How to Brew Saison Beer | Homebrew Challenge

by Steve Thanos | Last Updated: May 19, 2021

Saisons originated in Wallonia in southern Belgium. In French, Saison means “season.” This style is deep gold in color while having earthy and fruity aromatics.

Their rustic flavors dominate the palate and can be quite a refreshing beer. 

The farmhouse’s recipes differed from brewery to brewery. One constant thing was when these beers were brewed and consumed.

Historically, Saisons were brewed during the beginning of winter; usually from December to March. They were then conditioned in time for farm hands to enjoy during their work in the fields during the summer months; typically from May to September. 

At this time, farmhouses were growing their own barley. Typically this barley was six-row winter barley. 

This barley was the malt typical of the Wallonian country, containing much nitrogenous material (which deepens the color of the malt during kilning), and husk, rich in polyphenols (which deepen the color of the wort during brewing, by oxidation). These two factors gave Saisons a certain acridness.

“Winter barley did not allow for the brewing of refined beers, giving Saisons a rustic character,” writes Yvan De Baets in Farmhouse Ales.

Many brewers were also supplementing their grist with wheat, oats, buckwheat and spelt to brew Saison. This was in large part due to the lower cost for those ingredients and the high cost of barley.

These grains provided pale color, smooth mouthfeel, and additional esters in aroma and flavor. 

It is common for Saisons to have some sourness due to the mixed nature of the traditional yeast used for the style. The conditions under which these yeasts were made fostered wild yeast and bacteria development. This sourness was intentional and desirable, making it an authentic characteristic of the style.

The sourness of Saison is unique and is attributed to secondary fermentation. This is where the wild yeast would thrive.

Brewers would reuse the yeast and the result was a controlled infection that would lead to the light souring of the beer. 

Style Profile for Saison

Appearance

Saisons are usually anywhere from light golden to pale orange to darker amber orange. A large, long lasting, rocky head is common for the style. Clarity is poor. Haze in this style is common.

Aroma

There is very little malt character. Nose is dominated by fruit esters, often citrus fruits such as orange and lemon. There can be little herb, spice, or alcohol aroma characteristics. Low to moderate hop aroma.

The hops, even will be spicy or floral. A low to moderate sourness or acidity can be present. No diacetyl should be present. 

Flavor

When tasting a Saison, the fruity and spicy character will be the main component. Malt presence is soft. Some alcohol and tart sourness will be in the background. The fruity notes come across as citrus, like the aroma. If spices are added, they should not overpower and dominate.

Yeast is the major component in this style. The phenols will be peppery and complement the hop bitterness. The hop bitterness should not overpower other aspects of the beer.

Saisons have extremely high attenuation, along with carbonation. 

Mouthfeel

Mouthfeel is light to medium. High carbonation and effervescent. The tart character is common for the style, but is not puckering. Alcohol can be medium to medium-high, but warming effect should be low.

A dry finish along with a prickly acidity rounds off the end that should be balanced.  

Food Pairings

When it comes to pairing a Saison with food works well with many dishes.  Pad Thai pair well. Spicy cuisine such as Mexican, Indian, or Asian foods pair well due to the high level of carbonation across the palate.

Cheese that pairs well includes: Aged Chevre, Colby,Gorgonzola,Triple Creme, Asiago, Gontina, and Parmesan. 

Tips for Brewing your own Saison

Grain

There are varied opinions for the grain grist for a Saison. You can use a single Pilsner malt, a combination of pilsner malts from different origins, or a mix of malts for some more complexity and color. 

Vienna and/or Munich can be added for some complexity, as can some wheat malt. Crystal malts can be added for a darker Saison. Acidified malt can be added to the grain bill to add some sourness. 

Hops

Since the hop profile for this style is pretty mellow, a restrained,  floral, earthy, and/or spicy hop with medium to low bitterness is common for the style. German noble varieties such as Tettenag, Saaz, Hallertauer, and Spalt.

