Thursday, July 17, 2014

Rye Spiced Saison Brewday

I have written before (here and here) about the very wide variability in saison. I generally prefer pale, hoppy, unspiced saisons, but I do like a nice dry spicier dark saison once in a while. Some of the commercial examples of dark saison are a bit too sweet or have a bit too much caramel for me, and I think this is the main pitfall of many darker saisons. It's difficult to balance the ester and alcohol profiles of the yeast (which provide the impression of sweetness) with malts to darken the beer (which, depending on malt choice and mashing, may leave a heavier sweetness). While you don't want to load on the crystal malts out of concern for sweetness (either perception or actual residual sugar), I think you can't rely too much on dry roasty/toasty dark malts (like biscuit, brown malt, chocolate, etc.) for your color either because with the high attenuation this could leave the beer too unpleasantly bitter/dry. A mix of the two with a smaller amount of caramel-type malt does add something nice to this sort of beer and I think it hits the right balance. It won't be as light and crisp but I think that's alright with amber to brown saisons, which for me make a great fall beer. There are some good examples out there (such as Upright's Late Harvest) with the right crispness and mix of esters and spices. In addition, the Mad Fermentationist has some excellent information on brewing darker saisons in posts about his annual tradition of brewing a darker saison, with a different recipe and different spicing/fruit each year.

The Mash
My goals with the first incarnation of this recipe (which was definitely inspired by the Mad Fermentationist) were to branch out a bit in my saison brewing from the pale hoppy saisons I typically brew (such as here, here and here) and to come up with a great autumn saison. This incarnation may have been brewed a bit early for fall, but that gives me time to tweak the recipe a bit more this year if I think it need changes. With this batch I'm keeping the beer 'clean' (no Brettanomyces or bacteria) but that is definitely something I want to incorporate after I work on the base recipe a bit.

Rather than going for a pilsner malt base and darkening with larger amounts of specialty grains I've decided to use a pale munich for the bulk of my base malt. I did this in my first try at this recipe and was happy with the results. In my second try I swapped it out for pils and a darker munich based mostly on availability of ingredients. Unfortunately I didn't get to taste any of the second batch as I brewed it with a friend whom I was teaching to brew right before I moved to Germany for 8 months, and he didn't save me any for when I got back. So this batch is back to the beginning and maybe I'll repeat it soon with the pils/dark munich combo if I'm not totally happy with this grist. There is a significant portion of flaked rye in this recipe which I think helps out the general more spice forward profile I'm going for and it probably also contributes a bit to the body. There is also a fair amount of acidulated malt. My goal with this much acidulated is to add a very small amount of tartness to the final beer (and I've seen this work well in previous batches) more than to adjust my mash pH. As I generally do when using this much acidulated, I limit the dose in my main mash to about 4 oz (113 g) and add the remaining with about 10-15 minutes left in my mash to avoid altering my mash pH for the bulk of conversion too much. I think that covers most of the intention and behind the recipe and any tricks in brewing. So here's the recipe.

Batch Size: 5.5 gallons
Target OG: 1.055
Target IBU: ~20 (Tinseth formula)
Target FG: 1.003
Target ABV: 6.8 %
Actual OG: 1.055
Anticipated color: ~16 SRM
Brew Day: 5-July-2014

44.2 % Doehnel #27 (6-7 L Pale Munich). I've discussed this locally-produced malt in this previous post.
19.9 % Weyermann Pilsner
17.7 % Flaked Rye (I boiled these before adding them to my mash)
8.8 % Caramunich (Franco Belges I think, but maybe Weyermann)
6.6 % Weyermann Acidulated malt
1.7 % Special B
1.1 % Weyermann Carafa II Special

63g Tettnang Pellets (4.3 % aa)
28g Styrian Golding pellets (5.3 % aa)

My 'house saison' blend of Wyeast 3724 and 3711 (about 63% 3724 and 37% 3711), approximately 215 billion cells total.

My spice and hop additions (clockwise from top right: Juniper berries, 0 min hops and green peppercorns, 20 minute hops and whirlfloc, all 30 rosemary leaves, yeast nutrient).
6g Juniper berries (freshly crushed with a mortar and pestle)
3g Green peppercorns (freshly crushed with a mortar and pestle, do these first as the juniper berries are pretty resinous)
30 Rosemary leaves, fresh (less than 1g). This is a ridiculously small amount but I think it is appropriate. This amount was too small for me to weigh out so counting leaves it was. Rosemary is very potent and way too easy to overdo, so if you plan on using it be careful and err on the side of undershooting to avoid a one-dimensional spice-bomb. As I feel with pretty much all spiced beer, I would rather there be no spices than too many/too much and I generally shoot for near-threshold values so it isn't entirely clear what, if any, spices might be in the beer.

