Its taken me a while to find a saison yeast I really like. I’ve never used the infamously difficult Dupont strain, but I have tried Wyeast French Saison (3711), Farmhouse Ale (3726), Ardennes (3522), as well as the Danstar Belle Saison and White Labs American Farmhouse Blend (WLP670), without settling on one that I thought I could use regularly. My experience so far with this Saison/Brett blend might have changed that.
I picked up the blend, along with a few other strains, from a brand new company called The Yeast Bay. I’d been anticipating their launch for a few months (ever since I saw the wild yeast blends they would be offering), and I have to say that based on my own experience so far, along with other home-brewer reviews, I’m very excited about the strains from this company. Their partnership with White Labs should mean that they avoid the supply issues that plague East Coast Yeast---as I write this, it looks like all of their yeast strains and bacteria blends are available. The strains they’ve selected all seem interesting, and the descriptions on the website are informative and helpful (I was very pleased to read that they’ll soon be releasing mixed souring cultures, starting with a blend that will be “a little more on the bright/fruity/acid forward side with mild funk”---just my thing!) What’s more, they seem to be very responsive to questions from their home-brewer customers. I didn’t just get replies to the emails I sent them about their cell-counts---I’ve posted about the beers I brewed or had planned in a few public forums, only to have Nick Impellitteri himself respond unprompted with very helpful information about what to expect from the yeast.
What am I looking for in a saison strain? Well, I’ve already mentioned how much I like Yvan de Baets chapter in Farmhouse Ales, and his description of saisons at the close of that chapter is something I’ve taken to heart: low in alcohol, highly attenuated, and either sour or very bitter from the use of a massive amount of low-alpha hops. The description of the saccharomyces strain on the Yeast Bay website says that it “produces a delightful ester profile of grapefruit and orange zest and imparts a long, dry and earthy finish to the beer”, which made me think it would be a nice complement to the slightly citrusy and floral aromas of certain European-style hops. I decided to try three hoppy saisons: for this first beer I went with a blend of Sterling and Crystal; the second one (which is carbonating at the moment) is more heavily hopped with Hallertauer and Sterling, while the last (still in secondary) used Nelson Sauvin throughout.
I’m pleased to say that, based on this first beer, my instincts were spot on. In fact, the yeast and hops blend together so well that its impossible to tell where the flavours are coming from: both should give citrusy notes underwritten by a floral earthiness, and that’s exactly what you get in the beer. Even though I would describe it as hoppy, bitter, and dry, it doesn’t smell or taste anything like an IPA or a pale ale. I don’t know if it fits with what people expect from this kind of beer, but its taken me a step closer to the saison I want to brew.
As for my process, I stuck to the fermentation range described on the website: after cooling the wort to the mid-60s, I set my fermentation chamber at 68°F, gradually increasing it to 72°F over the next few days. The beer is still fairly young (6 weeks), especially considering the fact that it has two brett strains in it. After tasting as I transferred to secondary I decided there was no reason to wait before bottling: it was already fairly dry, and tasted great, so why leave it longer? I gave it a light dry-hop with more Sterling, then bottled it in a mix of regular and heavy bottles. The regular bottles will probably all be gone in a week or so (that’s the trouble with doing 3 gallon batches!), but I’ve stashed the heavy bottles in my closet so that I can see how the flavour profile changes over the next few months as the brett strains munch through the last 3 or 4 gravity points.
I do need to make some quick comments on the recipe. This was my first time using spelt, and in hindsight it was a mistake to use it in a step mash without gelatinizing it first, especially alongside under-modified pilsner malt. I undershot my gravity by about 6 points, and I assume that is all from mishandling the spelt. Luckily the beer turned out well anyway, with an appropriate bitterness for my taste, but this is something to pay attention to in future.
19/5/14: Updated impressions on this strain here.
Smell: Enticing aroma. Slightly sweet mix of citrus and floral notes. The description of the yeast on the website says orange zest and grapefruit, which seems right, but the grapefruit is light and subtle (i.e. doesn’t smell anything like an IPA). Earthiness underneath, but the kind you get from hops rather than the damp earth of brett. I also get an almost yogurt-like smell (I want to describe it as tart and slightly creamy, even though its an aroma---I got something similar in my Bam Biere clone, but there it was more pronounced).
Taste: Again, slightly sweet pilsner malt giving way to bright floral and citrus notes. Maybe slightly more lemon here, or just brighter orange zest and grapefruit. The “long dry earthy finish” blends really well with the earthy, almost pithy bitterness of the hops.
Mouthfeel: Slightly creamy, with medium carbonation. Bitterness is not at all harsh, but it lingers at back of throat and sides of tongue. Lovely.
Drinkability & Notes: This is the kind of saison I’ve been trying to brew for a long time---in some ways, its closer to something like Taras Boulba than my previous inspired-by attempts (although the malt is cleaner and crisper in the De La Senne beer). As I’d hoped, the profile of the yeast blends perfectly with the European-style hops, to the point where its hard to tell where the flavours are coming from. I’m excited to see how this one ages as the two brettanomyces strains begin to make their presence known.
|(Farmhouse Ales||131°F||15 minutes|
|70% Floor-malted Pilsner|
|Crystal||60||28.7 IBUs||(30g @ 4.8%)|
|Sterling||15||7.9 IBUs||(20g @ 7.4%)|
|Crystal||0||0.0 IBUs||(15g @ 4.8%)|
|Sterling||0||0.0 IBUs||(15g @ 7.4%)|
|Sterling||Dry Hop||1.4 g/litre||(8g @ 7.4%)|
|Yeast Bay Saison/Brett Blend|