All of these choices give off a nice floral, spicy notes that work well with the soft lager-character of this beer style.

Also you can consider Styrian Golding, Mount Hood, Liberty, Brewer’s Gold, Santiam, and East Kent Goldings. 

Yeast

Like most Belgian beers, yeast is important. There is a wide selection of yeast to choose from for this style.

They include the following:

  • White Labs: Belgian Saison I (WLP565), Belgian Saison II (WLP566), or Belgian Saison III (WLP585).
  • Wyeast: Wyeast Belgian Saison (3724) or French Saison (3711). 

Saison By the Numbers

  • Color Range: 5 – 14 SRM
  • Original Gravity: 1.048 – 1.065 OG
  • Final Gravity: 1.002 – 1.008 FG
  • IBU Range: 22 – 35
  • ABV Range: 3.5 – 8.9% (table)   5.0 – 7.0% (standard)

Martin Keen’s Saison Recipe

Grain

  • 67%          7 lbs     Pilsner American
  • 19%          2 lb       Munich Malt Type I
  •   9%          1 lb       White Wheat Malt  
  •   5%          8 oz      Sugar, Corn (Dextrose)

Hops

  • 1 oz         Stryian Goldings – Boil – 60 min
  • 1 oz         Stryian Goldings – Boil – 10 min

Yeast

  • 1.0 pkg   Wyeast Belgian Saison #3724

Directions

  1. Mash at 152°F (66°C) for 60 mins
  2. Boil for 60 mins 

Transcript: Today, I’m a brewing a Saison. And I think it’s going to get a little heated. My name is Martin Keen, I’m taking The Homebrew Challenge tto brew 99 beers in 99 weeks.

And yes, I’m one of those guys that does enjoy a good Saison.

Now, in the course of brewing today’s period, we’re going to be talking about fermentation temperature and specifically about fermenting warm, how we can keep the beer warm while it’s fermenting. And that’s for two reasons, one for the style of beer that I’m doing a Saison, generally, these are fermented a little warmer than your average beer.

And secondly, because of the yeast strain I’m using, which tends to misbehave, if it doesn’t get exactly what it needs in terms of temperature. Speaking of temperature, I’m going to be mashing this one at 152 Fahrenheit, 67 Celsius for about an hour.

Now the beer style of Saison is a farmhouse ale with a French in Belgium origin. In fact, Saison in French, it means that ‘season.’

And this beer is going to be about 6% ABV. I’m going to have an original gravity here of about 1.055. To build this beer I’m using a lot of light malt. So this is going to be a light colored beer. Uh, my primary base malt is American Pilsner, and that makes up 67% of my grist.

In addition to that, I’m adding 19% of Munich type I. So that’s the light Munich malt, and I’m adding in 9% of white wheat malt. And then not going into the mash, but the final 5% of my gravity points are coming from corn sugar.

Now to get that spicy, tart, and funky characteristic of a Saison, well, you really need to use the right yeast. I am going to be using for this. WYeast 3724, this is Belgian Saison. And this is a yeast that you’re going to want to ferment warm by fermenting warm that will generate some of those seasonal characteristics we’re looking for.

If you don’t ferment warm well, the yeast isn’t going to like that very much. Wyeast in fact say that this needs to be fermented pretty warm to avoid a stuck fermentation.

Now, how warm? Well, Wyeast say that this yeast will work between 70 Fahrenheit and 95 Fahrenheit and it recommends to push it to about 90 Fahrenheit or 32 Celsius in order to avoid that dreaded stuck fermentation. So that’s what I’m going to do.

The question is though, how do I keep the fermenter at that temperature? One way is to use a space heater, which is exactly what I’ve got here in my chest freezer. I have this mounted on the wall of the freezer and it’s connected to a temperature controller. It turns on and keeps the space warm. In fact, that’s how I’m keeping this keg of fermenting beer warm at around 72 Fahrenheit right now. But this is not what I’m going to do for today’s beer.

