Someone likely would get mad at my under informed generalizations, but generally speaking Saisons are French or Belgian Farmhouse ales, usually brewed in the Spring and consumed relatively young. I think they are really great, they are nice and smooth, crisp but carbonation gives them a great mouth feel. The yeast give them flavors that range from earthy to fruity to spicy and are unique from beer to beer. So that’s just a general summary in case you needed it because I’m about to talk about a Saison I brewed and what I learned, and what that might mean for Steel String.
How I brewed it:
We started ours mashing very low (147 degrees). That means that we get the maximum amount of beta amylaze enzyme activity in the mash which breaks our sugars down to the simplest level so that our yeast can eat the most possible (which is expressed as attenuation) So typically, in a medium temperature mash, (152 or so) you get a better balance of beta and alpha amylaze, alpha breaks down bigger chains of molecules so that beta can eat it up but the higher temps reduces beta activity. So we mashed in at the very lowest end of the enzyme spectrum, then brought the temp up to 168 to mash out and sparge. Hops were very sparse in this batch, but I used an American variety to give it a little bit of citrus pop. We also added some ginger and white pepper to enhance those types of flavors that a Saison yeast will typically produce. We boiled for 60 minutes, with just the single hop addition and a late spice addition and let it ferment at ambient temperatures in my house (77 F) Which is very high. I also bottled it with some locally harvested Spring Wildflower honey that I held at 170F for twenty minutes to sterilize before adding. Unfortunately, honey is a bit hard to predict the sugar content of, and I was pretty nervous about the carbonation level being correct.
I was pretty happy with the resulting beer (it got down to 1.001 FG, which is very very low if you didn’t know). The spices don’t directly come out, but they are there and supported by the yeast aromas and flavors. The first samples were very carbonated but had a definite honey flavor, maybe too much so, and currently (1.5 weeks after bottling) there is a little bit of the honey flavor left but less carbonation in this bottle. It could be variations because they are bottle conditioned, or it could be that I checked too early before (but I had read that honey would be ready more quickly than corn sugar. Sometimes what you read isn’t right, because this one is much better, crisp, refreshing, almost cider-like.
But it felt more thin than dry. Some quick research and help from the Brau Kaiser, whose site is awesome by the way, told me if I did a multi-step mash, but not necessarily a protein or dough-in rest, then I might solve my body issue while still getting an extremely crisp beer. Basically we get good beta activity and alpha activity but also the higher temperatures cause some proteins to coagulate that add to head retention and mouth feel later on. That is probably what was missing when I noticed that it was more thin than crisp. So that’s what I will try tomorrow. I will also leave out the spices so that I can get a better sense of how my hops and malts are interacting, I might add them back later, but will stat without. Haven’t decided if I will prime with honey again, going to see if it fades over the next couple of weeks as I have been told it does.
Here’s a picture (notice how clear it is). I’m not a photographer though, so that might not come through at all.