The Many Faces of Saison

We all love saison, right? I’m going to brew a saison this weekend but when I started to think about the type of saison I want to brew I headed off down a rabbit hole of yeast strains and microbes trying to decide whether I should have a level of tartness to it, keep it simple and sessionable, add some Brett for some funk and age it, any further ingredients like herbs and spice, strong, dark etc. etc. So this got me thinking to write up a post on the various styles of saison I like to brew myself and hopefully give some further insight as to why this is my favourite beer style, that is, if you can shoehorn all these variations into one single style. Defining saison is impossible as it is many things to many people. I hear a lot of people say they don’t like saison but have you drank saison Dupont, the finest clean example? Or a Saison a la Provision from Burning Sky, one with added Brett and lacto?

The history of saison has been covered in great detail by many more knowledgeable than myself but if you would like a learn more I can highly recommend Dave Janssens blog  http://www.horscategoriebrewing.com/ and hit the saison section.

The Maltose Falcons also have a very good section on brewing saison with analysis of various yeast strains used to brew the style which you can find here https://www.maltosefalcons.com/tech/guide-saisons-and-saison-yeasts

Read Farmhouse Ales by Phil Markowski if you prefer to gain your knowledge in book format.

Also there is nothing here that can’t be found on Milk The Funk as this is where I primarily learned all these fermentation procedures. These are just some of my personal interpretations and techniques with information gathered from all of the above resources plus more.

I don’t decide what my saison is going to be by looking into my malt store to see what I have available nor do I see if I have the correct hops to carry out the process as I may indeed not use any hops. The place to start the recipe is to imagine yourself sitting down in your comfortable chair, nice and relaxed, picturing yourself drinking the final product.

STRAIGHT-UP SAISON

What’s in that glass? Is it clean and dry and sessionable with just a single strain of saccharomyces, Belgian Pils malt and a 60 minute bittering addition of whatever hops take your fancy? Or is it a little stronger, tipping over the 6.5% ABV barrier with a hint of alcohol and a lot of spice and a heavy carbonation with an effervescent head pouring over the side of the glass? Either way it should be dry as a bone and fermented near 25c, and these are basic examples of clean saccharomyces options.

BRETT SAISON

My personal favourite is Brett Saison. This is the one that can be fermented in three different ways (all of which are mid 20’s C for me) the first of which is a co-pitch or mixture of both your preferred saison strain(s) along with your preferred Brettanomyces strain(s) at the very beginning to let them work in tandem for a finished product that I would leave for a six weeks minimum and longer for enhanced Brett characteristics. I like my FG down around 1.002 (perform a forced fermentation beforehand to get a good idea of when you’re fermentation is complete) when I know I’m safe to bottle (in Champagne bottles depending on whether or not you prefer higher carbonation levels). For added funk, use green bottles. You heard me correctly and expect to see some of my saison on your shelf funking further in green bottles. Using saison strains famous for stalling mid-way through fermentation like Dupont are my favourite for co-pitching with Brett as it eliminates the famous saison stall as the Brett seems to slowly carry it through.

The second Brett saison fermentation begins with letting the saccharomyces deliver all the character by completing the majority of the attenuation itself or indeed all of the attenuation itself before adding your Brettanomyces strain to hoover up the final few gravity points. Keep in mind that this process takes longer for Brett to attenuate the residual sugars so I’d give it about four months + with monitoring once a month. Of course, wort composition, fermentation temperature and pitching rates can affect the profile so give it time and monitor once a month. Bottle or keg when happy!

The third is bottle conditioning with Brettanomyces. Ferment with your favourite saison saccharomyces strain for two weeks or until fully attenuated and prepare your favourite Brett strain for bottling day. If you have 40 bottles then have 40ml of Brett ready and add 1ml to each bottle with a pipette. Definitely use those thicker Champagne bottles for this one and always make sure your beer has finished attenuating and the FG is down to 1.002, at least that’s what I do.

