Sunday, 16 November 2014

Brew Day: Aged Hop Saison

One thing that comes up repeatedly in Yvan de Baets' essay on historical saisons is the affinities these beers had with lambic and gueuze.  Yvan mentions the "wine-like character" of well-made beers, a vinous and sour side accompanied by the distinctive aromas associated with wild yeasts and barrel-aging.  Obviously the mixed fermentation, along with the practice of cutting young beers with sour older beer, go some way towards explaining these connections.  One other thing mentioned in the chapter is the use of aged hops:
"It is likely that when a brewer wished to produce a saison with a predominant sourness, he would use a greater proportion of old hops so as not to contribute too much bitterness and to encourage the development of lactic bacteria.  Farmhouse breweries would most likely have a stock of old or imperfectly stored hops on hand.  The use of older hops was frequent, bringing saisons close to traditional lambic."
I happened to have about 50g of aged pellet hops left over from a failed attempt at making a wort for spontaneous fermentation (more on that in another post), so this weekend I decided to try making a saison along these lines.  The grist was nothing special---my usual mix of about 90% pilsner to 10% wheat----and all of the hops went in at the start of the boil.  I maxed out my kettle/mash-tun again, making over four gallons of wort which will be fermented out in primary by Wyeast 3726.  Rather than going for a mixed primary fermentation, I decided to combine this four gallons of wort with one gallon of the adjunct sour I brewed a few months ago, blending them for an extended secondary fermentation.  The adjunct sour is already down around 1.000, but its still plenty cloudy and already fairly tart, so I'm hoping that it will continue to sour as the starches are decomposed.  I expect the saison portion to finish pretty dry, but this strain often leaves a few gravity points after secondary which the LAB can consume.  I'm not planning on aging it quite as long as I would for a lambic-style beer, but at the moment I'm assuming it will spend at least 6-8 months in secondary.

I'll be curious to see what kind of difference the aged hops make to the flavour profile of the finished beer.  I rather enjoy the mouthfeel and bitterness you get from using large quantities of low alpha hops, but assuming these were aged properly there should be very little bitterness by the time I start drinking this beer.  Some people speculate that the fatty acids provided by aged and oxidized hops provide precursors for ester production by brettanomyces, leading to the aromas characteristic of lambic-style beers.  Perhaps I'll get some of that here as well.  The main thing now is exercising some patience, as I'm running out of carboy space and many of the beers I've brewed over the past few months won't be ready until at least late 2015.

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