Brewing A Saison : The Legendary Home Brewed Beer

Of all the types of beer in the world, perhaps the one you hear about most in home brewing is saison.

Here’s a guide to this popular brew that includes a bit of history and ideas for formulating your own recipes.

Brewing a saison

While I came to home brew because of my love of beer, I discovered saison purely through home brewing.

It seems as though everyone brews them, regularly, and they’re usually spoken about in glowing terms.

Randy Mosher, for example, in Radical Brewing has this to say:

I can think of few beer styles that give me more pleasure here on earth. Crisp yet substantial, fragrantly hoppy, but underlain with a delicate maltiness, it maintains a hair’s breadth balance among it’s many aspects. Hovering between weak and strong, hoppy and malty, spiced and straightforward… always adding up to a harmonious whole.

Sounds good to me.

My final push into brewing a saison came via the Beersay Saisonathon, which encourages you all to drink a bottle in honour of this highly regarded beer.

What is Saison?

Saisons originated in the French speaking part of Belgium. They were developed for farm workers who needed a nourishing yet refreshing drink for their breaks.

Michael Jackson explains more:

They were originally made during the winter by farmer-brewers, then laid down for consumption during the summer. The beer had to be sturdy enough to last for some months, but not too strong to be a summer and harvest quencher.

Jackson visited the Dupont brewery, one of the most famous commercial saison producers. He discovered this about the fermentation:

After primary fermentation, there was a week or two of warm-conditioning in a metal tank. This was followed by centrifuging, re-yeasting (with a different culture), priming, and a good fortnight of maturation in bottle.

Armed with these titbits, you can think about brewing.

Brewing a Saison

There are many recipes around for saison, and few of them are the same. As a style it’s loose and open to interpretation.

The bulk of the beer is made of Pilsner malt. Some brewers use nothing more, but usually additional malt flavour is built up to contrast with the hops.

For more background, there’s a good discussion about saison ingredients on Brew Dudes.

I’ve opted to brew an adaptation of Mosher’s recipe from Radical Brewing. Partly because I trust his recipes, but mainly because I like its simplicity.

Looking back over my brews I’m starting to notice that the beers that really taste good are the minimalist ones. This one for example.

Sometimes beer with too many ingredients can end up tasting muddy, with nothing shining through.

Malt

As well as the Pilsner base malt, I used a good portion of Munich for extra flavour and a little wheat malt to help with head retention.

Saison is usually a dry beer so there’s also some fully fermentable brown sugar to give extra strength, a little flavour, and a low final gravity.

Yeast

Although the bulk of the recipe is flexible, in the many accounts out there there’s one thing everyone agrees on. Without good yeast, it’s pointless even bothering.

Not being able to get hold of a specific saison strain, I’ve opted for Safbrew T-58. This contributes peppery flavours that are another saison characteristic.

Unless the fermentation gets stuck, I won’t introduce another yeast (as the Dupont method above suggests).

More

Coriander and orange peel at the end of the boil encourage the spicy and refreshing flavours. I added these due to (as yet unfounded) fear that the yeast won’t deliver on the fruitiness.

I’d like to brew another batch without any spices to really put the yeast to the test.

Saison All Grain Recipe

Recipe Volume
18 litres

Fermentables
Pilsner: 2.5kg (57%)
Munich: 1kg (23%)
Wheat malt: 0.35kg (8%)
Brown sugar: 0.5kg (11%)

Mash Time
90 mins

Mash Target Temperature
67°C

Hops
Cascade (6%): 30g for 60 mins
Saaz (4.3%): 25g for 30 mins
Kent Goldings (4.5%): 20g for 5 mins
(39 IBUs)

More
Ground coriander 10g
Grated peel of 2 oranges

Yeast
Safbrew T-58

Original Gravity
1.054

Assumes 70% efficiency

Brew Notes

Brewing is straightforward, with a single temperature mash.

Heat the water and add the grain when it reaches 68°C.

brewing a saison mash

You can see from the photo that this batch size really is the limit for brew in a bag with a 30 litre brew pot.

Drain the brew bag and get out as much wort as you can.

brewing a saison draining

Bring to the boil and add the hops according to the schedule.

brewing a saison boil

Throw in the brown sugar, coriander and orange peel with the last hop addition.

brewing a saison T-58 yeast

Rehydrate the T-58 yeast in a sanitised jar with 200ml of boiled and cooled water.

brewing a saison rehydrate yeast

Condition for a least two weeks after primary fermentation and bottle as usual.

(Detailed brewing instructions are here, if you need them).

If you’ve got experience with brewing saisons let me know what you think of this recipe.

I’ll write a post-tasting update once the beer’s ready.

  • If you enjoyed this post, enter your email address to find out about future updates:


Comments...