Hops wise this is the Styrian Golding show. Going to use that for both bittering hops and at the end for a bit of flavor as well. So I’m going to be putting in steering Golding right at the start of the boil. That’s my bittering hop. This is a nice low alpha acid hop, which is what we’re looking for.

And then I’m going to add my last packet in here with 10 minutes to go. Um, and that will just add a little bit of earthy, spicy flavor to the beer. And just before I cut off the boil, that is also when I’ll be adding in my corn sugar. I think the Styrian Golding is it’s ready to go now.

Now, my cononical it’s not going to fit on a chest freezer, but I’ve got to a much better solution to warm the wort up in here. And let us see, use this heating pad, which I’m going to install in side of the jacket for the CF5.

So here’s the setup I’ve got now. Normally I just use a glycol chiller with a, uh, a cooling coil and run glycol through here to cool down my wort. But of course this time I need to keep it fairly warm. It’s needs to be warmer than the room temperature.

So what I’m doing is I have replaced my usual temperature controllers that are plugged into my glycol chiller with one provided to me from spike brewing. And that has both a cooling and heating plug. And it cycles between the two based upon the reading from this temperature probe here.

So either turn on that heating pad, or it will run the glycol chiller.

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06/19/2021 11:29 am GMT

And that’s necessary because once I get this to 90 degrees and fermentation starts, then the wort’s going to warm up and I don’t want it to get above 95. So I need to keep that in check. And the way that I’m going to do that is the glycol chiller will kick in if it needs to bring the temperature down a little bit.

Now, I was a little bit aggressive with my cooling through the plate chiller. I ended up, uh, cooling this down to 74 degrees. So I do have the heating pad on right now, but I’m going to put the yeast in any way. It shouldn’t be too much of an issue.

So I’m gonna put the yeast in now.

Okay. And then put my cooling coil back in. So now I have glycol when I need it to cool this thing down on a heat pad to warm it up. When that needs warming, going to leave this now for a couple of weeks, then cold crash, and then finally get to taste a beer I am very excited to try.

You go for the fancy glasses, fancy ones have been pulled out yes. I think it’s well-deserved because this is a beer I’m most excited about. Um, I suppose we should do the, what does it look like? What does it smell like? Right. That’s get on with it. So, uh, yeah.

Let’s what do we think about this color here? Nice golden color. Golden, yellow, quite light yellow. Um, see a little bit bubbles in there. Mm. It smells like farmhouse ale. I don’t really know how to describe that. I mean, it’s certainly got aroma and it’s not a malty aroma. It’s not a hoppier aroma and it’s not too fruity either. Not really not. Or like citrusy, aroma. Yeah. Interesting.

Okay. Well, let’s, let’s move on to the main event.

I hate it. JK. That’s really good. I want to know your thoughts. This is your style of beer. Yeah. This is what I was hoping for. This is awesome. Oh, wow. You have really those, um, those sort of farmhouse early flavors to this.

Yeah. There isn’t anything like too overpowering or anything that I can like completely pick out straight away. Like it’s not too spicy. It’s not too sweet. It’s not too dry. It’s not too hoppy. Not too yeasty. Like it’s, it’s just, it’s very mellow.

Yeah, that’s right. It’s balanced. And I think just right. We’ve finally got a Belgian beer that you like. I know it’s kind of shocking. It’s absolutely delicious. I’m really, really happy with what you did with this.

Okay. So Saison = roaring success. Great. Um, next week we’re staying light, but we’re going to be upping a thing or two with the next beer. Okay. So until then, cheers.

I am the former President of my homebrew club, Plainfield Ale and Lager Enthusiasts (PALE) in the western suburbs of Chicago, IL. I brew on my BIAB system with my incredibly patient and understanding wife, adorable 9 year old daughter, and 12 year old brew dog.