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Style Matters - Saisons

In each issue, CBQ spotlights a particular beer style and provide tips from an ingredient and fermentation perspective. In this issue we take a closer look at Saison beers.

Malt Notes: Originally brewed in farmhouses in the French speaking part of Belgium, the Saison style, like many Belgium styles, is not well-defined. Saison can be full bodied or thin, pale, or dark, or in between. Generally the style is interpreted as spicy, estery, hoppy, and alcoholic, but there are notable exceptions. The beauty of Belgium beers is, after all, their diversity. When creating a Saison, keep in mind the ultimate goal of the interpretation of the style you wish to express, and formulate around it.

The grist for a Saison should take into consideration your goal. If you are producing the more classic version with a color of 10 – 14 SRM we would have two suggestions. The first would be the use of caramel malts at 5 – 15% of the grain bill. This will give the desired color, with a bit of sweetness to accent a spicy or estery version of the style. Another way would be the use of Vienna, Munich, or Aromatic malt for a more bready sweetness – perhaps for a hop-oriented interpretation. Of course many Saisons use a blend of both types of specialty malts, and, in keeping with the Belgium tradition, many fine examples are produced without any specialty malts at all.

If your goal is to brew a Saison as it would be produced in Europe, we would recommend the use of Dingemans malts. Operated by the Dingemans family since 1875, they are Belgium’s sole specialty maltster, and produce a wide variety of 2-row spring barley malts under their own name. Particularly well-suited to Saison would be Cara 20 and Cara 45 caramel malts, and Munich or Aromatic malts. For a pale Saison or as a base malt, Dingemans Pilsen malt is used by many Belgium brewers.

Another consideration for the grain bill is the Belgium penchant for adding malted wheat, raw grains, flakes, or adjuncts to their beers. Here again, there is no fixed rule. The use of these grains will lighten the body of the beer, as well as add flavor nuances characteristic of the grain chosen. When mashing and lautering with adjuncts keep in mind they generally do not have enough enzymes to self convert, and their lack of husks can make lautering tricky. For most adjuncts we recommend a maximum of 40% of the grain bill.

— Cargill Malt

Hop Notes: For bittering the hops are traditionally Styrian Golding or UK Fuggle. Brewers can also use German Tettnang or the US varieties Willamette or US Fuggle, with a possibility of Glaicer. For the aroma, traditionally brewers have used Czech Saaz or UK Kent Goldings. Other options include Polish Lublin, German Hallertau, UK Progress or the US varieties Sterling or US Goldings. The hops are to impart an earthy as well as the citrus and fruity notes. Should be moderate aroma and IBU level of between 20-45. 

— Hopunion

Yeast and Fermentation Notes: Yeast plays a very important role in Saisons. The flavor should exhibit the estery profile and some higher alcohols characteristic of Belgian yeasts.

White Labs has a number of yeast strains well-suited for Saisons, including Belgian Saison I Yeast, which is a classic Saison yeast from Wallonia, the French-speaking region of Belgium. It produces earthy, peppery, and spicy notes, and is slightly sweet. The second best option for Saisons is Belgian Ale Yeast, which has a great diversity of uses. It is more easy to use than the Saison yeast, because the Saison will sometimes stick at 50 to 60 percent attenuation. While this is normal for the Saison strain, it creates a more difficult fermentation.

Other good Saison yeasts include Abbey Ale, Belgian Golden Ale, Belgian Wit Ale, Belgian Wit II, and Trappist Ale.

— White Labs