What is a brown saison? What is a Belgian brown ale? I don’t know. Sort of like the Black IPA episode of a year back, when you do something odd like add a bunch of dry hopping to your porter recipe, what should you call it? There is a popular brewery around here called “Right Proper” that recently had a beer on they classified as a “Country Alt.” Even though I know the brewer pretty well, I don’t know what that means. A friend of mine, Brian Strumke, is the brain child behind Stillwater Artisanal Ales, has done more to push the boundary of what you can call a saison than anyone else I know. I wrote recently about the dilution of the word “lambic” in beer communities but the word saison almost means nothing these days. I brew tons of “off style” saisons with tons of hops in them…I guess I could call them Belgian IPAs (and I have) but if you are using Belgian malt, Belgian yeast, and American or New Zealand hops…I’m still inclined to call it a saison.
To me, you can call it a saison if you want that yeasty, high temperature style fermentation profile and you are using a saison yeast. As far as final color is concerned or hoppiness…who cares? It is just beer. But I feel I have to call it something so I’ll call it a brown saison and if that bothers anyone I meant a Belgian brown.
So I’m making a brown ale of sorts so the goal should be to end up with a beer that is brown. On the SRM chart, that would be something in the range of 20 – 40. There are a lot of ways to make a beer brown, meaning there are a lot of malts you can add to darken a beer. My general rule when making a special malt the star of a beer is to make sure you love that malt. I’ve had browns that taste like watered down stouts…that’s not what I’m looking for in a brown. Browns can be nutty, that’s an interesting flavor…but not what I’m hoping for. This is going to be a “Special B” beer…one of the greatest malts out there…and a highly under-utilized malt in my opinion. I realize it is popular but name a beer that showcases this malt nearly exclusively. I can’t. This malt is so good, I eat it like granola.
Batch # 2014.16
5 Gallon Batch
Brew date: July 20th, 2014
Keg date: August 15th, 2014
ABV: 6.5 %(estimated)
SRM: 28 (estimated)
IBU: 20 (estimated)
70% Pilsner Malt
20% Special B
Grain was mashed at 155° F, slightly higher temperature than my other saisons, hopefully this ends up with a little more body than other beers. pH stabilizer was added to the mash water. Sparge was done at 170, a total of 9.5 gallons was collected.
Wort was brought to a boil quickly and held there for 70 minutes. At the end of the boil, wort was drained via the side port on the brew kettle. About 4.5 gallons was collected altogether (still working out hitting the right volume with this new equipment) but this went into a 5 gallon fermenter because I could recognize I was under a little bit. Nearly all the hot break material was left in the pot, really clean looking wort.
2 ounces of cascade at 10 minutes
This crazy low amount of hops is due to a mistake by my part. I forgot about the rest of the hop additions but I decided in the end that this is just going to be a Special B beer, just focusing on that one malt…it will re-introduce me to this malt in sort of a naked way.
Dupont yeast from yeast cake from the Galaxy Saison with Dupont yeast. Fermentation took off about 6 hours after pitching. The gravity was down to 1.010 after 7 days. It was left in the fermenter for another 2 weeks to clean up and drop clear. I wasn’t in a rush to keg this one up.
After kegging, the beer sat at room temperature at 30 PSI for four days. The keg was bled and place inside the fridge at about 40 degrees under 15 PSI for two days before bleeding once more and tapping.
Beer is brown and hazy at the corners of the glass. It has a tan head of small bubbles, moderate retention, some lacing, moderate to low carbonation.
Aroma is sweet with a mild roast, the yeast is pretty subdued which is pretty interesting as this was made with the Dupont strain and that is usually pretty dominant in the aroma. Overall, the aroma is a little low on in the intensity scale. There is a mild citrus sneaking through from the minimal cascade hops and some esters from the Dupont, mild pepper. About a 5 out of 10 in volume, that being said, it is a nice aroma.
