Saturday, 29 March 2014

Saison bottle-conditioned with brett

IMG_1725[1]I’m almost out of grain until the next group buy in a few weeks, so in the meantime I’ll be posting about some older beers that I brewed before I ever thought of starting this blog.  Today’s post is about a saison that I brewed last year.  Inspired by this post about bottle-conditioning with brettanomyces, I dosed several bottles with different strains of brett, and stored them away in my beer cupboard to taste in a few months.

My process was fairly simple.  I have some syringes that I can sterilise in my pressure cooker.  (I usually do a few at a time in a mason jar covered with foil, and keep them that way until I need them.)  I used a few of these to take up slurry from a number of brettanomyces starters that I had on hand back then: two commercial strains, Wyeast Brett Brux and Lambicus, and the  C1 and C3 strains that BK Yeast isolated from a bottle of Cantillon Iris.  I then bottled the saison as I would normally, dosing a few heavy bottles with 1-2ml of the brett slurry from the syringes.

In hindsight, the heavy bottles probably weren’t necessary.  I deliberately fermented the base beer with a highly attenuative yeast (Danstar Belle Saison), and it was around 1.000-1 at bottling.  I knew that the brett would still make an impact, since it seems to work on other compounds than sugars in the beer, but the carbonation has only increased slightly over the the last 6 months.  In future I think I’ll be a bit more daring here, bottling beers that still have a few gravity points left to go before full attenuation (in heavy bottles of course).  In fact I have a few saisons brewed with WLP 670 bottle conditioning in my cupboard now of which this is true.

I opened the first brett-dosed bottles after a month or so, and they already showed subtle hints of the changing flavour profiles.  The bottles in this post were around six months old, and are some of the last I have left.  I haven’t repeated this process for a while, but tasting the results again today made me want to try it again.  The contribution of the brett is subtle rather than aggressive, leading to a balanced but fairly complex beer.

Unfortunately I didn’t keep any bottles of the original beer, and I wasn’t in the habit of making tasting notes before I started this blog.  I gave a bottle of the original beer to another homebrewer, who described it as follows: “very enjoyable- great head, good mouthfeel and what I believe to be classic saison taste. I would of been happy ordering that beer at a bar.” I remember it being dry and spicy, from the combination of the yeast, the hops, and the rye.

IMG_1727[1]J and I sat down with bottles of all four strains and tried to write some tasting notes.  To be honest, I always find it a little difficult to pick out and identify the aromas and flavours in a beer.  That naming and identifying is not the kind of thing I do when I’m enjoying a beer, and its taking practice and patience to get the hang of it.  But any progress I’ve made went out the window with these beers.  Each smelt and tasted subtly different, but we had a hell of a time describing how.  In every case, the brett contributed some light, delicate fruitiness and funk, which varied across bottles, but we struggled to come up with a consistent vocabulary to describe it all.

In most cases the fruitiness was that of overripe fruit, except perhaps the C3 which was a little different.  I think of these flavours as anyway present in saisons brewed with rye (which in my experience contributes fruit as well as spice), but they were accentuated here. There was also a gentle tartness, particularly in the bottles with the Wyeast Brett Brux and Lambicus, which complemented the fruit.  The spice was still there, but less dominant than before, again rounded out by the softer fruity flavours.  There was still a light bitterness, which verged on (or blended into an) astringency in a few of the bottles.  J paid more attention to this than I did, so I’m relying on her notes below.

Beyond these general descriptions, the aromas and flavours we identify below should be taken with a pinch of salt.  I found it difficult to come up with a consistent vocabulary (e.g. why is this one “hay-like” and this one “grassy”?), and my perception of the flavours changed completely when I compared different beers to each other: one moment I would notice aromas of bubble-gum and plastic, but coming back to the beer after a few others these were much more difficult to pick out.  So, with those provisos, here are some rough notes:

Appearance: Yellow tinged with light orange: almost gold in the right light.  Crystal clear.  Moussey head the dissipated to a thin cap.


Brett B: Fruity with very light and subtle barnyard just in the background.  More hay-like than C1/3, but not as much as Brett L.  Soft and delicate, blends well together.

Brett L: Cleaner than Brett B, still lightly fruity with more pronounced hay aromas, but without the touch of barnyard behind it.

C1: Spicy.  I wrote “slight barnyard, but different from Brett B”, which probably means that barnyard wasn’t exactly the word I was looking for. (Other people describe these strains as “woodsy”.)  Sweeter and fruitier than Brett L.

C3: Bubblegum, even plastic at first, but not unpleasant.  More grassy than any other strain.  Fruitiness is different from the Brett B and L.


Brett B: Tart, in a way that rounds out the rest of the palate nicely (most tart of all four).  Fruit (overripe) with very subtle hints of barnyard in aftertaste, but very pleasant.  Light spiciness along the tongue. Soft and well-balanced.

Brett L: Tart again, but less so than Brett B.  More bitter and slightly astringent.  Spicy and lightly grainy.

C1: Similar to above, but again with more pronounced bitterness and slight astringency.  Also slightly sweeter fruitiness, but a touch watery compared to others.

C3: Fruity, but in a slightly different way to above: more like a bubble-gum fruitiness (but light).  J says this was the most fruity of all, and in the middle in terms of bitterness and tartness.  Hints of damp earthiness and grass.


Tangy, with medium to high carbonation.  Dry in finish.  Variations between acidity and bitterness, noted above.

Drinkability and Notes:

Surprisingly I think we both like Brett B the best.  I say surprisingly because it had a touch of the barnyard and toilet notes that we’ve both disliked in other beers I’ve made with Brett B (to the point where I’d basically given up on using this strain).  Here they were subtle enough to really complement the fruitiness and round out the flavour profile without being at all offensive.  I think the added tartness that Brett B provided helped too.  J says she liked the C1 as well, in part for its higher bitterness.  I liked C3 too, but maybe just because it was a nice contrast to some of the others.  Brett L was underwhelming in comparison, though I think if I’d just tasted that I would have been happy with they hay-like spiciness it added.  Overall, this was a very drinkable beer: dry, balanced, and subtle.  I think the astringency was too much in some cases, but I wouldn’t have noticed if I hadn’t been really looking for it.



Estimated O.G. 1.038    
Measured O.G. 1.038    
Measured F.G. 1.001    
ABV. 4.8%    
Mash: 149°F    
39.8% 2 Row      
39.8% Pilsner      
13.9% Vienna      
6.4% Rye Malt      
EKG 60 mins 14.4 IBUs (20g @3.5%%)
EKG 20 mins 4.8 IBUs (20g @ 3.5%)
Celeia 1 min 4.3 IBUs (28g @ 4.5%)
EKG 1 min 1.2 IBUs (10g @ 3.5%)
Danstar Belle Saison      

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