Sunday, 19 April 2015

Brew Day: Saison w/ Wyeast 3724

As I mentioned in my last post, I'm back to brewing saisons at the moment, and this weekend was no exception: two different beers over two days.  One was essentially a re-brew of my bitter spelt saison, this time using large quantities of Saphir hops along with a re-pitch of The Yeast Bay's Saison Blend.  I've posted about all of this before---the unmalted grains, the large amounts of low AA hops, etc.---so I thought I'd write a post about the second beer I brewed this weekend instead, a saison using the infamous Dupont strain.

This will be my first time using Wyeast 3724.  Its reputation as a difficult strain scared me off when I first started brewing saisons, and once I found other strains I liked and could work with (Wyeast 3726 in particular) I didn't feel any urgent need to try it out.

But about a month ago I picked up a few of the brown bottles of Saison Dupont (these are fairly new to the US market), and figured I might as well try to grow up some yeast from the dregs.  I proceeded much as I did with the De La Senne dregs, pitching the last few centimeters of beer into about 50ml of 1.020 wort, and spinning this on a stirplate for a few days.  I saw some activity, and posted about my plans on a Facebook group dedicated to saisons and related styles.  I'm glad I did, because someone who works for the US importer of Brasserie Dupont commented on my post and told me that they filter the beer and use a different strain for bottling, which meant I was unlikely to get the yeast I wanted by growing up the bottle dregs.

In the meantime, though, I'd been rereading the sections of Farmhouse Ales about the Dupont strain in preparation for brewing with it.  One thing that had caught my eye before was Yvan de Baets claim that the "leaven" at the Dupont brewery (cultivated since 1950!) is "composed of several yeast strains, of which at least one is 'wild' in order to conserve the complexity of their beers".  I asked the US importer about this, and he confirmed that it is "more or less a 'culture' of different yeast strains some being wild".  I'd been thinking about trying to come up with some yeast blends myself for a while, after reading posts by Michael Thorpe and Dave Janssen about their experiences with blends, and this spurred me on to buying a packet of Wyeast 3724 to use it in my own blends.

But more on that in a later post.  Since I now had a Dupont strain on hand, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to see first-hand just how this yeast behaves as a sole fermenter (if only because brewing a batch would give me plenty of yeast to use in blends).  My plan was to put it through my usual saison fermentation regime: pitching in the mid 60s, putting the wort in my fermentation chamber set at 70 for 12-24 hours, then letting it free-rise to wherever the yeast wants to take it (usually somewhere in the mid to high 70s, I'd guess).

People seem to like pitching this strain into warmer wort, and keeping the fermentation temperatures on the high side, even up into the 90s.  Markowski mentions that the Dupont brewery does something similar, with fermentation taking place between 85 and 95°F, but he also mentions that this is more of a production concern, ensuring a swift primary fermentation: "the yeast delivers plenty of character at 75 to 80°F, but fermentation takes much longer".  I'm in no rush, so I don't mind giving the beer a month or two to finish fermenting.

I went with a fairly standard grist, mainly pilsner with a little bit of wheat to help with head retention.  I decided to go for a slightly higher gravity than usual, aiming for something closer to Saison Dupont with an O.G. in the mid 1.050s, rather than in the 1.040s where most of my saisons end up.  I'd also like to imitate the thick and mousse-like head that Dupont gets on their beers, so to help with this I added a protein rest at 130°F along with longer rests in the mid 140s and 150s.  The hops were a blend of EKG, Styrian Goldings, and First Gold, with additions at 60 minutes, 15 minutes, and 2 minutes before the end of the boil.

An interesting tidbit from Markowski's book is the speculation that the Dupont yeast may have originally been a red wine strain, accounting for its preference for high temperatures and its ability to produce hydrolyzing enzymes to (slowly) break down complex sugars and ensure a high degree of attenuation.  One useful tip Markowski provides is to add some DAP to boost the free amino nitrogen levels in the wort, since wine strains typically need higher levels than most ale yeasts.  I had some on hand and had every intention of using it, but I completely forgot about this until I was cooling the wort, and decided not to risk adding any at that point.  I did take other steps to ensure a healthy fermentation however, getting a very fresh packet of yeast from Ritebrew's preorder system, making a small starter to ensure the yeast was active at pitching, and making sure I gave the wort a big dose of oxygen.

The wort is currently sitting in my fermentation chamber at 70°F.  I'll turn of the fridge tomorrow and let it rise as high as it likes.  I'm using one final tip from Drew Beechum, who speculates that what causes the strain to stall is "increased pressure and CO2 levels created by an airlock or blowoff tube", and suggests avoiding this by practicing a semi-open fermentation.  I don't know how plausible that is, but I've done plenty of semi-open fermentations before and often don't bother with an airlock for the first few days of primary fermentation anyway.  This time the carboy just has some foil on top instead of an airlock.  I'll probably switch it out for one in a week when I take the beer out of the chamber.

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