Brewing a super session saison

So, as you can probably guess, I love Saisons. The typical story told about the style is that it emerged from farmhouse brewing traditions in France where they needed a beer for their seasonal farm workers to keep hydrated while working. If you know anything about saison today you’ll know that it’s not exactly something that you’d want to drink a lot of and then go try to wield a scythe and get some work done. So it’s likely that the first saisons were much lower strength beers than what is typically available today. The BJCP has mentioned “Table Saison” as a variant of their 2015 definition for the style that ranges 3.5%-5% I actually wanted to make something that was even lower alcohol than that (if possible, I have this curse about trying to make session beers and they end up being 6-7% somehow). My goal was to make a beer that was around 2.5% abv, but hopefully didn’t taste too watered down.

Farm Hand’s Ale (15 gallon batch, 30 minute boil)

  • 10lbs Northwest Pale Ale Malt
  • 2lbs Flaked Oats
  • 1.5lbs Aromatic Malt
  • 1.5lbs Munich Malt
  • 2.5oz Glacier Hops 3.2%AA FWH @30 minutes
  • 2oz Glacier Hops 3.2%AA @2 minutes

I decided to go with the high % (though maybe not a terribly high amount) of aromatic malt for this to help give it a good malty flavor despite the small amount of malt being used. I included the oats to boost the mouthfeel of what is likely to be a rather thin beer otherwise. I used glacier hops because glacier hops are the best, and did a 30 minute boil because I like to shorten my brew day.

I mashed this beer rather thin since my HLT is my old 10 gallon boil kettle and I wanted to get 15 gallons of runnings so I mashed in with 9 gallons of water to achieve a mash temp of 155F and then sparged with another 9 gallons of water after about an hour. It took a while to get to a boil and my 19 gallon kettle was pretty much maxed out, I actually saved a few gallons off and added them to the kettle as I went to chill. Otherwise the boil went fine with no major hiccups.

I split the wort among 4 fermentors, 2 2.5 gallon and 2 5 gallon batches were all pitched with different yeasts. The 2.5 gallon batches got my wasp yeast for it’s inaugural batch and the other 2.5 gallon got some of my local yeast, that was harvested from a plum blossom. I think I need to just come up with a name for all of the local yeast captures, since they are all pretty much the same yeast. The 5 gallon batches got my hefe/brett (probably needs a better name) culture and my abbey culture that had been revived from a jar of yeast that has been in my fridge now for 3 years and 4 months, ha!

The original gravity came out to 1.031, which is 6 points higher than I was shooting for meaning my efficiency was 88.5% which seems incredibly high to me, I wonder if the thinner mash had something to do with that? So I guess this could possibly qualify at the low end a Table Saison depending on attenuation. All of the batches took off fermenting pretty quickly. I will post tasting notes when they are ready.

Kveikstokk Beer

Kveikstokk? What’s that?

Maybe you’ve heard of a Magic Stick? No? Kveikstokk literally translates from Norwegian to ‘yeast log’ in English. It’s basically a stick of wood that is used to store yeast between brews. Supposedly the origin story is that long before people understood what yeast was they noticed that brews tasted better if they stirred them with a certain stick. The theory being that good yeast from a previous brew stuck to the stick and transferred to the next brew via the stick.

I was inspired to give this method a try when I read about kveikstokker on Lars’ Blog. I have collected apple and birch branches from pruning trees on my property for use in the smoker so I decided I’d try to make a couple of kveikstokker from those branches. I used a rasp to take off the outer and most of the under bark, and then used a hand saw and a file to put some notches and grooves into them to give the yeasties somewhere to stick to and hide.

Once I had the sticks ready there was the matter of yeasting them up. I figured the best way to do this would be to toss them into fermenting beer so I brewed up some Belgian Pale Ale, split it into two batch and pitched my abbey strain in one and another locally harvested strain in the other. In a show of spectacular poor planning I found out at this point that the kveikstokk I had made from the apple wood was too fat to fit through the carboy neck, so only the birch kveikstokk made it into a beer to get yeasted up. It happened to be the beer with my abbey yeast.

