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Belgian Brewday: L’identité Secrète (“Super” Saison)

I’ve been ill for the last week or so, and this prevented me from going on a trip with my writing group to Jeonju. I’d promised to show them around, and I have to say, it was a bit heartbreaking when I wrote up a short guide to places to eat and drink in Jeonju and Iksan, not just because I was suddenly dying to eat some of their amazing, wonderful food and make a last trip with those friends (since several of them are leaving), but also just out of a desire to see those cities again. But when it came time to go down to Jeonju, I found I was still feeling like my throat was full of broken glass, and I ended up having to do the wise thing, and stay home for the weekend.

Today, since I’m feeling (relatively) better, I decided to get a brew done, so that the weekend wouldn’t be a total wash. I’ll be traveling in late February, and while there’s also a story that’s been killed me for weeks (and has just, finally started to work, though the editor who asked me to write it can’t use it now — it’s too late), I really feel the need to get a brew into the bucket. I still haven’t managed to pick up some kegs, but I have two carboys free, and my goal is to get those two carboys full, and one bucket full, before I leave on my (short) vacation. Saison’s a good choice not only because I have a nice strong yeast cake built up, but also because it takes a good long time to ferment out (and because it needs to sit in a warm temperature to do so).

(Needless to say, I’ll be making a few more of these this summer, especially to see if I can formulate a fall Saison recipe that I like; the yeast one uses to make a Saison is a weird one, supposedly (some have suggested) a mutant wine yeast, and it likes (or even requires, for a reasonable ferment time) temperatures much higher than most beer yeasts. This means that, for someone brewing beer in Korea in the late spring or summer, it’s a good choice since you don’t need to worry so much about finding a way to keep that fermentation vessel cool when the weather is, well, how it is in Korea.)

In any case, this Saison I’m making now is for the late spring, and is a “super” Saison, which means the ABV will be a touch higher than on your average Saison. (It might be a little less dry, but not much, because of how I’m mashing it as well as the adjuncts I’m using: see below, or checkout the final recipe here).

For this batch, I’ve decided to go with a pretty simple grist made up of Pilsner Malt (contributing about 46% of the fermentables), Munich Malt (32%), Unmalted Wheat (10%), plus a mixture of adjuncts making up 11% of the fermentables. The adjuncts are a mix of blue agave syrup and pale agave syrup. I’ve read the blue contributes a lot more flavor than the pale, but I only have 333 grams of the blue, and I wanted to put in half a kilo or so. (In fact, since I want to finish off the half-used bottle of agave syrup, it works out to more like 530 grams in total, which is close enough for me.)

The hops are simple: some Northern Brewer for bittering (added at first wort), Saaz for flavoring, and a burst of East Kent Goldings finishing hops at two minutes before flameout for aroma (and, perhaps, a very mild touch of flavor). The Saaz at 30 minutes is unusual — my book on Saisons (and Biere de Garde, by Phil Markowski) doesn’t suggest the use of flavoring hops for the super Saison, but I wanted to add something a little different into the mix and see what I ended up with. Since I am adding the agave syrup after the 30 minute mark, I had to calculate the IBUs I’d be getting from the hops without, and with, and average them out. It falls within the range I’m after, though.

Oh, there’s also a spice addition, but a very simple and mild one: some seeds from inside a few cracked pods of black cardamom. We’ll see how many grams I get out of it… I doubt I’ll get a lot, but there should be enough to add a vague spicy twang to the flavor.

The process was a bit unlike my usual one, in fact, much slower, for two reasons: one, because I wanted to make sure the Munich really converted completely, but two, because I’ve not yet done a proper cereal mash, and when I started boiling the unmalted wheat (after a very slow series of rests), I added too much water. Therefore, I went for a nice long boil to not only gelatinize the wheat starch, but also to reduce the water a bit. I’ve just added the wheat, and will leave it to mash a bit longer in the mash tun.

Normally, when I brew, it’s a lot more hectic and involved, and I like this slow, calm process. Of course, my next brew is likely to be a Belgian Wit, and that will require an even bigger cereal mash (since the grist will be, very likely, closer to 50% unmalted wheat!). I’m taking a risk since this unmalted wheat isn’t actually brewer’s wheat, just what I found at the local foreign food shop, but I’ve used it in other beers without any bad effects (that I’ve noticed, at least, hen using it in small amounts). I guess we’ll see whether I will need to switch to ordering torrefied or raw wheat, or can persist in using this stuff.

