Thursday, May 23, 2013

It’s summer time to brew hot

Now that it is warming up, it is a good time for homebrewers to try their hand at an old Belgian style beer that gets “better with a little extra heat. Saisons can be a light bodied flavorful ale that is perfect for summertime, but in direct contrast to lagering a beer to smooth it out, Saisons embrace a warm fermentation.

Some History:
Saison is an old world style of beer that has recently received a revival amongst craft brewers and home brewers throughout the world.  A group of beers more than a exact style, Saisons originated in Wallonia, the southern and predominantly French speaking region of Belgium, as a refreshing and nourishing drink for farmhands and seasonal harvest workers (les saisonneirs). Much like an unwanted house guest, farm workers would consume upwards of five liters of this beer per day since the other available water sources were of questionable quality.  Given the volume of consumption, alcohol was only 2-2.5% or less making the beer refreshing which prevented the hired help from getting plastered.  The mechanical revolution took all of the farm jobs and put them into factories, and as a result most all of the rustic farmhouse breweries disappeared, taking with them hundreds of years of brewing tradition. 

What most Saisons have in common is a light golden/orange color, very dry finish, and either a crisp sourness or bitterness (or sometimes both).  The farmhouse breweries would use their own grains, and due to the higher tax rates on malted barley versus other grains, would have certainly used a mixture of barley, oats, rye, wheat, and spelt.  Each brewery had their own unique strain of yeast that was a blend of common brewing yeasts, wild yeast, and other bacteria.  These wild yeasts and bacteria, combined with limited knowledge of sanitation, gave the Saison a distinct dryness and sour flavor reminiscent of other farmhouse style such as Bier de Garde and Gueze. The Saison was fairly generously hopped with local noble hop varieties, which helped preserve the beer during aging. Typically, only generous bittering and aroma additions were made, and it wasn't uncommon to dry hop the finished product. Other spices such as ginger, coriander, peppercorns, and orange peel were commonly used as well. The beer was then aged in oak barrels for four months or as long as several years to give the sourness from the yeast time to blend and balance with the bitterness from the hops. While the versions given to the farmhands were lower in alcohol, export and specialty versions could have alcohol levels from 4-9%

If you want to step out of your comfort zone a bit from the classic ales or lagers you have been brewing at home, give this recipe a try:

Caramunich III 8 oz
Acid Malt          4 oz
Wheat DME     1 lb
Pilsen Light LME 4 lbs
Corn Sugar      1 lb
Kent Golding    1.5 oz (60 min)
Strisslespalt     .5 oz  (20 min)
Strisslespalt     1 oz  (0 min)

Wyeast 3711 French Saison
(Ferment 70-80°F)

Get even hotter:
Wyeast 3724 Belgian Saison
(Ferment 75-95°F)

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