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Recipe Formulation - Black Saison
I'm a really big fan of saisons and
due to that fact I end up brewing them often.
Sometimes, believe it or not, I brew what I want to drink.
I think part of my fandom, other
than the obvious flavor factor, has to do with my great fascination with
farmhouse breweries. I love the history
of them - brewing beer for the farm workers to drink after a long, grueling day
laboring in the fields. I am also
enamored with the concept of growing ingredients on brewery property to be used
in the beers brewed there. It's exciting
to me to have that much of a hand in what goes into the beer. I am working toward making this sort of
lifestyle a reality for myself.
But, history notwithstanding, it's
the yeast and the yeast alone that makes a saison a saison. So I guess, more specifically, you could say
that I love saison yeast. I think it's
so brilliant because it has a unique quality to it that makes it distinctly
Belgian (or French) but it's more subtle than your traditional abbey style
yeast that's often just packed with esters and phenols. Saisons are very distinctive. You know you're having a saison the very
moment you take a sip, no matter what the liquid looks like, but they're never
overpowering and always very drinkable and refreshing.
With that being said, it seems to
make the most sense to start with a yeast and work backwards. I'm a Wyeast guy, so taking a look at what
they have to offer reveals four options. Wyeast 3724 Belgian Saison, Wyeast 3726
Farmhouse Ale (Private Collection, available seasonally), and Wyeast 3725 Bier
De Garde (Private Collection, available seasonally). 3725 just so happens to be available as I'm
writing this article (Apr-Jun 2012) and I've never used it before so I have
chosen to give it a try. I have come to
learn that it was cultured from Brasserie Fantome in Belgium, which makes
insanely unique saisons, so I'm really excited to try it. Bier De Garde is, obviously, a different style
from saison, but shares the "farmhouse" connotation so I'm not too concerned,
especially since Wyeast suggests a fermentation temperature range of 70-84
degrees (which is very much unlike a traditional Bier De Garde which is
From here I'm going to develop the
grain bill. I've decided that I want to
make this saison black or dark brown in color, perhaps around 24 SRM. I've wanted to use Midnight Wheat to darken up a beer style that
isn't traditionally dark for a while now.
I have heard that it imparts a great depth of color without lending a
roasty character. I also want to put Rye in the beer to add to the
traditional spicy flavor element found in many examples of the style (most
often from yeast derived phenols).
Because many saisons yeasts tend to produce an extremely dry (and
therefore often thin) finish, I want to add a few grains that will impart some
unfermentables to increase the mouthfeel .
Since I now have Rye and Midnight Wheat I thought it would be fun to do Crystal Rye and White Wheat so that I have
two different types of each grain.
Admittedly, this concept is somewhat inspired by a black saison brewed
by New Holland Brewing from Holland, MI.
I'll use European Pilsner as a base and a half pound of rice hulls to prevent a stuck
mash due to the extensive use of wheat and rye (both grains do not have a
husk). My false bottom generally does a good job at
filtering but one can never be too safe.
I'll go lightest on the Crystal Rye to minimize the caramel flavor and
use just enough Midnight Wheat to gain my desired color. I'll try to keep my base grain at about 70%
of the grain bill, but I'm really not too concerned with astringency since
wheat and rye are acceptable as base grains themselves.
I must admit that I was pretty
stumped at first with regards to the hops in this recipe. I was unsure if the standard bitterness
numbers for the style would stand up to the added malt complexity. I decided that there was no harm in
attempting to contact Brian Strumke of Stillwater Artisanal and picking his
brain on the matter. His Existent Black
Saison is definitely an inspiration for this beer. To my surprise, or maybe not, Brian responded
to my query and suggested that I go with something in the 30-35 range but no
higher. I heeded his advice with a bit
of conservatism and chose to go with 28. I had some Hallertauer hops in the
fridge that had to be used so I chose to pitch them in at 60 minutes for
bittering. I also had some Sorachi Ace
that I was holding onto for a saison. I
have never brewed with the hop but I have sampled quite a few commercial brews
that use it and I have always been very impressed. I chose to put some in at 20 and 5 minutes to
get a good blend of flavor and aroma without over doing it.
I have made it habit to filter my water for the brew
the day before and let it sit out so that the chlorine has time to dissipate. I think it has helped the flavor of my beer
quite a bit. After all, water is the
most substantial ingredient in beer.
Another practice that I feel has been crucial to the success of my
recent brews is doing a starter the night before and leaving it stirring on a stir plate the entire time to
make sure it's well oxygenated. To make
sure that nothing unsavory gets into the starter I put a musting cap on the top of my Erlenmeyer flask with an air filter in place of the airlock. I currently have an oxygenation system on my wish list which would
allow me to have more control of the oxygenation.
I think that about covers it. Let's hope it turns out as good as I project
it to be.
-Written by Timothy Gormley