Beer is medium in body, super clean profile. No lingering anything and no aftertaste. Beer is smooth and sweet on the palate with a mild roast on the backend but no bitterness at all. The carbonation is a little low, but that can be fixed. The hop and yeast character are quite minimal in this beer. The malt shines through completely.
Overall, this beer is a little sweet, light to medium in body, one of the cleaniest beers as far as palate connectivity I’ve ever made and tastes like a little roast, a little honeyish sweetness, granola, mild nutty, and a little citrus from the hops. This beer turned out to a little one dimensional but that was by design. I’ve already made another Special B based brown ale, it is fermenting away. That one will be more complex and a more complete beer.
Possible improvements (for future batches):
For starters, how about taking better notes on brew day? About one out of every 6 or so brew days, something happens and my notes go to shit for that brew. I’m not going to outright blame my 2 year old for this but it is his fault. Otherwise…
So one thing that I’ve been ignoring is the water chemistry of these batches. While I am basically a chemist (a molecular biology / biochemist), I have yet to bother with the overall water chemistry of my beers. I have decided that this is just laziness and pulled the water report for my area recently. The concentrations of all meaningful ions are listed below.
Calcium: 35 mg/L
Magnesium: 8 mg/L
Sodium: 20 mg/L
Chloride: 40 mg/L
Sulfate: 35 mg/L
and the pH is 7.4 but I usually use a buffer to lower and stabilize it around 5.2 – 5.4 for mashing anyway.
These are reported as the yearly average but the high and low reads are pretty tight around that mean so I’m going to use those numbers in general. One good thing is that those numbers are low…but that does mean that I have been neglecting to add salts to my brews. I think the target concentrations of water ions should be closer to
Calcium: 70 mg/L
Magnesium: 15 mg/L
Sodium: 50 mg/L
Chloride: 100 mg/L
Sulfate: 100 mg/L
from the research I’ve done. Obviously, the concentration of the different ions will be different for different types of beers but these numbers should work well with hoppier beers. I’ve picked up the appropriate salts and have started modifying the concentrations based on this new information but the results won’t show up for about 4 more brews just because I’ve already completed those way in advance. There will be a new section in all of my recipes from now on about the modifications to the water I’ve made.
I think this beer is nice, I’m repeating it (with better notes next time) with some Blaugies yeast and some dry-hopping and a mildly modified grain bill. I think pushing the mash temp up a little more could make this beer have a bigger body, and it could hold up to that even though that is even more out of style than before.
Upcoming brews and posts:
There are three beers in bottles or fermenters that I haven’t posted about yet, all of those will be up in the next several weeks. They are a collaboration saison called “Flowerfield” brewed in Chicago with Ambrosia ales, Galaxy Saison with Blaugies Yeast #2 (a modification from the last one), and a Chinook Rye Saison (with Blaugies yeast). Those are the three posts that will be up within a few weeks of now, I just have to sit down and finish them up and review the beers. Beers that are currently underway also include a Kluyveromyces lactis beer (2 in fact) and a Russian Imperial stout (this will be posted at the end of the year I think). I’ve started using iso-octane to take actual IBU measurements of different beers (both commercial and homebrews) recently. I’ll be posting something about that in the next week as well. Also, I’m going to start posting some basic yeast handling techniques, my goal being by the end of 2015 to have a suite of posts about some entry level to hardcore microbiology of fermentation for the homebrewing scientist.
Lastly, I have a huge garden. I love gardening. It is one of my strongest passions next to my family and beer. I only mention the garden because I want this to be a fermentation blog, not just beer. Although beer is the focus of this blog, I have started a fermentation of some chile peppers I grew in the garden. They are fermenting away in little jars with airlocks. I’m pretty excited about that. In short, there are about 25 partially finished blog posts in the queue. I just have to find the time to finish writing them and schedule them for posting. I hope you are all enjoying this as much as I am.
“A little bit of beer is divine medicine.” –Paracelsus