial beer notes at bot. right and travel/brewery visit notes at top left.

Motivation and intention: To me recipe formulation starts with and spends the bulk of the time focusing on motivation and intention. I think one should always go into a brew thinking about their motivation behind the brew and their intention with the finished beer. This may seem fairly rudimentary, but I think that it doesn't happen a surprising amount of the time. For most of my brewing years I didn't really stop to think in detail about what I really wanted in the final beer beyond the base style and following a more or less random recipe. So I mean going deeper than something like I want a saison, or I want a hoppy sour beer, etc.

Perhaps you are brewing to try out a given ingredient or process. What setting do you want to test that in? Something that makes the difference easiest to see, or a setting where you are most likely to actually want to use that ingredient or process? Both have their merits and limitations.

Or perhaps your goals are more finished beer-driven. If you want a saison, what strength? What sort of hop presence? What color? Do you want it to be balanced more toward fruit/esters or spice/phenols? Or an even mix of both? What sort of body are you looking for? Maybe picture a commercial example you know and like. In an ideal world, how might you want the final characteristics changed to make it your ideal beer? Spending more time nailing down your motivation for the beer in question and your desired result in the finished beer are the first big step - you know exactly what you want.

La Petite Princesse from Thiriez. Drinking & discussing
this beer has inspired me considerably in making recipes.
So I start with basics and step forward from that to target details and what ingredients and/or process will get me there (or ask questions/research/set trials to learn what will get me there). This can make recipe formulation an easier step-by-step process and/or help you choose between different already published recipes. Note that building the skills to do this may require similar critical thinking about beers you drink to come up with a good sort of context for the direction you want your soon-to-be-brewed beer to head. Talking to brewers is a good way to augment this critical tasting of commercial or homebrewed beer.

Setting fundamental goals: Okay, so you've thought about the motivation and intention. I break that into a few fundamental goals to work from. To illustrate my process, I'll work through the following recipe formulation with a low-OG saison. I think this sort of thinking is much more valuable than simply giving a recipe, as hopefully it helps others to think in more detail about their brews and improve their brewing. I am planning a recipe/brewday post on the same beer in the near future, so don't worry - an actual recipe is coming.

The basic essential elements that I am looking for in my homebrews of low-strength saisons or my favorite commercial examples are: A) a refreshing/thirst quenching quality, B) sufficiently low strength that I can drink multiple, possibly during the daytime, without feeling the effect of the alcohol, C) something that doesn't taste/feel especially watery or thin and D) good yeast expression, balanced toward floral/fruity but without anything toward bubblegum. These basic motivations will drive all my recipe/process decisions behind making this beer. Keep in mind that all of the following are based on my personal tastes.

Turning those goals into process: Those were pretty basic goals. I don't mean to suggest that the following is easy and obvious. Knowing the results of recipe and process changes can come from trials, research, and discussions with other brewers but they aren't inherent knowledge. The following breakdown of my goals comes from years of experience in my own brewing, discussions with fellow homebrewers as well as Belgian and French commercial brewers, and reading about saison and Belgian brewing. That experience was built slowly, piece by piece, and thinking in this way helped me to build it and connect those pieces.

Taste testing two different base malts.
Goal A means that I want a fairly firm bitterness (keeping in mind the context of the OG). By my experience (commercial beers I like and homebrews) this means a BU:GU ratio of about 1.25 [Edit 21-Sept-16: 1.0 is more representative of a larger number of recent beers. I have done low-OG saisons with 1.3-1.4 that came out with the bitterness I was looking for, but I think the bitterness calculation was a fair amount higher than what I actually got for those, probably due to the hops I was using. By re-brewing the same recipe with the same hops but increasing the hopping, I was able to get the bitterness I wanted by going up to 1.3+]. It also means that, to my taste, I want the bitter/flavor qualities of noble-type hops rather than something like typical Pacific NW IPA hops. I find IPA hops to bring a perception of sweetness with their fruity flavors as well as a resinous quality, both of which detract from a refreshing quality to me. I find a more resinous or pithy bitterness can clash with the dryness of saisons and the yeast to me, such that the finish can be a bit harsh in a way that doesn't leave me wanting another sip. So I want a more delicate fruity/floral and a firmer spice/herbal character and I don't want something resinous.

