This is the second time I've used this blend in an almost identical series of beers, and I have to say that overall, I'm a big fan. It reliably delivers a 'classic', yeast driven saison profile that I think works very well for clean saisons. It ferments relatively quickly, and seems to get beers reasonably dry as well. Both these finished at around 1.004. I can usually get them lower with Wyeast 3726, and in future if I brew these again I would change the the bitterness slightly to balance the higher F.G. One thing I have noticed is that, at least when I've used it, the blend seems to put out a lot of sulphur in the second generation. This doesn't seem to be unusual in saison yeasts (Wyeast 3724 did the same), and it usually dissipates before bottling, but it can be a bit unnerving if you're an air-lock sniffer like me.
After the tasting notes I've posted some thoughts about the carbonation and head-retention in these beers. As I noted in my last post, I've made a number of changes to my saison brewing process over the last few months, so I'll try to include reflections on these in my tasting notes. Here, because I was trying out a new camera, I took a range of photos over a short period of time, so I was able to record how the head dissipated on the beer.
Spelt Saison with Saphir Hops
This beer was based on previous recipes I've made using large quantities of low AA hops---in this case, 4oz of Saphir rated at 1.8%, supplemented with some Hallertau for bittering, all in a three gallon batch. I generally prefer to get bitterness from large doses of low AA hops, in part inspired by Yvan de Baets descriptions of the hopping rates in old saisons, but also because I find it gives a pronounced bitterness that is rarely astringent or biting. I suppose I should worry about getting grassy tastes from having so much vegetal matter in the boil, but I have never noticed this, at least not to any degree that I find unpleasant. I think the spelt also helps to soften the bitterness by rounding out the mouthfeel slightly, which prevents the beer from tasting too sharp. This recipe included 30% unmalted spelt in the grist.
The O.G. was 1.040, and the F.G. around 1.004, giving an ABV of 4.6%. Given how rounded and soft the beer tastes, I think I could happily drop the O.G. down into the 1.030s, aiming to produce a beer around 4%.
Appearance: Pale golden colour. Billowing head on pouring that recedes to about half an inch after a few minutes. (More on that below.)
Smell: Distinctive yeasty 'saison' smell that I'm having trouble describing fully: it reminds me a bit of North Coast's Puck. A bit of grapefruit and general citrus, very light peppery spice, and maybe a hint of plastic. Lovely smell: the hops accentuate the yeast blend nicely.
Taste: Slightly sweet up front, then grapefruit zest and white pepper. Really nice, but then it finishes a touch too sweet for me. The spelt adds a slight savoury note, which I want to try to make more pronounced in future, in line with what you see in Brasserie Blaugies beers like Saison D'Epeautre and La Vermontoise.
Mouthfeel: Prickly carbonation with a round soft mouthfeel thanks to the spelt. What lingers is a slight sweetness rather than the gradually building bitterness I'm looking for.
Drinkability & Notes: As I mentioned above, both these beers finished a few points higher than I would have liked (though still drier than many other beers), and unfortunately this translates into a slightly sweet and cloying character. Ideally I'd get round this by having the beer attenuate a few more points, but I think a more pronounced bitterness, accentuated with some gypsum, might have the same effect. The blend definitely delivers in terms of classic saison character, and works nicely with the Saphir hops.
Classic Saison with Crystal and Sterling Hops
This beer is a version of the Classic Saison recipe from Farmhouse Ales, but with American hops subbed for the European varieties suggested in the recipe. The grist was 90% pilsner and 10% wheat, and the O.G. was 1.050, higher than I usually go for my saisons. With an F.G. of 1.004, this gave me 6% ABV.
Appearance: Standard golden colour, with a rocky head that dissipates to about a half inch. Moderate lacing. (Again, more on this below.)
Smell: Same 'classic' saison character, but more subdued here. Grapefruit is there but not as prominent, and I also get a bit of blackcurrant too, with less peppery spice. Its all supported by a sort of musty, earthy funk---I don't know if this is from the hops, or if the beer picked up some brett from my saison equipment.
Taste: Zesty, peppery saison character, but not as pronounced as it was in the other beer. Transitions to that slightly musty funk along with a light bitterness at the end.
Mouthfeel: Not as rounded as the spelt saison, despite that fact that it had a higher O.G. Crisp and quite dry, with enough bitterness to balance the beer but not enough that it asserts itself.
Drinkability & Notes: A fairly enjoyable spin on something like Saison Dupont, though not a clone by any means. The slightly musty character detracts from the overall impression for me, perhaps because its not what I was going for. though its probably more subtle than these notes suggest. The beer is crisper and more refreshing than the spelt saison, but I'm more excited about brewing modifications of the latter.
Step Mashing, Adjuncts, and Carbonation
These beers reflect a couple of the changes I've made to my process over the past few months. First, both were made with a step mash that included a protein rest in the low 130s. I didn't use an under-modified pilsner malt, but obviously the first beer contained a significant amount of unmalted spelt (30% of grist). I think in this case I added the cereal -mashed spelt after the protein rest to get the beer up to the first saccharification rest, which might be the wrong way to do this (i.e. perhaps the spelt should be in the mash during the protein rest).
I also carbonated both beers to approximately 3 volumes (this works out at a convenient 100g of sugar per batch for me). Its also worth nothing that both beers, but especially the spelt saison, had a lot of hop matter added in the boil.
Together these changes have yielded a definite improvement in the appearance of these beers. Both had billowing heads on pouring, and there was some retention at around five minutes after pouring, as you can see from this sequence of photos.
The beautiful rocky head in the picture of the Classic Saison came from topping up the beer after the initial pour. I'm not sure why exactly, but I think I've noticed this happening before: the first pour billows and dissipates somewhat, whereas the second sticks around and rises above the top of the glass. My memory is that the Classic Saison had slightly better head retention, settling at over half an inch, and the pictures below seem to confirm that (though I wasn't particularly careful about the times, and the different glass might also have supported better head retention).
As I said above, overall I'm much more excited about the Spelt Saison, even though the Classic one came out a little better this time round. Its partly because I just prefer beers with lower alcohol, but also because I know that with a bit more bitterness to balance the slight sweetness from the rounded mouthfeel and higher than normal O.G., it will make for a really pleasant everyday beer.