by Jesse Reynolds
When Spring is in the air, seasonal beers tend to get lighter in colour, lower in alcohol and crisper in finish.
The Belgian Saison the perfect beer to bridge the gap between Winter and Summer; it’s crisp, highly carbonated and easy-drinking, but it doesn’t skimp on alcohol content or complexity. Its fruity, spicy characteristics are well-suited to a warm sunny day outdoors, surrounded by budding trees and tweeting birds.
With roots in French-speaking areas of Belgium, this style has become very diverse over time. It comes in pale and dark varieties, ranges from table strength to super strength, and can rely exclusively on yeast phenols and hops for aromas and flavours or be altered with herbs and spices.
For simplicity’s sake, this recipe will rely exclusively on yeast character for complexity. If you’d like to add a bit of spice yourself, some great options are coriander, peppercorn, ginger and orange/lemon peel. Try one of those and see how it affects your perception of the other aroma and flavour elements.
Since the Saison isn’t particularly about showcasing malt complexity, the grain bill should be relatively simple with Pilsner malt making up the bulk of it. A touch of Munich malt and some Spelt malt will add a toasty breadiness, although the main point of the Spelt is to increase head retention. I throw in a bit of cane sugar (corn sugar will also work) to add some fully-fermentable sugars, making the final gravity lower and the body thinner.
Saison hops are typically spicy, herbal noble varieties in keeping with the yeast character. We’ll use East Kent Goldings for bittering and flavouring, and Czech Saaz and Styrian Golding for aroma.
For yeast, there are many possible Saison strains and all of them are worth trying at one point or another. In terms of this recipe, the simplicity of Belgian Saison I or Old World Saison yeast does the trick. You can control the amount of yeast character quite drastically by altering your fermentation temperature as noted in the instructions below.
Simple Saison (BJCP Category 25B)
(all-grain, 5.5 gallons)
8.5 Gallons Tap Water (Treated w/Campden Tablets) or Spring Water
Add ¼ tsp Gypsum and 1-½ tsp Calcium Chloride to mash
8 lbs Belgian Pilsner
1 lb Spelt Malt
1 lb Munich
0.5 lb Table Sugar or Corn Sugar
1 oz East Kent Goldings, 20IBU (90 mins)
1 oz Czech Saaz, 6.4 IBU (15 mins)
1 oz Styrian Golding, 4 IBU, (5 mins)
Escarpment Labs Old World Saison or White Labs WLP565 Belgian Saison I
Brew Day Instructions
Mash-in grains with 4.5 gallons of treated water to reach 151F (66C) and hold for 90 minutes. Use direct heat or infuse with boiling water to raise temperature to 168F (76C) and hold for 15 minute mash-out. Drain your wort into your boil kettle and slowly sparge until you have 7 gallons of wort.
Bring wort to a boil for 90 minutes, adding hops at times directed above. Remove from heat and chill rapidly to 68F (20C), transfer to fermenter, aerate your hopped wort and pitch yeast.
Ferment the beer according to your desired levels of yeast character. For a cleaner, more easy-drinking beer, ferment in the 70-72F range. If you desire more estery fruit and peppery phenolic elements, start at 76F and allow the beer to rise as high as 82F.
Once the beer has reached its final gravity (or possibly lower), package, carbonate and enjoy!
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