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.
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.
They were originally made during the winter by farmer-brewers, then laid down for consumption during the summer.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.
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.
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).
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
Pilsner: 2.5kg (57%)
Munich: 1kg (23%)
Wheat malt: 0.35kg (8%)
Brown sugar: 0.5kg (11%)
Mash Target Temperature
Ground coriander 10g
Grated peel of 2 oranges
Assumes 70% efficiency
Brewing is straightforward, with a single temperature mash.
Heat the water and add the grain when it reaches 68°C.
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.
Bring to the boil and add the hops according to the schedule.
Throw in the brown sugar, coriander and orange peel with the last hop addition.
Rehydrate the T-58 yeast in a sanitised jar with 200ml of boiled and cooled water.
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.