Sunday, 23 November 2014

Brew Day: Bitter Saison

This post is about another attempt to brew a beer inspired by Brasserie de la Senne's Taras Boulba.  But before I get to that I thought I'd mention that I've started a Facebook page for this blog; I don't know if I'll keep it, but my thought was that I could post shorter things about beers that don't make it onto here, along with links that I find interesting etc.  In fact the first link I posted was to a recent interview with Yvan de Baets of Brasserie de la Senne.  Its in French, but I managed to make my way through it despite my pretty poor knowledge of the language----context and knowledge of brewing vocabulary helps, and its an interesting interview that's worth the effort.

Its no secret how much I love this brewery.  You only need to look at the way they describe their beers to see that they fit my palate: low-alcohol, bitter, dry.  But there's also the way in which they make beers that are genuinely informed by a knowledge of tradition and locale ("bières à l’ancienne", as they put it on their site) without falling into either sentimentality or fantasy about the past nor being solely backwards-looking or conservative in their attitude towards brewing.

The interview builds on some of the things mentioned in the Philosophy section of their site (translated into English here) as well as things Yvan mentions in his essay on saisons in Farmhouse Ales.  He says that "bières à l’ancienne" is a kind of catch-all concept, and that really they brew the beers they love to drink.  But again, "bières à l’ancienne" can be divided into two categories---those characterized by their bitterness, and those characterized by their acidity.  That pretty much sums up the kind of beers I brew, particularly the ones I call "saisons"---my starting point for those beers is Yvan's essay and the beers he brews, which I think are pretty different from the majority of saisons brewed in the U.S.

After not being able to find fresh Brasserie de la Senne beers for several months due to problems with their distributor, I've been very lucky recently as a local store got in a shipment of relatively fresh bottles of Taras Boulba and Zinnebir (along with some equally fresh De Ranke XX Bitter, which was quite a treat).

One nice thing about having fresh bottles on hand is that it presents the opportunity to try growing up a pitch of healthy yeast, and that's exactly what I did with my last bottle.  Yvan discusses the brewery's yeast in the interview, saying that it originates from a well-respected Belgian brewey and was "Le plus beau cadeau de ma vie" (the greatest gift in his life).   I sniffed the starters a few times as I was growing it up, and it certainly smelt familiar, but all I could think of was Taras Boulba and Zinnebir.  I wonder if the brewery is De Ranke or somewhere else?  One thing that is striking is that, though distinctive, the yeast not quite as expressive as the strains usually classified as being for saisons in the US.

I decided to base the first beer I brewed with the yeast on a bitter saison I made a few months ago, the distinctive feature of which was that it used massive amounts of low alpha hops.  That earlier beer was largely a product of circumstance---some free Celeia hops were included in an order from Label Peelers, and since they had a low AA content I saw no reason not to to throw large quantities into a single beer.  It turned out to be one of my favourite saisons to date, and the one that was probably most reminiscent of Taras Boulba.  I liked it so much that I think I probably drank the almost the entire batch myself.

This beer was brewed along the same lines, only this time I used low AA Hallertau Mittelfruh in place of the Celeia, and supplemented them with some Bramling Cross to increase the spicy, citrusy character.  My first instinct was to repeat the grist from the earlier beer, which included a reasonable amount of unmalted spelt.  I think this gives the beer a slightly fuller mouthfeel, which helps prevent the bitterness from becoming astringent and unpleasant.  However I was pressed for time during this brew day and wasn't able to do a cereal mash, so I went with a more straight forward blend of pilsner, wheat and Munich in a single-infusion mash.  It will be interesting to see how much of a difference the spelt really makes.

As is my usual practice with saisons in this gravity range, I left the beer in my fermentation chamber for 24 hours in the high 60s; today I checked to see if fermentation was underway, and turned the chamber off to let the yeast free-rise to wherever it wants to go.  Fermentation looked healthy and vigorous, and smelt fantastic.  I'll probably try to top-crop some of the yeast in the next day or two so that I can brew more beers with it and perhaps even try streaking it out and isolating it properly for long-term storage.


Measured O.G: 1.040
Measured F.G:

Mash: 149°F


84.0% Pilsner
10.0% Wheat Malt
6.0% Munich


Hallertau             60               12.8 IBUs     (28g@2.69%)
Bramling X         60               14.9 IBUs     (10g@2.69%)
Hallertau             20               4.30 IBUs     (28g@2.69%)
Hallertau             10               2.60 IBUs     (28g@2.69%)
Hallertau             5                 2.10 IBUs     (28g@2.69%)
Bramling X         0                 0.0   IBUs     (15g@2.69%)


De la Senne

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