Thumbspike Saison

Every once in awhile, I get bored with my usual styles and try something different. Lately, I’ve been brewing a lot of what I’ve brewed before: IPA’s, wheat beers, porters, and stouts and stuff. They’ve turned out nicely, but now I want to amp things up a bit. For some reason, I got the idea to try a saison.

saison The diverse Belgian styles don’t always appeal to me, but I think that’s because they’re often either done badly or overdone in the latest souring craze. I’m actually quite fond of the various witbiers and their cousins (including my white IPA). But, because I have another iteration of my white IPA planned, saison had a bit more appeal for the moment. I’ve had a number of good ones over the years, and they aren’t afflicted by the funky bacteria that seem to dominate so many US-brewed salutes to Belgian beers these days. Why not, then?

I did a bit of research on various websites, books, and magazines, and came up with a fairly simple recipe as my first attempt. It won’t be entirely authentic in terms of ingredients (I’m using American 2-row instead of Belgian pilsner malt, and the hops are New Zealand), but my aim is to get something that’s tasty and drinkable. In order to dry the beer out a bit, I’m incorporating some honey into the recipe.

When trying to figure out which hops I should use, I was reminded that I have four ounces of Pacific Jade in my freezer. The descriptors for the hops include words like “herbal”, “citrus”, and “black pepper”. A good combination for a saison! And, it will be a good way to use up these hops for which I’ve long been trying to find a purpose.

I elected to use WLP525, Belgian Saison I from White Labs. It has been consistently rated as a very fine yeast for saisons, and the peppery aroma and flavor intrigue me. I’ve read a lot about how it tends to stall out at lower temperatures, so I’ll be using a heating pad beneath the fermenter (which will also be outside of my fermentation chamber) and letting the beer free rise. Apparently it does quite well in the 80’s, so that should be a fun thing to try!

The name (and label) for this beer are inspired by Iguanodon, a plant-eating dinosaur characterized by a sharp spike for a thumb. The animal is represented by a whole set of beautiful skeletons from the coal mines of Bernissart, Belgium. Coincidentally, this area (part of the greater region known as Wallonia) is the home turf for saisons. I prettied up one of the old renderings of the Belgian Iguanodon fossils by Gustave Lavalette for the label.

Thumbspike Saison

  • 8 lbs. 2-row malt (Great Western Malting Co.)
  • 1.5 lbs. white wheat malt
  • 1 lb. Vienna malt
  • .2 lbs. rice hulls
  • 1.5 lbs. clover honey
  • 1 oz. Pacific Jade hops pellets (12.4% alpha), 15 minute boil
  • 1 oz. Pacific Jade hops pellets (12.4% alpha), 5 minute boil
  • 1 tsp. Irish moss, 10 minute boil
  • 2 tsp. BSG Fermax yeast nutrient, 10 minute boil
  • 1 pkg. Belgian Saison I ale yeast (WLP565, White Labs), prepared in 1.75L starter, 24 hours in advan
  • 2 oz. Pacific Jade hops pellets (12.4% alpha), 1 week dry hop

Procedure

  • I mashed in with 4.1 gallons of water at 159º, to hit a mash temperature of 150º. It was down to 145º after 45 minutes.
  • After 60 minutes had passed, I batch sparged with 4.75 gallons of water at 185º. After letting it sit for 10 minutes, I vorlaufed and collected the runnings.
  • All told, I collected 7.1 gallons of wort with a gravity of 1.042. This equates to a mash efficiency of 76%. Prior to the boil, I added the honey, which brought the gravity up to 1.052.
  • I boiled the wort for 60 minutes, adding the hops, Irish moss, and yeast nutrient as indicated.
  • I chose to use yeast nutrient because much of what I read online says it can be a big help in enabling WLP565 to ferment to completion. The yeast nutrient left a mild odor in the wort; nothing overpowering, but it was noticeable. The package suggested adding in 1 tsp. per gallon of liquid; reading more online, it looks like that is appropriate only for wines and meads. Beers should be given only 1/2 tsp. for a 5 gallon batch. At any rate, I also read that the yeast tend to use up the nutrient anyhow, so any aroma should disappear.
  • After 60 minutes, I turned off the flame and cooled the wort down to 78º, transferred to the fermenter, and pitched the yeast.
  • Starting gravity was 1.058, when I brewed the batch on 22 April 2016.
  • I started fermentation on top of a heating pad. The yeast had really taken off within 10 hours, with a temperature in excess of 85º. So, I turned off the heating pad and let the temperature ride freely. After 30 hours more, temperature was down to 70º. By this point, my fermentation chamber had freed up, and I moved everything into there. I set the temperature to 80º.
  • Five days after brewing, fermentation was still perking along, with an occasional bubble from the airlock.
  • On Tuesday, May 3, I kegged the beer. It had a final gravity of 1.009, which equates to 6.4% abv. Flavor seems to be pretty good; time will tell how successful it is!
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