Sunday, 24 July 2016

Brew Day: Old World Saisons w/ Whole-Leaf Hops

Once I'd made the De Ranke-inspired beers and the C19th-inspired IPA, I found myself left with a lot of whole-leaf hops.  What to do with them?  Make some saisons, of course!  (Some bitters too, but that's another post.)


I've blogged before about Yvan de Baets' description of old saisons as "either sour or very bitter ... with bitterness obtained by the use of a massive amount of hops low in alpha acid".  The hops I had left over fit the bill nicely: some East Kent Goldings (3.6% AA), some Bramling Cross (3.3% AA), and some Hallertau Mittelfruh (2.9% AA).

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.

Spelt Saisons


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.

3 comments:

  1. Great stuff as always, Amos! On the EKG beer, do you think that the blend of the two yeasts provided the character you were looking for on the yeast side of things? Or would the Yeast Bay Saison II achieve this on its own maybe?

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    1. I'm not sure. I like the flavour profile of SBII, and I think that was dominant in the beer when I wrote this---maybe with some added complexity from 3726, but I couldn't say for sure. But when I used the SBII blend by itself, it didn't attenuate as far as I'd like, which was why I started using it with 3726.

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  2. An extremely detailed post mentioning everything. A good read and a definite attraction to try and make the biere de garde. Plus points for the great photography!

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