SOUR SAISON

How many variations of this one have I made? Let’s say three. The first of which is to make a saison with low IBU of about 5 so as not to inhibit the lactobacillus. I wanted to find the saison strain with the highest fermentation temperature and that was WYEAST 3724 which can hit the hights of 38c without a problem. This so happens to be where lactobacillus, the souring agent, is happy out too. This makes for a stress free and quick turnaround sour saison by pitching both together at the start of fermentation at 38C. The job is done in the normal two week timeframe but you can keep an eye on the fermentation and pH and even halt the pH from dropping when you have reached your desired pH or don’t want it too sour by adding a dose of your preferred dry hops to the mix.

The second way is as per above but with the addition of Brettanomyces in a co pitch with the sacch or at the end of fermentation. Give it months, not for the souring but fermentation and depth of character.

The third is blending. Make your favourite version of any of the above saison from the clean or Brett section above but in a separate vessel you can make the sour saison and blend it with the clean in a third vessel and age. You can also make up about 8 litres of DME starter and sour it and ferment it fully with your saison strain and blend this to one of your clean saison. Blending! You can choose your desired pH level on your saison and The Mad Fermentationist Michael Tonsmeire has a calculator out there to aid you with gravity reading, pH, IBU, colour etc. whilst performing your blend of two or three beers depending on what your end goal is.

The fourth is adding lacto and Brett after the clean fermentation and this one could be a 12 month turnaround beer with nice subtle tartness.

Saison eh, and there was you thinking they were a one dimensional spice bag. But wait, there’s more!

WILD SAISON

The wild one is where you can incorporate your own wild yeast strain. How many variations?

The first is to use your own wild strain and call it a saison. Handy. It’s true that a lot of wild yeast give the flavour profile of typical store bought saison strains but this is not as easy as it sounds nor as easy to find. I plate and isolate individual strains and its great fun but finding a single sacch strain with massive character and the ability to bust out the blocks and ferment beer is hard but not impossible.

What’s in your wild yeast? I’ve been writing about wild yeast and wild yeast capture for a few years, see previous blogs from myself, but I’ve yet to find a wild yeast strain I would be happy to attach the saison style or profile to. The success rate for wild yeast capture is pretty small and when the end result is worth pursuing from this small success pool the final beer can still be pretty uncharacteristic. I’ve got two wild yeast strains I’ve been monitoring and trying out in various wort and hop profiles for many years to train them in acclimatising to making beer and adjusting to hops and alcohol but their flavour profile, whilst dry, is more suited to dry fruit beers or beers with white wine profiles and Nelson Sauvin or Hallertau Blanc hops.

Do you want wild yeast in your brewery and all that it contains? Are you worried about diastaticus (extremely overlooked and worth of a blog post in itself)? I’ve just armed myself with an idea for the next blog, nice one!

The second is to co-pitch your favourite saison yeast strain with your hand harvested wild yeast strain. Only you know what’s in your wild yeast but if it contains sacch, Brett, pedio and lacto you better be ageing that one for up to a year.  If your wild yeast is single sacch and suited to a hotter fermentation temperature then co-pitching with saison strain will give you a beautiful saison.

BARREL AGED SAISON

All of the above but aged in a barrel!

OPEN FERMENTATION SAISON

Make your favourite clean saison but why bother with a lid on your fermenter? Let those microbes land in and help out. Best give this one some added time. In our brewery we have open fermenters for making these exact beers.

COOLSHIP SAISON

The same as above but with the chilling and microbes landing from an overnight cooling in the coolship.

But why negate those beautiful wild microbes or taint it with saison yeast I hear you say.

Because saison.

My favourite strains dependent on desired end result are WYEAST3724 for sour with your preferred lacto source, WLP565 by itself or with any of your favourite Bretts and for light sessionable Brett saison The Yeast Bay saison Brett blend .

I’m also looking forward to incorporating all these saison into our brewery which will be open for business very soon @ Wide Street Brewing.

I guess I like to brew saison and the above are all ways I’ve attempted to brew them.

So what am I brewing this weekend?

A saison.

Thanks for reading!

Sean.

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