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Franco-Belgian Brewday: Wonmisan Raison (Rye Saison), and What I May Have Learned from Blending

Another day, another brewday.

This one has a backstory, though. A while back, I tried to make a RyePA, which if you don’t know the substyle is simply an IPA — often an American IPA, as far as I can tell — that has a significant amount of rye malt in the grist. I was mashing in my brewpot/MLT setup, and the sparge got stuck, and it was hell… but it tasted pretty good nonetheless.

Later, when I was kegging a batch of Saison, I realized I had an extra gallon of the stuff, but nowhere to put it. Meanwhile, I had enjoyed enough of the RyePA to get it down to about a gallon as well, so I figured… why not try blending? Now, I was careful to blend it cold, because there was a certain amount of residual sugars in the RyePA and the Saison yeast would, at warmer temperatures, begun to ferment once more. So I kept it cold, and gave it a shot… and it was amazingly good.

This was the result:

The perfect shade of orange. Belgian-lacey. Spicy. Fruity. A little hoppier than you might expect. But wonderful. When I first tasted it, I resolved — that was it, I was going to make a Rye Saison this summer. So… now I am!

This will be a split batch, with half of it fermented with Wyeast 3711 — the French Saison yeast — and the other half fermented with Wyeast 3724, the Saison Dupont strain. I’ve had good results with the latter, and received the former from a brewing friend a while back, so I figured a side-by-side would be an interesting experiment.

I had to adjust the recipe on the fly, since I had 1.3 fewer kilos of rye malt than I’d thought when formulating the recipe. But looking back at earlier Saisons I’ve brewed, I’ve had good results with a variety of adjuncts, from muscovado sugar to agave syrup, so I figured instead of panicking, I’d continue with that trend.

My recipe is here, but since the beer is mashing on my cooler right now — I’ll be leaving it overnight to see how much heat gets lost in an 8 hour mash; I don’t mind if it ends up very dry since it’s a Saison and it’s supposed to do so . I may change the sugar adjunct, and I may modify the hopping a little bit, we’ll see… but likely not too much, since I’ll be mixing the batches after the boil, and would like to have as consistent results as possible in terms of the worts, so that I can really have a better idea about how the yeasts differ. It’ll be an interesting experiment, in any case!

If you want to see the recipe with out clicking over, it’s below:

Batch size: 10 gallons

(Tentative Adjunct)

Mash Temp: started 68°C, left overnight.

Estimated O.G.: 1.058

Estimated FG: for the 3724, I have had consistently 1.002 or less. For the 3711, I expect it to finish a little higher.

Efficiency – 75% (which is probably a little optimistic)

Expected  ABV: 7.5% for the 3724, a bit less for the 3711.


(I may dry hop this in after primary fermentation is finished, I’m not sure.)

Expected bitterness: ~25 IBUs. (Since I won’t add the sugars until late in the boil, hop utilization will be slightly higher than Hopville realizes.)


As I say, it’s mashing in the cooler at the moment, and I will be boiling it up tomorrow. Which means I should probably sleep now…

(Next Morning:)

Well, that settles it. I need to get some kind of proper manifold for my cooler mash tun… or, at least, a way bigger piece of muslin cloth, and a few screens for the bottom of the mash tun. The last time I brewed with a substantial potion of rye in the grist, I got a stuck mash, and the same happened today. It might be because it was overmilled, but still… it’s a royal pain.

I worked out a trick with a mesh bag and a strainer just bit enough to fit into the top of my brew pot, and was back in business. Now, the only difficulty is working out how much of each wort to put into each boil pot, since the pots are different sizes, and the brew will be boiling. At which point, everything gets much simpler…

But first, while the second runnings strains, I think it’s time for some coffee…

(Update 3:23pm:)

Both pots are at a nice gentle boil. I don’t need a rolling boil, as this is about the maximum volume I can handle. Sadly, this means my split batches are doomed to be of different sizes, since one pot holds only a little more than 5 gallons at maximum, and the other holds much more. But life goes on. I’ve decided I will bottle these beers, to see how bottle-conditioning a Saison affects its quality. Besides, my kegs are pretty full these days, and I don’t feel like buying any more, but I have a fair number of empty bottles lying around, ready to use.

This time around, I figure on leaving them in primary only until they’re really done bubbling. Then I’ll rack them to glass carboys and chill them overnight, and bottle them first thing the next morning. Should be a nice long morning’s worth of bottling… And then I need to figure out a place to store the bottles while they carb up and condition. (I’m thinking about the attic for the Saison Dupont half, but for the other, I’m not sure… maybe I can clear space under my desk or something. The living room is the coolest place in the house.

UPDATE (post-boil, 5:52pm):

Argh, brewing in an apartment… what can I say? I don’t have enough counter space, and when I get close to the end of a brew day, the annoying logistics of dealing with that issue sometimes causes headaches.

