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Biere de Miel – Saison with Local Honey

March 18, 2013

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Over the past few years, Saison has become one of my favorite styles.  The history of the style (farmhouse ales for farm workers) was always interesting to me, and there’s so much room for interpretation under the Saison, or Farmhouse Ale, stylistic umbrella.

The style seems to have become more popular in the craft beer world over the last few years, but personally I don’t find a lot of differentiation between those available.  There are certainly some good and inspired ones – Hill Farmstead’s Arthur was a revelation for me, and I’ve heard their others are just as good, if not better.  Boulevard’s Tank 7 is another that is worth seeking out.  Baltimore’s Stillwater Artisanal specializes in the area and are quite good at what they do.  Looking abroad, Saison DuPont is the absolute classic.  I’ve also recently had the pleasure of trying Hopfenstark and Crooked Stave Vielle, which were unique and delicious.

More after the jump.

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Outside of some of the upper end offerings, American Saisons can be very one dimensional – dry, lots of spice, no fruit.  The best examples are dry but maintain a solid mouthfeel, zesty carbonation and are overall effervescent and flavorful with notes of fruit, spice and grain.  Historically, Saisons would have been “infected” with wild yeasts and bacteria, which would have added a tartness and some funk.

I’ve brewed a few Saisons that have turned out well, but really wanted to try some new things.  Previously, I had really restricted myself to traditional ingredients – pilsen malt, noble hops.  This time around, I decided to brew one without special ordering any ingredients and rather opting for those I keep on hand.  This is intentional and in the spirit of a more traditional farmhouse ale, which was likely something of a kitchen sink brew.  I also want it to be fairly hoppy.

I keep basic 2-row around, which would be my base malt.  I also usually keep flaked oats and red wheat around, as well as a variety of hops – both domestic and imported.  The oats and wheat will play well with the highly attenuative Saison yeast.  That is to say, they should help maintain mouthfeel and a bit of residual sugar while the aggressive yeast chews away at anything in its path.

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In terms of hops, I bittered with some locally grown Cascades, which I happened to have a decent quantity of.  I finished (late and dry) with Motueka hops.  Typically, Saisons are brewed with a noble hop variety.  Motueka are bred from noble hops (Saaz), but grown in New Zealand.  I think their lemony flavors will lend well to a Saison.

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This Saison is actually a sub-type of Saison called Biere de Miel.  This is essentially a honey saison.  The fermentable sugar was comprised of roughly 20% local, wildflower honey.  The taste of the honey was incredible – much better than the generic clover honey you get at the grocery store – and I’m really excited to taste it in the beer.

With the water, I basically went with a modified Wallonia (Belgium; home of Saison) profile.  The actual Wallonian profile is extremely hard, with ~350 ppm bicarbonate and plenty of the other essential water ions.  I went with a profile similar to this, but with only about 100 ppm bicarbonate.  The rest should be close to the real thing.

Finally, I captured some wild yeast for a bottle of the aforementioned Hill Farmstead Arthur, which to my knowledge is a blend of Brettanomyces strains.  I’ll be kegging the majority of this batch, but doing an extended secondary with the remainder and adding the Brett.  This will also spend time in contact with some white wine oak and eventually be bottled and aged.

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Here’s my recipe:

Biere de Miel
16-C Saison
Brewed 3/17/13

Size: 8 gal
Efficiency: 79% (measured)
Attenuation: 84% (estimated)
Original Gravity: 1.057 (measured)
Terminal Gravity: 1.009 (estimated)

Color:   9.43 SRM
Alcohol: 6.22%
IBU: 35.6

Water (all in ppm):

Ca: 57  Mg: 15  Na: 19  SO₄: 106  Cl: 28  HCO₃: 97

Ingredients:

  • 10 lbs. Canadian 2-row
  • 1 lb. Aromatic Malt
  • 1 lb. Red Wheat Malt
  • 1 lb. Flaked Oats
  • 0.5 lb Crystal 20L
  • 3 lb Local Wildflower Honey, added with 10 minutes remaining in boil
  • 2 oz Cascade (6.2%) – boiled 60 minutes
  • 2 oz Motueka – boiled 5 minutes
  • 2 oz Motueka – “whirlpool”
  • 2 oz Motueka – dry hop
  • Wyeast 3724 – Belgian Saison (DuPont) – 2 packages
  • Brett blend – Hill Farmstead Arthur.  To be added to 3 gallons in secondary.

Notes:

  • 3/17: Brewed on a Sunday, by myself, while neighbors wore green and got sloshed.  Had a couple of beers while I brewed, including a Saison DuPont and a Southern Tier Live.  The latter is a new offering and I was really pleased with it.
  • Undershot volume and overshot gravity somewhat significantly.  Still getting used to the high boil-off rate of my bigger kettle.
  • Added 1.5 gallons of extra, filtered and treated water, to the end of the boil.  With that adjustment, my volume and gravity were right back where I wanted them.
  • Have been propagating the HF brett on my stirplate for the last several days.  Transferred to a mason jar and put in the fridge to settle.  Looks like I have more than enough.
  • Chilled to 75, split into two fermenters, pitched yeast and left to ferment at an ambient just shy of 70.  Once the yeast gets active, the exothermic fermentation should bring it up to 74 or so, which is right where I want it.
  • 3/26: Fermentation mostly wrapped up with a gravity of 1.007 (woah, not bad).  Krausen has dropped for the most part, but a thin layering of yeast persists.  Still some stinging CO2 coming off of the fermenter, so there’s still some kind of activity, though I suspect it is mostly cleanup work.  I’d like to get some of this in bottles in another 10 days or so for a competition, but no sense rushing it.  Excited to get the oak and brett version transferred and inoculated.
  • 3/29: Fermentation seems complete at 1.006 and the yeast has finally dropped.  Transferred 3 gallons into a glass carboy (filled to neck), along with a slurry of HF Arthur Brett and a handful of medium toast oak cubes that had been soaking in Sauvignon Blanc for about a month.  FWIW, the super-oaky wine left behind in the mason jar tastes incredible.
  • Racked the remaining 4.5 gallons into a sanitized better bottle to condition.  I am considering either dry hopping with more Motueka, or adding some of the oak cubes to this batch before kegging.  I also might leave it as-is.  Undecided for now.
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