One more thing: the last few Saison I’ve made, I went for really long boils, like 90-120 minutes, which of course made it a lot harder for me to hit my target volume and gravity. I made it up with boiled, cooled water, but it was a pain in the ass, so I think I’ll do a 60 minute boil on this one. At some point, I’d like to really try out what happens when you put a very thinly wort into the boil pot and boil it for two or three hours — according to Markowski, brewers of old claimed this was the only way to get a certain flavoring into the beer — but for today, the process was extended enough by the inclusion of raw wheat, and I’m still not 100% recovered from my cold, so I think I’ll keep it relatively simpler. Maybe sometime when I have retrofitted by big square cooler to allow me to do double batches, I’ll do a side-by-side on a split 10-gallon batch of Saison with a very simple grist (like, say, the 100% Pilsner of Brasserie Dupont, or the Pilsner-and-Munich of some of Brasserie Fantôme’s popular Saisons) and the same yeast and hop schedule, just to see if I find it makes any difference.

Oh, the name of the beer is just a riff on the fact I formulated it while watching, in gulps, seasons of the TV show Dexter, as well as while writing a story titled “Libra” in a superheroic (/supervillanish) milieu. I put it in French because it’s a Saison, a style that originates in the (primarily) French-speaking region of Hainaut, Wallonia (in Belgium). My French sucks, as has been pointed out in earlier recipe titles for Saisons I’ve brewed, but I think I have this title right (assuming that the bracketed “‘Super’ Saison” is not part of the title, just a style indicator).

If things go right, I’ll be racking this beer to a keg a few weeks after I get back from my short trip later this month. In the meantime, I have a long sacc rest ahead of me now, so I think I’ll go work on that story some more.

UPDATE: Wow, okay, so… I probably should have boiled this an extra hour. I ended up a whole 20 gravity points below my target, and the volume was about a gallon over. So: next thing I need to do is really get a clear sense of my evaporation rate for boiling, and start getting better at hitting my target volume.

The good news is that the wort still smells great, and while it tastes a little over-hoppy, it was pretty lightly hopped to begin with, so it’s only moderately aggressive now. Hoppier than my other Saisons. If I want the gravity, I can always add some DME, probably “mashed” with some pilsner malt for a while, to help facilitate the kind of driness that one expects in a Saison. The last Saison I made got down to 1.002, so I’m not worried that the yeast cake won’t function. But I think I’ll probably leave the wort as it is. It’ll very likely turn out nice, just not a “super” Saison. That’s fine… I can make a “super” for the fall, as a lighter beer is probably more suitable for the springtime anyway!

UPDATE 3 June 2011: Well, it took me long enough to keg this… and thought I left the beer on the yeast all this time, it doesn’t seem to have had a bad effect on the flavor, at least not from the sampling tube… though I do intend to get a little more rigorous about kegging brews, or at least racking them to a secondary in glass, from now on.

Like previous Saisons, this brew attenuated down to 1.002, or maybe even 1.001 — it was a tough call. It tastes pretty great from the sampling tube, and I have high hopes for how it will turn out. I think a few weeks in the keg will do it some good, though.

Since I had all of 1.5 gallons more than I’d planned, I decided to rack the remainder into a nearly-empty keg of RyePA that was on its last legs. This was handy because I didn’t need to bottle the remaining beer, but also because I’ve been considering brewing a Saison with a considerable portion of the grist to be composed of rye malt; I was also thinking of hopping that Saison a little more aggressively, since I’ve heard of hoppier Saisons and am curious to see how the hop flavors/aromas, spiciness from both the yeast and the rye (and certain hop varieties), and the driness of the Saison yeast character would come together in a single beer. Blending won’t really allow me to experience that, exactly, but it might give me a few ideas, anyway.

2 Nov, 2011:

What can I say? This turned out to be my most fantastic Saison to date.  (Or, so I thought till I tasted the one I made with my students, which I kegged tonight. Man, that stuff is good.) It was a hit at the last brewing event I shared it at, and it was a hit with guests. Unfortuately, all good things come to and end, and this case, it was the flexibility I had with throughput of beer.

That is to say, I needed to keg some other beer, and I had only a gallon and a quarter (about 5 liters) of this sitting in the keg, as I considered what to do with it. In the end, I decided to move it to a small 1-gallon fermenter and add some souring bugs — specifically, the Wyeast Lambic Blend.

All I can say is, if you ever decide to recarboy beer, let out the CO2. Siphoning it ended up being an exercise in pumping it thrugh my siphon, which is far from optimal. I’m frankly worried about oxidation, though on the other hand I pitched a fresh smack-pack of Lambic yeast and they should deal with a fair amount of the oxygen in their reproductive phase, which should have started already.

In any case, we’ll see what happens in a few months. The beer finished really low anyway, and I’m not looking for a full-on sourness, just a kind of mild funk. This beer has joined by bokbunja wheat (which is discussed here) as the second of my beer-souring experiments. I figure, if it turns out bad, I lost a gallon of the best beer I’d made by summer 2011; but by then, I’ll be make Saisons that will put this one to shame, so it’s not big loss… right?

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