When I was transferring the wort chiller from one pot to another, some of the water from the chiller out-feed tube dripped into my nice, sterile wort. Argh! I left it at 75°C for about twenty minutes, hoping that it would pasteurize to death anything that had gotten into the wort, but who knows whether any stray bugs will survive?  I was planning to blend the two worts, but decided to use the (smaller) potentially-contaminated wort for the Saison Dupont brew, since I have another sample of that yeast squirreled away and didn’t want to ruin the French Saison brew… which is a few liters bigger too, as a result of my worry.

Anyway, in other news, the wort came out a nice amber/copper color, partly because I decided to use agave syrup as an adjunct. Most of it is pale agave syrup, which has no appreciable effect on flavor, but there’s a good 330-odd grams of blue agave. Probably too little to have a big effect, but it’s nice to throw a spot of something extra in.

As for the spicing, I went with a very laid back spice tea:

… all added at flameout, along with the Strisselspalt hops. I think next time, I’ll put more spice, but I felt like being a little conservative and seeing what the yeast can do. I’ll leave both of these in my living room for the present, with a usual ambient temp of about 25°C, which is the top end of the French Saison yeast and the bottom end of the Belgian one. I’ve heard you get bubblegum and banana from the French at that temp, which sounds fine to me,; I’ll be ramping up the Dupont to see what kind of fruity spice I can get at its top end too, once it starts up. (Hot balcony closet outside should do the trick.)

UPDATE: (9:45 pm):

Good lord but this was a tiring brewday for some reason. It wasn’t particularly long, in fact it was only about 5 hours of work once I got to it, but I guess I got too little sleep last night, and more importantly, since brewing monopolized the kitchen, I didn’t eat lunch, and that really took it out of me. I’m doing basic cleanup, but as for the brewpots, I’m soaking the bastards and will scrub them tomorrow. Which is probably for the best.

That said… well, as soon as the yeast was pitched, I took a shower and headed down to the bus stop. Miss Jiwaku wisely leaves the house on brew days, and I was to meet her for dinner, but while I waited for the bus, I started looking up recipes for California Common or “steam beers,” as they are unofficially known. I have the yeast but I think I might wait till I’m really going to be trapped at home for a while (like, in mid-August) to brew one… it’s certainly not my next brewing project, but it is an upcoming one.

My next brewing project, though, is a double-batch Belgian Pale Ale/American Pale Ale, both for the 15 Minute Hopping Challenge that I and fellow brewer Dax thought up. More about that when I am closer to brewing it…

But for now, I’m back home and the kitchen needs a cleaning, so I’m off to do that. Then… probably writing, and bed. Sometime tomorrow or the next day, Miss Jiwaku and I might finally make some some hoppy soap! (I’m thinking Cascade/Amarillo.)

UPDATE (20 July 2011): The 3711 was bubbling by about 11pm on the 19th — within six hours of the yeast being pitched onto it — and the 3724 was bubbling when I woke up this morning. Good news! The ambient temp in the room with the 3711 is 25°C, which is fine for that yeast, a touch high (since the fermentation temp in the bucket will be a bit higher than that) but I want some fruitiness and spice from the yeast.  I’m looking for a place to stow the 3724, which is bound to seize up at 1.022 or higher unless it gets the warmth it needs, and which is bound to be less fruity/spicy without heat early in its fermentation. (Even now it’s a bit sluggish, and I’m thinking I need to get it in warmer environs in the next few hours or so.)

UPDATE (21 July 2011): The 3711 is bubbling happily in my living room, and probably a bit too hot for its own good, as I get a strong bubblegum, fruity, sweet aroma out of the airlock. That said, it’s in the coolest place in my house, and I don’t really have any means of cooling it further at the moment — I’m using a bottling bucket to ferment it, and that doesn’t fit into my cooler — so it shall be whatever it shall be.  I do think I may want to start using this yeast, at a slightly lower temperature — to do other things, like maybe a Belgian Pale Ale or something. While lots of people see it as an off-flavor, Miss Jiwaku and I like the bubblegum/juicyfruit flavors and aromas.

As for a place to ferment the 3724, I ended up placing it in the common room outside (with a trash bag on the bucket to minimize sunlight penetration, and a sticker on the front in case one of the cleaning ladies or the Housing Office Fascists stupidly decides to throw it out); it’s on top of the fridge in that room, which sits at a relatively steady 29°C these days. That should ensure, for an active fermentation, a temperature inside the bucket of around 33 or 34°C, which is close to this yeast’s limit. I’m curious to see whether I will get any more active Saison characteristics for this. I may have overpitched, I’m not sure… one thing I can say is that too much damned trub got into the 3724 bucket, and I’m definitely going to have to secondary it in a carboy, crash cool it, and clear it with gelatin before bottling. I like my Saisons a bit cloudy, but I doubt even with gelatin that the beer will come all that clear. And since I’ll have already harvested the yeast from the bucket at the end of the primary fermentation, I have nothing to lose by crashing and clearing it in the carboy. Worth a shot, I figure!

At present, I’m chilling (ie. crashing) a tube of the 3724 so I can take a gravity reading. Strangely, even though it’s hot and I pitched a bit starter of yeast, it’s still fermenting less vigorously than the 3711.