After three weeks or so, the beer was done fermenting and in another display of poor planning I could not now remove the swollen with beer (and yeast) kveikstokk from the carboy. I racked the beer out of the carboy and for a while I was concerned that I was going to have to figure out some way of drying out the stick inside the carboy. Fortunately with much tugging, cursing and wiggling I was able to extract it and hang it up to dry. Once it was dry I put it into a plastic container to keep it safe from day to day banging around the workshop until I brewed again. Lucky for me, I happen to own a gallon jug with an extra wide neck so my issues with carboy necks weren’t an issue when using the kveikstokk to ferment a beer.

Eventually I brewed up another Belgian pale ale and I was able to use it. I placed the kveikstokk into the sanitized jug and filled it to the shoulders with wort affixed an airlock and placed it inside the fermentation fridge along with the main batches of the beer.

After two days there was still no action on the kveikstokker beer and I was wondering if it was going to work. My worries proved unfounded as on the third day krausen formed and it looked to be fermenting just fine. Hooray! It worked! After three or so weeks it appeared to be done fermenting, as did the larger batches with normal pitches of yeast. I bottled the beer and hung the kveikstokk up to dry again. After the beer had been bottled for a bit more than two weeks I chilled a bottle down and poured myself a glass. It was decent, but not as good as the large batch of beer that I used a normal pitch of the abbey yeast on. I’ll do some honest to goodness tasting notes on both of the beers in a few days.

This was a fun experiment and I think I’d like to give it a try with some of my other wild yeasts; probably one of my cultures that (I believe) contains brett. Brett is supposed to be able to break down uber complex wood sugars so it seems like living on a stick wouldn’t be a difficult feat for such a beast. So that may be in the future. Maybe I’ll whittle the applewood down so it’ll fit into a carboy neck and toss it into a brett ferment. Other than that, I’m not sure if the kveikstokker is a great idea for a direct pitch. I do also want to try using it to inoculate a starter, build the starter up and then pitch that in tandem with the same yeast from my typical starter/pitch procedure. It could be that this is some sort of strange way of storing yeast (maybe as a backup) for the long term?

Want more pics?

Update: Tasting notes

Brewing a Cypress beer

In Norway there is a tradition in a lot of farmhouse brewing to use a juniper infusion for your strike and sparge water. Basically, strike and sparge water are heated in the kettle with juniper boughs. Additionally, juniper boughs are used in the mash vessel as a filter bed/false bottom to aid in lautering.

I don’t have access to much juniper where I live, but I have a bunch of Leyland Cypress trees on my property and the boughs of this tree make a really nice tea. So I thought it would be an interesting experiment to try making beer using cypress infusion in the spirit of traditional Norwegian brewing. It didn’t hurt that I am of Norwegian ancestry either.

So I trimmed a few branches off of a tree and set up my HLT and mash vessel with a bunch of cypress boughs for the brew.

I also took this opportunity to attempt a 15 gallon batch of beer. I have a 19 gallon boil kettle so I can’t quite do a full boil without making a huge mess via boiling over but I can get pretty close. I figured I’d just top up at the end of the boil before chilling, which is what I did.

The strike water had a nice piney aroma to it, I hopped with all glacier hops, which, if you’re not familiar with them, they are described as ‘hoppy’ which seems unhelpful, but it actually fits quite well. I really like these hops and I’d like to get some rhizomes to grow them next spring.

For the 15 gallon recipe I used the following ingredients:

  • Loads of spruce boughs (I didn’t weigh them) for the strike and sparge water, and also in the mashtun.
  • 18lbs Pilsner Malt
  • 2lbs Aromatic Malt
  • 2lbs Cara-pils Malt
  • 2oz Glacier Hops (first wort) @90 Minutes
  • 1oz Glacier Hops @10 Minutes
  • Mute Dog Abbey Yeast
  • Mute Dog Palatki Yeast
  • Brewery Ommegang House Yeast

Each of the three yeasts fermented a separate 5 gallon batch of the beer. I ended up unintentionally mashing a lot lower than I had planned. I think my problem is inaccurate volume measurements when I pour the strike water into the mash vessel. Anyway I mashed at about 148F for an hour and did a 90 minute boil. At flame out I topped my wort up to 15 gallons and chilled it down to 75-80F and drained into 3 separate carboys for fermenting with the three different yeasts. The OG was 1.039, one point higher that BeerSmith calculated.

