When I was at my local brewers’ meet-up in May (I would link, but the site is down) we decided to all try our hands at a Saison in time for the July meet.
We talked a bit about what constraints there are around this particular “farmhouse” style and quickly came to the conclusion that there aren’t any really.
Lets’ take three random, Saisons for example:
- Saison Du Pont: The classic, spicy, dry-finishing and with a subtle haze. Complete refreshment in a glass – THE ultimate beer for summer
- Ommegang Hennepin Saison: Less dry than the dupont, and clearer. But stronger and sweeter and with a little added spice in the way of (maybe) ginger root and orange peel
- Brooklyn Sorachi Ace Saison: A Saison in the Du Pont style but with a liberal amount of Sorachi Ace hops – making for that same Saison dryness, but with an additional hit of citrus, herbal and Saaz-familial spiciness.
This seems to be the way of Belgian brewing, there’s never really anything that’s off-limits. Style guidelines are there to be bent or just ignored.
Indeed, there’s a lot of folks – both here and abroad – that are further “farmhousing” their Saisons by employing bacteriological cultures to produce Sour Saisons and Brett Saisons that offer further taste and aromatic dimensions.
As far as I can see, the only defining part of the Saison style is the yeast…and maybe the fermentation temperature.
There’s a theory that Saison yeast is probably just a red wine yeast that was pitched from red wine bottle dregs by a farmer who couldn’t get to the local brewery or bakery for his yeast that year – and that yeast has mutated over the years to become the hard-working – but petulant beast we know today.
Saison yeast wants to be driven hard. Don’t ferment at anything under the mid 20’s centigrade – you might get something flat and uninteresting-tasting, and don’t be afraid to crank up the OG a bit too. Saison yeast is reportedly able to ferment up to 14% ABV.
I don’t even bother aerating Saisons – as my assumption is that: the more harrassed they yeast are, the more they chuck out flavour.
BUT! Saison yeast is nothing if not finicky, it’ll set off like a steam train building up a huge rocky krausen and then inexplicably grind to a halt…skulking about and appearing to be doing nothing at 1025OG. Then it’ll be off again and then slow right down again; krausens will come and go and you’ll never know really where you are.
For that reason alone, I give my Saisons up to three weeks in primary, when at least I know it’ll be done fannying about by then and may have got down to 1005 or something equally daft.
But of course, if you get really stuck at somewhere stupid like 1025 OG, you can stuff some US-05 in, and that’ll finish it off for you.
I brewed the Saison recipe above at the weekend, and as you can see I brewed it with rye…because it’s supposed sweet but dryish cracker-bread notes should compliment the expected dry finish from the Mangrove Jack French Saison yeast.
I used Pilsner malt as it’s traditional for a Saison and because we’re nudging a cheery 7% on the ABV I put some palm sugar in too, as that’ll further dry the body and stop the malt bill from becoming too cloying.
It’s in the brew fridge at a merry 25c – where it should go about it’s crazy business and start chucking out those tasty esters…
But, I do still reserve the right to dry-hop, spice or fruit peel it in primary if I think it needs it…
(Ommegang Hennepin clones have dried orange peel and root ginger as spicy additions and I LOVE Ommegang’s Hennepin Saison)