Sunday, 18 May 2014

Update: The Yeast Bay Saison/Brett Blend

My second order from The Yeast Bay should arrive tomorrow, so this seemed like a good time to return to some of the beers I brewed with my first vial of the saison/brett blend.  I made three beers back to back with that first vial, repitching from one to the next.  The first was a spelt saison; the second a “traditional” saison; and the last, which I’ll get to later in this post, was what you might call a “new world” saison.  I’ll update the tasting notes on the others later this week, and before I get to the last one I’ll give some general impressions of the blend.

First, some numbers:


O.G. F.G. Apparent Attenuation
Spelt Saison 1.038 1.003 91.8%
Traditional Saison 1.044 1.004 90.5%
Nelson Saison 1.048 1.005 91.3%

As you can see, I’m getting around 90% attenuation every time.  Of course these are relatively low gravity beers, and designed to be dry: I did step mashes with all three beers, based on a program from Farmhouse Ales, and also gave the yeast plenty of oxygen.  What’s more, I expect the bottles I’m keeping to drop a few more points in the next few months as the brett goes to work.

Since all three beers were heavily hopped, there’s a lot going on with them, and at first I had a hard time discerning where the flavours came from.  But as I taste more beers brewed with the blend, I’m starting to notice what is common between them, particularly as the funk from the brett becomes more pronounced.  I think the description of the sacchromyces strain from the website is pretty much spot on: “a delightful ester profile of grapefruit and orange zest and…a long, dry and earthy finish”.  Its blended excellently with the earthy/floral/citrusy European-style hops I’ve used it with.

I think I’m beginning to be able to pick out at least some of the flavours from the brett too.  Of course, these beers are still pretty young, and I expect them to change considerably over the next few months.  But Nick from The Yeast Bay said he’d picked up some funk as early as 6 weeks into fermentation, and I think that fits with what I remember here.  The website describes it as “mild funk”, and I don’t know that I can do much better.  J described it as “salty”, and I can definitely see what she means: not minerals, but maybe brine or even, sometimes, urine/urinal cake (more on that below).  I think it works nicely with the earthy flavours from the hops and yeast in the first two saisons I brewed: the first hopped with Crystal and Sterling, and the second with Sterling and Hallertauer.  It was there in both from fairly early on, blended with the general earthiness, and has become more pronounced over the past month. 

Actually, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if at least one of the strains of brettanomyces in this blend was in the Lochristi blend as well.  I recently bottled a grisette brewed with the Wyeast Ardennes strain (3522) and inoculated with Lochristi in secondary, and along with a lovely fruitiness it had the same “salty” funk . It will be interesting to see how all these beers develop over the next several months, especially as the hops start to fade and some of the other aromatics from the brett become more obvious.  I wonder if some of the fruitiness I’m attributing to the hops and sacchromyces isn’t actually coming from the brett.

I should also mention that I gave the last few drops of my vial to another home brewer who works in one of the labs at the university, and after some experimenting he thinks he’s managed to isolate the sacchromyces strain, which is pretty exciting.  Hopefully I’ll get a chance to brew something with it soon, in which case I’ll make sure to compare the results to these beers.  I really like the saison strain, and it would be great to be able to repitch it without worrying about the brett cell count getting too high.

The last beer I brewed with the blend was inspired by Prairie Ales ‘Merica, partly by way of Ed Coffey’s post at Ales of the Riverwards.  The one time I tried the beer, I made a mental note to brew something similar, especially since I had a 4oz pack of Nelson from the 2012 harvest sitting in my freezer.  Ed’s post provided some of the requisite details about the beer, obtained from Prairie via Shawn at Meek Brewing (read their posts if you want a recipe).  I think I ended up using less hops than the original because I wanted to save some of the Nelson Sauvin for another beer, but even with that this is still one of the most heavily dry-hopped beers I’ve made.  (I actually stopped dry hopping completely quite soon after I started home-brewing because I kept getting grassy and vegetal flavours in my beers.  I’ve started doing it again recently, with good results, but I’m always a little worried about it.)

With the massive dry hop of Nelson Sauvin, it is definitely one of the most pungent beers I’ve made.  People always talk about grapes and gooseberries when it comes to this hop, but I also get a lot of earthiness and green onion (Chris Quinn from The Beer Temple seems to agree!), and they are both very prevalent here.  There’s also the same salty funk, which I’m attributing to the brett.  J loved it on her first sip, but when she was about halfway through the glass she said it occasionally felt like she was getting a whiff of urine from the beer, and as soon as she said it I knew what she meant.  Its not that anyone will take a sniff and think “Gross! Piss!”, but once you notice it it can be a bit distracting.  I went back to the other two saisons afterwards, and I can pick out the something like this smell in them, but its far less pronounced.  I don’t know if its the combination with the Nelson Sauvin that does it, or maybe the fact that this was the third beer I brewed from the original vial, which probably meant the brettanomyces cell count was a bit higher.

Anyway, its not by any means a bad beer: I gave a glass to a friend who has good taste but isn’t particularly geeky about the beer he drinks (i.e. he doesn’t sit there sniffing it!), and he really enjoyed it.  Like I said, its certainly pungent and aromatic, and makes a strong impression.  I tend to prefer the more restrained character of European hops: but I don’t think I’ll have much trouble getting through what’s left of this.

IMG_1773[1]Appearance: Hazy, pale gold colour.  Thick head on pouring, but dissipates to small cap. (Apologies for the terrible photo!  I need to start drinking beers while its still light out so I can get some decent pictures of them.)

Smell: Pungent!  Berries and grapes, but also earthy, green onion aromatics.  Slight funk: underneath it occasionally a faint whiff of urine!  You have to dig a bit, but it’s there.  Still a nice, complex nose though.

Taste: Slight sweetness up front---I think this is from the floor-malted pilsner I used with these beers, and its really nice, although any more would detract from the dryness of the beer.  Berries and white grapes next, along with green onions and “salty” funk.  Fades to a pretty nice bitterness, but a bit harsher then the other two saisons.  I think I can pick out the same profile from the sacch, but its buried beneath all those hops and I might be kidding myself.

Mouthfeel: Medium carbonation.  Works well with the beer: its not at all thin, despite the high attenuation and lack of adjuncts.  Bitterness lingers for a while

Drinkability & Notes: Overall I think this was a success. I don’t know if I like it enough to make another batch: after all, Nelson Sauvin are pretty expensive, and this recipe really does use a ton! Also, I don’t want to overstate the “urine” thing: its distracting once you start looking for it, but not at all obvious; most of the time its more of a mild funk.  Certainly not a complaint about the blend, which is still one of my favourites to date.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting stuff. I am going to brew my first Yeast Bay beer with their Wallonian and the Brussels Brett blend this weekend. It would be interesting to see how the beer you made would come out with another fruity hop, or maybe a combination of a couple of hops.