It also means that I want a pretty forward hop flavor, therefore I'll be loading up on finishing hops and dry hopping. But through my experience I have found that if I go too far in the finishing hop direction, while I may get great hop flavor, something is missing in the perception of a drying bitter finish. The exact breakdown here will depend on aa of my hops and such, but I've been happy recently with a roughly even split in theoretical IBUs from "bittering" and finishing when using low alpha hops to finish. I quote bittering because to me this could mean 30 minutes left in the boil.

Finally it means that I will want to keep the grain bill rather pale to let that crispness come through. That means a base of pils malt is good. Some Vienna, or a move in that direction, would also be fine as the OG is so low. That basically settles the hops in terms of variety, usage rates, and schedules of additions. And it gives me a pretty good constraint of my malt bill. I am looking at grains no darker than Vienna.

Goal B means that I am shooting for something at or below ~3.5% ABV. The corresponding original gravity for this will depend on mashing and yeast choice. I have been working on raising my FGs a bit so that my OG can be up to 1.030. Getting the ABV down to about 3.5% with a 1.030 OG came from changing my yeasts and changing my mash profile.

Goal C means that I want to maximize character from my grain and mashing process, as grain level will obviously be the one factor most restricted by my ABV target. Mashing in a bit more of an intensive way to maximize extraction and development of flavors will also help and, depending on yeast choice, mashing for less fermentability could help. I generally try not to do this with 3711 as the yeast seems to attenuate quite a bit of stuff that others won't so it can just end up extending the fermentation timescale. For the same reasoning I would not mash for low attenuation when making a beer with brett that I also wanted to be a quick turnaround beer. Building body with certain grains like oats or rye and selecting yeast for more glycerin production can also help to build more body if you are looking for it. Finally, dry hopping can add a nice structure in addition to the flavor/aroma that it brings.

Pulling starchy wort during a turbid mash.
So to sum this up, for my tastes I will probably choose a more intensive mashing profile (more on this to come in later posts) and flaked grains and then dry hop with noble or noble-type hops for both the flavor and structure components I am looking for.

Goal D is fairly straightforward - it means that I'll choose a yeast blend or single strain and fermentation temperature profile that I am pretty happy with. Or if I want to try something out or don't know what strain/blend/temperature to use then I'll test some out, likely by splitting a batch to help constrain variables in the test.

A mixed yeast and bacteria blend can be a great way to add fermentation complexity. Think about something like Le Petite Prince with a bit more age or Jolly Pumpkin's Bam Bière (which, at 4.5% might be a bit stronger than the rest of this example focuses on, but that can be scaled back if needed for your goals). Mixed culture expression will of course come as a trade off with hop impression, which again comes back to careful consideration of what you are looking for.

For my recent beers, since it was already summer by the time I was brewing, I focused on quick turnaround. From travel experience visiting the brewery and talking with Daniel, I knew that the Thiriez yeast was a great choice (see this somewhat dated post from my visits there as well as this post from Farmhouse Beer Blog). Note that the fermentation appearance of this yeast, the flavor profile, and the behavior (especially attenuation) are different from Wyeast 3711, of which Brasserie Thiriez is reportedly the origin.

So from these 4 goals, I have set my OG and IBUs, the hops I am going to use and rough hopping schedule, most of the grist, and my yeast choice. I've also got a good direction to go for mashing. And since I've chosen my yeast I have a good idea what sort of fermentation profile to use (or what ranges to test in a split batch). In the coming week(s) I'll wrap this exercise up with the actual recipes this thinking led to in a post to come on the brewdays for some recent low-OG saisons.

Closing thoughts: Following this through exercise is best as a cyclic process. Design the beer, brew it, and then taste. While tasting it, think about your recipe and process, which will help you learn how specific ingredients and process led to your beer. Also think about what direction you would like it to go with the beer for next time. Having a good starting point for directions to grow helps narrow down the goals quite a bit, which gives you a great head start for repeating this exercise.

Ok, that's if for now. As said above, none of this is an easy process. Any level of brewer will learn as they go through this to better understand the results of ingredients and process changes/choices. So don't feel overwhelmed by this and if you don't know the answers you are looking for, read/ask around for advice and/or design trials to figure them out for yourself.