It is getting hot out there, but there is a delicious way to help stay cool. Our Saison kit is back on the shelf, and saisons can be a great beer to brew during the summer time, as it likes warmer fermentation temperatures. If you have never had a saison, or maybe you have, but wanted to know more about this delicious beer, here is some interesting information for your beer nerd brain.
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 meaning “season” 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) to drink in the summer. 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 and also preventing the hired help from getting too plastered on the job. 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 saison brewing knowledge and 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 styles of the era such as bier de garde and lambic/gueze. Hops, known to help preserve beers, were used fairly generously in making saisons and were typically split between early bittering and late aroma additions. 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 content from 4-9%.
Because of the wide array of acceptable grain, hops, and adjuncts in this style, saisons can very widely in flavor, but here is the profile from the BJCP guidelines:
Combination of fruity and spicy flavors supported by a soft malt character, a low to moderate alcohol presence and tart sourness. Extremely high attenuation gives a characteristic dry finish. The fruitiness is frequently citrusy (orange- or lemon-like). The addition of one of more spices serve to add complexity, but shouldn’t dominate in the balance. Low peppery yeast-derived phenols may be present instead of or in addition to spice additions; phenols tend to be lower than in many other Belgian beers, and complement the bitterness. Hop flavor is low to moderate, and is generally spicy or earthy in character. Hop bitterness may be moderate to high, but should not overwhelm fruity esters, spices, and malt. Malt character is light but provides a sufficient background for the other flavors. A low to moderate tart sourness may be present, but should not overwhelm other flavors. Spices, hop bitterness and flavor, and sourness commonly increase with the strength of the beer while sweetness decreases. No hot alcohol or solventy character. High carbonation, moderately sulfate water, and high attenuation give a very dry finish with a long, bitter, sometimes spicy aftertaste. The perceived bitterness is often higher than the IBU level would suggest. No diacetyl.
OG: 1.048 – 1.065
IBUs: 20 – 35
FG: 1.002 – 1.012
SRM: 5 – 14
ABV: 5 – 7%
Brewing this beer has a lot to do with the yeast strain and the temperature in which it is fermented, which can very the flavor and body of this beer as well. From mild Belgian character, to very dry and sour, saison beers can be exactly what you want them to be. Lucky for you Salt City Brew Supply has the largest selection of saison yeast in Utah.
French Saison - Wyeast 3711: highly aromatic (estery), peppery, spicy and citrusy. This strain enhances the use of spices and aroma hops, and is extremely attenuative but leaves an unexpected silky and rich mouthfeel.
Belgian Saison - Wyeast 3724: crisp, mildly acidic finish that will benefit from elevated fermentation temperatures. This strain is notorious for a rapid and vigorous start to fermentation, only to stick around 1.035 S.G. Fermentation will finish, given time and warm temperatures.
Saison #1 Yeast - Gigayeast GY018: Traditional Saison yeast from a French craft brewery. Produces fragrant beer with pepper and fruit notes. Warmer fermentations create more intense flavors. Perfect for accentuating citrus and fruit flavors.
Saison Yeast #2 - Gigayeast GY027: From a traditional farmhouse Saison. Creates the fruity/spicy aroma traditional to the style. Warmer fermentation temps result in more intense flavor. Produces a tartness not found in most of our yeast
Saison Sour - Gigayeast GB124: New Strain
Belgian Saison Ale - White Labs WLP565: crisp, mildly acidic finish that will benefit from elevated fermentation temperatures. This strain is notorious for a rapid and vigorous start to fermentation, only to stick around 1.035 S.G. Fermentation will finish, given time and warm temperatures.
Belgian Saison Blend - White Labs WLP568: This blend melds Belgian style ale and saison strains. The strains work in harmony to create complex, fruity aromas and flavors. The blend of yeast strains encourages complete fermentation in a timely manner. Phenolic, spicy, earthy, and clove like flavors are also created.
Belgian Saison III - White Labs WLP585 (seasonal): produces beer with a high fruit ester characteristic, as well as some slight tartness. Finishes slightly malty, which balances out the esters. Also produces low levels of clovey phenolics. Great yeast choice for a summer Saison that is light and easy-drinking
Belgian Saison II Ale - White Labs WLP566: saison strain with more fruity ester production than with WLP565. Moderately phenolic, with a clove-like characteristic in finished beer flavor and aroma.
American Farmhouse Blend - White Labs WLP670: complex flavor profile with a moderate level of sourness. It consists of a traditional farmhouse yeast strain and Brettanomyces.
Belle Saison Ale Yeast (Dry Yeast): Belle Saison is an ale yeast of Belgian origin selected for its ability to produce great Saison-style beer. This is a relatively new yeast, but seems to have a flavor profile somewhere in between the French Saison and Belgian Saison strains from Wyeast.