1/2 tab whirlfloc
1/2 tsp Wyeast nutrients
5 g CaSO4 and 5g CaCl2 added to the mash water (about 6.5 gallons, +85 ppm Ca2+, +113 ppm SO42- and +66 ppm Cl-). 4 g CaSO4 and 6g CaCl2 added to the sparge water (about 4.5 gallons, +153 ppm Ca2+, +168 ppm SO42- and +147 ppm Cl-. My sulfate to chloride ratio is closer to 1:1 than I would use in a paler saison, but I figured accentuating the malt in this sort of grist/beer makes sense. Victoria's water is basically distilled water so the amount added is quite close to the final total concentration.

My game plan for the mash was 45 minutes at 146 (63.3 C) followed by recirculation with heat to 154 F (67.8) where I'll rest for 15 minutes. The recirculation step usually takes about 5-10 minutes and is accomplished by heating my mash kettle on my burner while running off into alternating kitchen pots. It isn't the most elegant system and I'm looking forward to setting up my newly-acquired pump soon. For mash out I don't really want to cut off my conversion completely so I'll just heat to about 158 F (70 C) while I vorlauf. As I mentioned in previous posts, I generally run my mashes pretty thin (> 2 qts/lb or > 4.2 l/kg) as I use a 10 gallon mash tun and my batches have on average something like 10-13 lbs of grain (4.5-5.4 kg) and the larger thermal mass helps me keep my mash temps better. As it stands I still generally have to recirculate my mash while heating it a couple times throughout an hour-long mash.

The beginning of fermentation
I planned for a 90 minute boil but extended to about 110 minutes on account of having a larger pre-boil volume and lower gravity than my target. I added 28 g Tettnang pellets and 28 g Styrian Golding pellets at 20 minutes left in the boil and the remaining Tettnang (35g) with all of my spices at flame out. It took a couple more minutes to start up my immersion chiller so there was a very brief (3 minute) hot steep before I began cooling the wort.

The fermentation plan was to pitch at 68 F (20 C) and raise to 78-80 F (25.6-26.7 C) over 4-5 days, and then hold at 78-80 F until terminal gravity. I control my fermentation temperatures with a water bath and an aquarium heater. Today (July 16th, 11 days after brewday) I'm at 1.004 so pretty much at my target. I'll probably let the beer drop to room temperature (about 70 F / 21.1 C right now as we have a bit of a warmer spell in Victoria) slowly by unplugging the heater off and leaving the beer in the water batch.

Here are tasting notes and ideas for changing the batch for next time.


  1. Do you use 3724 with 3711 to avoid the attenuation problems with 3724 alone? If so, you might try culturing up some yeast from a bottle of saison dupont. I've had excellent results with it. Fantastic saison flavor (way better than 3711) with no attenuation problems. Cheers!

    1. Yeah, I primarily use the yeast combo to get good attenuation. I have also cultured dregs from Dupont to good results (in fact, a Dupont dregs + 3724 saison was one of my first batches of saison and got me hooked on brewing the style), but I think I prefer the blend for a couple of reasons. As you point out, I also prefer the 3724/Dupont flavor to the 3711. However if I keep the 3711 to a small percent of my total yeast pitch (<20%) then I find the 3711 flavor contribution complimentary and nice. I also find at least from my trials that no other yeast or yeast blend I've encountered ferments quite as well as 3711 in a quick time frame. And I like the enhanced glycerol production of 3711. While it can at times be overbearing in pure 3711 beers, I think the addition forma small percentage is pretty good. But i would say the main reason for choosing the yeast blend rather than culturing dregs is for repeatability and control. I'm all about embracing wild aspects of saison but I like having the repeatability of the base recipe that using blends of pure strains gives me and then adding dregs or other funky cultures when I want from there. Thanks for checking out the blog and also bringing up the dregs idea! Now that I'm reminded of it I might want to try to revisit it here and there in future batches. Cheers! - Dave

  2. I've used my saison dupont slurry twice now. I'm not an expert by any means, but I seem to be getting pretty consistent results. After fermenting a batch, I save the slurry and pitch into my next batch of saison. Seems to work pretty well.