UPDATE (8:00pm, 21 July):

It blows my mind to say this, but the sample I pulled from the 3724 has already fermented down to 1.010… in two days. And it’s still going, of course; right now, tasted warm, it’s a little fruity but also a little earthy, a touch spicy. Meanwhile (and understandably, given it’s a few degrees lower in temperature, and I pitched way less yeast), the sample from the 3711 batch is still trucking along at a more modest 1.022, and is decidedly more fruity. (No flavor of bubblegum, though the airlock was throwing off strong bubblegum flavors earlier today.) It’ll probably be a week more for both to get down as low as I expect, which is at least 1.004 for the 3724, and 1.006 or so for the 3711. (Who knows, both might attenuate lower — I seem to get 1.002 most of the time with 3724, and it would make sense in this case too.) I do know I’ll have a hell of a job ahead of me with harvesting the 3724 yeast cake, as an inordinate amount of trub made it into the fermenter. But, nonetheless, exciting news on the fermentation front!

Update (5 August): Well, there it is. The brews have fermented down to about as far as I expect them to go — and, stunningly, the final numbers are:

Both samples tasted quite good, though the 3711 had a slightly fruitier, zingier quality; the Belgian was more spicy.

I’m going to be bottling these soon and then conditioning them for a few weeks, I think; I’m leery to risk the bottle bombs I might get if I carb them up to the pressures most Saisons use in the swing-top bottles I have on hand; it would be safer and easier to get that level of carbonation with kegs (yes, really: carb it up and then serve under very low pressures) but I don’t have enough kegs on hand, and I want to see what bottle conditioning does to the flavor profile, so I’ll just grin and bear it. It’ll be a nice long bottling session, though — I have a little over 40L of Saisons in total!

But, heh, then I’ll have over 40 bottles of Saison, waiting to be savored!

UPDATE (28 August 2011):

Here’s the gravity reading on a sample of the French Saison (3711), from today, just before I bottled the beer:

That is, indeed, 1.000: the driest beer I’ve ever fermented — and that’s despite adjuncts being only 10% of the fermentables! (I used some blue agave nectar.) I suppose part of the reason why is the long (I believe it was overnight) mash at low temps, which allowed not only complete conversion, but a long, long period for the alpha and beta amylase enzymes to convert the long-chain sugars to shorter, more fermentable ones.

It’s very fruity, a little spicy, and it doesn’t really taste like a 1.000 beer. (The mouthfeel is a bit thin, but I figure carbonation should take care of that.) I really, really like it, though, and expect great enjoyment from it when it is ready to drink. I have about 20L of bottles now conditioning.

The insane thing is that this 1.054 OG beer, having been brought down to 1.000, is actually 6.9% ABV. I bottled this with straight table sugar this afternoon, and then I had to head out, so I won’t get around to bottling the Belgian Saison (Wyeast 3724) until tomorrow or Monday.

My gravity reading on the half-batch fermented with Belgian yeast (Wyeast 3724) was pretty low too, by the way: it hit 1.001, though it may well have actually fermented down to 1.000 as well: when I tasted the sample from the tube, it had some more “zing” and bubbliness, which I think means more CO2 in suspension, perhaps even enough to affect the gravity reading. The taste of the this latter Saison from the sampling tube was quite starkly different from the French yeast half of the batch: it was noticeably harsher, with a comparable fruit quality present but less bright and surprising; however, I felt like the spicy, peppery quality of Saison was more present n the 3724. I don’t know if the harshness is fusely or not — never really had the misfortune to brew anything that turned out very fusely — but I’ve read that if you ferment with this yeast at very high temps — like, around 35C, at the top of its temperature spectrum — it can develop some harshness that goes away with conditioning. So I’m hoping that is going to happen in the next month or so. I’m hoping to bring samples to a meetup next month, so I’ll update then, even though the beer will still be relatively young then.

Oh, and the color: nailed it. I may have missed the target OG by a few points, but the beer ended up around the same target ABV, and it’s exactly the color I wanted, and it’s good. I think the spice may be slightly more noticeable thanks to the rye, too. I have high hopes for both batches! All praise to the Saison yeast(s)!

UPDATE (6 Sept. 2011):

Bottled the 3724 (Belgian-yeast) half about a week ago. Carbonation is weak in the sample bottle I tried, but the taste of this stuff is quite stunning. Loads of fruit in the nose and flavor profile, and this is still a very green beer. If I could nail the carbonation level, it would be an outstanding beer, period. Indeed, I might be willing to try adding more priming sugar to bottles to try get to the right level, though I’m leery given the limitations of these swingtop bottles.

I’ll be bringing samples of both halves to the 15 Minute Hopping challenge meetup on the 17th, to get feedback. I think I know which yeast I’m going to end up liking best, but time will tell. I will say that the rye didn’t spice up this beer nearly so much as it does some, and that’s odd. But I think the flavor did enhance the fruitiness somehow. Hmmm.

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