  1. Looks good! Thanks for the mention…and I’ll be following suit and brewing another with spices :)

    • John

      Thanks, you’re welcome.

      It’ll be interesting to see how much difference there is between the two beers.

    • Stuart Evans

      I’ve looked in to this a fair bit as I’m a little nervous about using the “proper” saison yeast.

      Here’s an excerpt from a thread I found outlining the spice vs yeast issue I’ve discovered:

      This is the standard instruction set for a saison . . .but it is not a good way to do it. If you want a true Saison fruitiness and spice start at 80 and go to 86, even as high as 90. The fruit and spice esters that truly characterize saisons are developed in the first 72-96 hours of fermentation. They will continue to evolve and actually mellow out during additional warm fermenting but if you start at 68 and ease up to 80 over 6 days you will end up with almost no saison character.

      Often the recipe will then fake those esters by adding spices to the beer. Pepper, cardomom, orange peel, etc.

      http://www.homebrewtalk.com/f13/saison-not-stuck-but-slow-101360/

      • John

        Thanks for sharing that, it’s very interesting.

        I dug out my brew notes for this batch. It was fermented at 21°C, rising to 24°C after two weeks. That increase was fairly gradual as it was due to the weather improving.

        The beer’s very tasty with a good amount of fruity yeast flavour, but it’s not completely spicy.

        An extra warm fermentation could be the key. I’m eager to try another batch now!

  2. dave

    Sounds good, may well try it. Any advantage re-hydrating the yeast rather than sprinkling in dry?

    • John

      My understanding’s that some of the yeast cells are damaged if pitched straight into the wort.

      Firstly, rehydration’s more effective at temperatures slightly higher than fermentation/wort temperature. Also, if they’re rehydrated in wort the yeast can absorb unwanted elements, also causing damage.

      I’ve always rehydrated so can’t compare with sprinkling on top – this would make a good side by side experiment.

      Thanks for the comment!

  3. Bruce

    Hi John

    This looks like a great beer that I’m keen to try. I only have a 10 liter brew pot though, can I basically just halve the ingredients and get similar results? My local supplier has a pale and a dark wheat malt, which do you think is the best to use.

    Thanks for a great site, it’s such a good source of information.

    • John

      Hi Bruce,

      Thanks for stopping by.

      Making a smaller batch is certainly possible. This page explains about scaling the quantities, but essentially, yes, it’s just a matter of dividing down.

      I find that when brewing small batches the one off, fixed losses (like stopping and starting a siphon) are higher in percentage terms. That means that relatively speaking you end up with less beer than with a full batch. Also, some of the quantities can get pretty small and hard to measure accurately.

      The amount of work is the same as for a full batch, so if I think it’s going to be a good beer I prefer to make the most of a brew day and brew as much as possible.

      That said, I’ve had good results with small batches (5 litres) so if that’s the size of your pot go for it!

      Unfortunately I’ve not personally used dark wheat malt, but it sounds interesting. If it helps, I brewed this saison with light wheat malt and am pleased with how the beer turned out.

      Hope that answers your questions – let us know how you get on!

  4. Stuart Evans

    And excellent read, once again, thank you. 
    I’m going for a 10 litre version of http://beersmithrecipes.com/viewrecipe/19258/blueberry-Hoptart next weekend. 

    I understand that if you use the actual saison yeast you have to pitch it at nearly 30°C! 

    I’ll be using your guide on how to scale down and an immersion heater to keep it warm enough in the garage. I just hope it doesn’t explode! 

    • John

      Hi Stuart, thanks for coming back!

      The recipe looks very tasty. Hope it turns out well!

      I’d be really interested to know how you get on, because that extra warm fermentation temperature would make a useful option for hot summer brewing.

      Cheers!

  5. Stuart

    Hi guys,

    I think I struggled with this although I think I made it worse by adding blueberries. I got a stuck fermentation early on and rousing failed to have much impact.

    I ended up adding a further yeast which kicked up an average further fermentation. The resulting beer was more cider than ale and it didn’t seem to flocculate enough, causing far to much yeast in the end product.

    I’ll probably try a saison again sans fruit and wait until I’ve a more controllable temperature option.

    Regards,

    Stuart

    • John

      Hi Stuart,

      Thanks for coming back and letting us know how it went.

      Sorry it didn’t go as planned but glad to hear you’re not disheartened and will give it another go.

      After your earlier comments I decided to test a warmer fermentation by brewing at the height of summer. The beer was similar, but it was plagued by a background alcohol flavour that never quite left it.

      After four months or so it had settled down, but on balance I preferred the lower temperature batch. It was just that bit smoother.

      (This was with the T-58 as I wasn’t lucky enough to find a saison yeast – that will be next).

      Thanks again,

      John

Commenting is encouraged and much appreciated

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

*
*