I’m becoming something of a Saison monster. Well, me and just about every craft brewery on the planet – but why should you brew this style, and why is it proving so popular?
- It’s versatile. The definition of a Saison is extremely broad, so you can do pretty much do whatever you want with it – providing you use a Saison yeast. It can accommodate any hops and any malts you feel like chucking in there without really falling out of style – so you can totally tailor it to your needs – and most importantly, the base recipe will let anything you do use shine through wonderfully.
- It can make an excellent summer beer. It’s usually pretty dry, which means it’s all sorts of refreshing, and can be served chilled or just cool, lightly sparkling or super fizzy at your preference. It’s okay to serve it cloudy too, which will come into play at your summer BBQ when you decide to keep your bottles cool in a paddling pool full of ice water.
- It’s economic. With attenuation reaching as high as 1.002 FG on a 1.040 OG beer, it’s quite easy to (sometimes accidentally) brew a 5-6% beer for just a few quid worth of ingredients.
- It’s a warm, robust fermenter. That means if you have trouble with temperature control in the summer, some Saison yeasts can perform well up to 32 flippin’ degrees centigrade. Yep, that’s not a typo – the higher the temperature, the more lovely bubblegummy Belgian farmhouse esters are produced.
- It’s not very technical. You don’t need to step mash, cold steep, or alter temperatures throughout the fermentation for a good yeast profile – just chuck it in there.
Malts: Pilsner/Lager Malt or Pale/Maris Otter make up the base anywhere up to 100%. If you want to add more, Wheat Malt, Munich and Vienna are common additions, as well as sugars – but feel free to go nuts with anything you like, or brew a Saison version of your favourite recipe. Black Saisons (use Roasted Barley or Black Malt) are becoming popular with time – let the creativity flow!
Hops: Traditionally, Noble Hops, Styrian Goldings or East Kent Goldings are used in abundance. Aim for 20-35 IBUs with bittering, flavouring and late aroma stages. If you want to get crazy, you can use any hops you like – US and AU dry hops such as Cascade, Citra and Galaxy are becoming very popular with craft brewed Saisons because the dry and simple base lets the aroma shine. If you just want a little citrus, use a small and late amount of Goldings. Never underestimate a simple hop bill, however – a modest 60 and 15 minute addition with noble hops such as Hallertau, Tettnanger or Saaz makes a hoppy, balanced and refreshing beer.
Misc: Candi Sugar can be added, but it’s not as necessary as in stronger belgian styles. Saisons are often spiced – the world is your oyster here, but Black Pepper and Coriander Seeds are good starting points – but bear in mind that the yeast itself will kick out plenty of spicy aromas. Some breweries are also adding fruits – Lemon or Lime will add tang, acidity and reinforce hop aroma, but can affect head retention. Raspberry will carry right through into the finished beer – add it pulped after the initial fermentation.
Yeast: The single most important aspect of a Saison is to use a proper Saison yeast – everything else is somewhat preferential. There are many available – WLP565 will deliver a classic Saison, along with Wyeast 3724 Belgian Saison. WLP670 American Farmhouse Blend is an interesting yeast described as semi-traditional, and the Brettanomyces will give you a considerably more sour beer which may suit Fruit Saisons, but it’s an acquired taste. Mangrove Jack’s M27 will deliver a great Saison on a budget (available between £1.99 and £3.27 for a single use packet in the UK) and is capable of fermenting beer to around 14% – great for Imperials. With all Saisons, the yeast is often a somewhat unhealthy and fragile fermenter – add some nutrient when pitching, keep it warm and if your beer stalls, you may wish to finish it off with another yeast such as Safale US-05 or Danstar Nottingham.
So, what are you waiting for? It’s flexible, it’s beautiful, and it’s easy! Get brewing, and let us know what you come up with.
And yes, that is my Homer Simpson Schooner. Eat my shorts!