After 2-3 weeks of fermentation I took some gravity readings and the gravity for each batch was crazy low ~1.001. I sampled all three batches and they were good, very dry somewhat saisony tasting. I kegged the batch that fermented with my Abbey yeast and left the other two batches alone.

After drinking off the keg for a bit, I felt like you couldn’t really taste much in the way of cypress in the beer. There was just a hint of something slightly different about the flavor of the bitterness that maybe might possibly be cypress, but it if you didn’t know about the cypress, you probably would even notice, let alone identify it as cypress.

I decided to try dry cypressing one of the other two batches. The beers had been in primary for about two months by this time. The batch with the palatki yeast looked to be forming some sort of brett pellicle so I figured I’d leave that one alone to get funky and dry cypress the batch with the ommegang yeast. I took another gravity reading and it had gone down to 0.997!

I collected 12oz of additional cypress boughs and added them to a brew bucket, then I racked the beer onto them, sealed up the bucket and put an airlock on. I let them steep for about a week before racking the beer into a keg. The beer has been in the keg for almost a week now and it is just beginning to get fully carbonated. It tastes incredible. I may have overdone the dry cypressing, it is intense in the aroma and flavor of the beer. An earthy, woody, aroma, followed by a fruity, almost christmas tree but not quite, citrusy/ascorbic acid flavor, with some malt and hop bitterness in the background.

I really like it a lot.

I’m not sure what fate lies in store for the last 5 gallon batch, I figure I’ll let it hang out for a few more months and see if the brett does anything interesting to it. I do know that I definitely like this beer and it will likely need to become part of some sort of seasonal rotation or something. I do want to see how the flavor might be different from boughs harvested in the spring vs late summer as my wife tells me she can definitely taste a difference in the tea she’s made recently vs the stuff made in the spring.

View all the photos from the creation of this beer on imgur.

Brewing a Saison

I recently brewed a Saison, it was the first beer I’ve brewed using all grain (no malt extract) and also my first attempt with the Brew In A Bag method of brewing all grain.

Let me start by saying it wasn’t a complete disaster because I did make beer, and I think it will taste pretty good. Of course I did do a few things wrong.

First off, I didn’t start with nearly enough water. The link above says you need to start by adding all of the water. All of the strike water, all water for any infusions, and all of the sparge water. Since I’ve never brewed all grain before I didn’t really know what this meant and, like an idiot, I didn’t really research it to find out. Because of this I ended up having a pretty poor efficiency (~50%) in my mash and when all was said and done I had about 3.5 gallons of boiled wort instead of the 5 I was planning for. I ended up adding 2.5 gallons of water back to my wort and adding some corn sugar to beef up the gravity.

I should have had a gravity of around 1.060 but instead ended with 1.045 after adding the corn sugar.

The other problem I ran into was burning a hole in my bag. I was using a large wire strainer to keep the bottom of the bag off the bottom of the kettle but some got around the strainer and melted. So that was fantastic. Fortunately I didn’t lose too much grain out of this hole, but the bag was shot after that. I wasn’t able to detect any burn/melted polyester flavor in the wort so I guess it’s not so bad. I’m considering just converting a cooler into a mash tun, but if I were to Brew in a Bag again, I would make a bag out of cotton fabric.

Now, about the beer: I brewed a Saison. Saison is an old style of farmhouse beer from the area of Northern France/Southern Belgium. It was brewed in the spring as a beverage for the seasonal farm workers during the summer (hence the name). I based my recipe on a Belgian Saison from Brasserie Blaugies called Saison d’Epeautre. The grain bill calls for 33% Spelt (Epeautre), many saisons use adjunct grains since the farm was basically making beer out of what it had on hand.

A few months back I had a bottle of Bam Biere from Jolly Pumpkin Brewery and I harvested the yeast from the bottom of the bottle and fed and cared for it. I used that yeast to ferment my saison. It worked pretty quickly and added some great sourish and spice notes to the beer (based on tasting at bottling). I’m pretty excited for this beer to be ready in a few weeks or so.

As far as All Grain Brewing goes it wasn’t too bad even with my mistakes. I’m not sure if I’m going to bother with brewing in a bag again or not though.