In a recent Session, Steve blogged about his perfect beer. He described a Saison, but, with a sick twist of dark malt and New Zealand hops! Bloody weirdo.
I thought this was interesting. Partly because the beer he described was so far from what I thought a saison to be, and partly because, as I brew more, the more I appreciate the skill of people who do this kind of thing of thing for real; regardless of what you THINK you want the beer to be like, it never really seems to happen that way - whereas the really good brewers appear to get it right more often than not. May be that is harsh on us real amateurs....perhaps what we drink from others is the result of lots of practice, mistakes, and small test brews. I admit that, even with my crap set up and bucket chemistry approach I've not made a really crap beer....oh, hang on, I take that back....but anyway, malt, water, hops and yeast tend to have made something palatable.
I suppose it's a bit like cooking....you only really get to taste the dish from the chef when they've tweaked and tailored it. But my beer has always struck me to be something like my photography....in my head the picture has always looked better than the actual image. In my head, I'm Ansel Adams, but the pictures look more like they were taken by Tony Adams. In my beer, I'm more Yosser Hughes than Sarah Hughes...
So here was an interesting test. Steve knew what he wanted, and I knew I could brew it, but would it really be any good? Steve suggested the name, Overseas Dictator, and I thought the following would be both a record of a collaborative brew (he got the brains, I got the boiler...), and also a description of the process should people be interesting in taking up home brewing.
So, here we go. My technique is known as BIAB or brew in a bag. Here you forego the conventions of grist to liquor ratios and mash in the boiler. This is ok for the small volumes I make (9 litres), but a bigger brew would require some thinking about and dunk sparging. I have dealt with water chemistry tweaks here, so adding brewing salts, I get the water heating up to about 70C.
Here are the malts for this brew, and this is where my first problems lie. A bit of research would suggests pale malt base is usual. Check....there is Maris Otter and Pilsner here, but I saw Vienna, Golden Promise, and a range of other pale malts added to the water. I suppose that all makes sense; Saison was typically a farmhouse brew, and they were not going to get sniffy about the exact malt, although they were largely malted not roasted...far too busy to do this I assume!
However, Steve wanted Carafa and Chocolate Wheat in there. These give colour, but also a nice roasted/chocolate hit. However, since Steve's idea was a bit unconventional, it was difficult to get hold of how much of these malts needed to go in. In the end they came out at about 5% of the malt bill, and this, on reflection was wrong. There is a handful of acid malt in here too, just to get that pH adjusted properly.
And here are the grains, in all their glory, mashing for 90 minutes. The thermal properties of my boiler (and water) are such that I just check on the temperature every 15 minutes and give the water a warm to get back to temperature. It's a bit of a faff, and I could use insulation, but then If I do that I might as well go straight up to full, traditional all- grain brewing.
Once the mash is over, and after a 10 minute mash out, where the temperature is raised just to extract that last bit of goodness, I drain the bag, and start to bring the wort up to a boil, taking a gravity and temperature reading (to correct the calibrated hydrometer)
On boiling, the first hops go in. Again, I was guessing...I used this advice to work out what my bitterness should be, and then just played around with timings and amounts of hops until I got the right IBU figure. Secondly, these hops were new to me. I knew Nelson Sauvin hops, liking them, but I went with Steve's suggestion of the fantastic lemon- lime hit of Motueka for bittering, followed by another addition late on for aroma (along with some Irish Moss to fine, and some yeast nutrient), and a last minute addition of the orange/ floral Pacifica for aroma. These two really did smell different from the bag, so I am hoping I can pick their individual characters out in the final product.
The observant might now be looking at the photo of the hydrometer jar saying "That looks dark for a Saison!", and I would agree. I think I over did the roasted grains, Steve! Anyway, I now tend to cube and leave overnight. So that all done, and I then perform the MOST IMPORTANT bit of a brew day (apart from sanitising stuff), which is clearing up....this is key if you want to be allowed to do it again ;-)
The following day, I took the cooled wart, decanted it into a sterilised fermenter and added the yeast. Regardless of the colour, the hops, the strength etc., it is the yeast that gives these beers their real flavour. I splashed out on a vial White Labs Saison yeast. I got Type I, described as giving earthy, peppery notes, and apparently coming via the legendary Dupont brewery, which makes a notable Saison. The other great thing about these yeast vials is that for my volumes, I pitch straight in. On opening the vial, I have to say that the yeast smelt fantastic. OK, so there is that yeasty hit you always get, but there was something sweet and really pleasant behind it. Certainly has encouraged me to think about brewing a light version now!!
So there you have it....I hope you're satisfied Steve! You made me make a dark, chocolate Saison....I'm not sure I know of one of those. We shall have to wait and see....the unfermented wort is, erm, interesting. It may be that in a week or so you go the way of all dictators, crashing to Earth in tragic delusions of (beer) grandeur....or your tactical beer like genius may take over the World.....