Bière de garde
For the first beer, I wanted to make a sort of bière de garde, in the literal sense of a beer intended for ageing. To this end, I planned a recipe with a slightly higher gravity than I'd usually aim for in a saison, 1.054. (I bet there was a time when that O.G. would have been lower than 90% of the saisons brewed in the U.S!) I went with a simple grist of 90% pilsner malt and 10% wheat, since the main focus was going to be the hops and the fermentation character, though I also did an extended three-hour boil to add a bit of colour and complexity.
In his essay, Yvan mentions hopping rates of between 5 and 8 grams per litre, with a third of this added at the end of the boil. Assuming this was based on the volume of wort in the kettle after the boil, that gave me a range of 110g to 176g on my system, and I decided to go for the upper end of that scale with 180g. That meant I needed a bittering addition of 120g and a late boil addition of 60g. I decided to split the bittering into roughly 2/3 Bramling Cross and 1/3 Hallertau Mittelfruh, with reverse proportions for the late addition. That gave me 57.8 predicted IBUs, or just about a 1:1 BU:GU ratio. Higher than a lot of saisons, but not all that different from beers I've brewed before!
Primary fermentation was carried out by a blend of saison yeasts: Wyeast 3726 and The Yeast Bay's Saison Blend II. After this was completed, I transferred the beer to a three-gallon carboy and added some random brett strains I had been storing in the fridge (the C1 and C3 strains isolated from a bottle of Cantillon Iris by Dmitri at BKYeast) , along with the dregs of a beer brewed by someone at Omega Yeast Labs, which was dosed with the brettanomyces strain from their C2C blend. I'll let it sit for at least a few months before bottling at the end of the summer: its likely that packaging this and other beers will be contingent on finding enough heavy bottles, as I am starting to run short again.
For the rest, I planned to make three variations on my basic spelt saison recipe, one for each hop variety. As I mentioned in that earlier post, I think the fuller mouthfeel from the spelt helps prevent the bitterness from overwhelming the beer. Although I was making an extra gallon to accommodate for wort lost to the whole hops, I did not vary the amount of spelt in the recipe, which meant that with a predicted O.G. of 1.046 the base was 82.6% pilsner and 17.4% unmalted spelt. I varied the base malt slightly for some of the batches. Details on that below.
Once again, I wanted to really push the bitterness while also getting a good hop character and mouthfeel, so I went with three roughly equal additions at 60, 30, and 2 minutes left in the boil, aiming for a BU:GU ratio of about 1:1. Even by the standards of the beers I've been brewing lately with these whole hops, that was a lot of vegetable matter relative to the O.G. of the wort!Here is a sketch of each beer. For more details, I suggest you look at the post on the basic recipe linked above.
Mittelfruh Saison: This was the simplest of the three, with no modifications to the grist. It was fermented with a blend of Wyeast 3724 and Wyeast 3726. This one has been a little disappointing so far. It has a slightly odd soapy taste that I can't get over. Unless I forgot to rinse out a fermentor or bottling bucket, it must have something to do with using such a large volume of Hallertau Mittelftuh in the beer. I've used those same hops in other beers too, but usually as an aroma hop later in the boil, and I haven't seen this same soapiness. I'm hoping it will age out as the hops fade a bit.
EKG Saison: For this I substituted approximately 30% Golden Promise for some of the pilsner. It was fermented with a mix of The Yeast Bay's Saison Blend II and Wyeast 3726. This has turned out to be one of my favourite homebrews to date. It has a striking bitterness, without being at all harsh or astringent, and an earthy and citrusy hop-character that I find very appealing. J said it reminded her of Taras Boulba, and I can see what she means. Its not that they taste the same, but the overall character is very similar: dry, bitter, hoppy, and very drinkable.
Bramling Cross Saison: I didn't get round to brewing this before I left for England. Blame the summer heat, and a sense of fatigue from brewing over the past few months. I'll probably do this batch when I get back, substituting about 15% Vienna for some of the pilsner. Fermentation will go one of two ways: I'll either keep it clean and keg it (only because I want to use whatever heavy bottles I can amass for other batches), or add brettanomyces and let it sit for a while.