Whenever summer arrives I get the itch to brew a saison. You need something effervescent that goes down easy in the heat.
Traditionally these beers were brewed for consumption by Belgian farm workers during the hot summer months. Fast forward to modern day and saisons have become so popular that they are brewed year round. There are now even seasonal variations, with spring, summer, autumn, and winter versions. It's one of if not the most versatile styles. Color, malt, hops, yeast, spices, and gravity are all fair game for tweaking. There are no rules.
But I still think saison is best brewed for summer and it is now summer, so yes, 'tis the season for saison.
Summer Saison Recipe
In this beer I am looking for something very drinkable. Too many saisons these days are way too high in alcohol, limiting their drinkability. Farm workers weren't drinking 9% saisons while working in the field.
This recipe keeps the alcohol in check and uses a large amount of wheat to lend a refreshing acidity and soft mouthfeel. The styrian golding and saaz hops produce a pleasant combination of floral and spicy notes. The hop aroma blends in beautifully with the fruitiness of the yeast.
Hop bitterness is on the low end and the finish is bone dry. A slight wheat tartness cleans up the aftertaste and leaves you instantly wanting another sip.
The yeast really is the main player in a saison, and you have tons of strains to choose from. This recipe uses Wyeast 3711 French Saison. It's an especially good choice for extract brewers. Since you're not performing a mash, you can't control the fermentability of the wort. This yeast compensates for that and should dry out an extract-based wort no problem.
This is a simple recipe, as are most of mine. I think simple is the key with saison though. Step back and let the yeast do its work.
Original Gravity: 1.050
Final Gravity: 1.008
Batch Size: 5 gal
Boil length: 90 minutes
6.20 lbs Belgian Pilsner Malt (70%)
1.77 lbs German Wheat Malt (20%)
0.89 lbs Vienna Malt (10%)
1 oz Styrian Goldings (3.8% AA) – 60 min
0.5 oz Saaz (3.0% AA) – 20 min
0.5 oz Styrian Goldings (3.8% AA) – 20 min
0.5 oz Saaz (3.0% AA) – flameout
0.5 oz Styrian Goldings (3.8% AA) – flameout
Wyeast 3711 French Saison
Pitch the yeast at 66°F and let it free rise to wherever it wants to go. No additional heat is needed with this strain.
Summer Saison – Extract Version
Follow the recipe above but for the malt use:
3.91 lbs Pilsner DME
1.12 lbs Wheat DME
0.89 lbs Vienna Malt
Keep in mind that most wheat DMEs are actually a mixture of wheat and barley. Therefore you may need to use a higher proportion of wheat DME to get the same amount of wheat as the original recipe. 65/35 is a common wheat/barley ratio.
Vienna malt needs to be mashed, so normal steeping methods aren't going to cut it. No worries though. You can do a mini mash of sorts because the Vienna has enough diastatic power to convert its own starches.
Do this: Add the vienna to the grain bag as normal and steep it in 1.25 quarts of 150°F water. Use a small enough sauce pan so that the water fully covers the grain. Hold it at 150°F for one hour. That will convert the starches in the malt into sugar. Remove the grain bag, add the wort to the brew kettle, and proceed as normal.
As stated above, Wyeast 3711 is a super attenuator. If you can't acquire 3711, then other good options are the White Labs Saison I, II, and III strains. These strains are more finicky than 3711 and usually need some extra heating to fully ferment. It may also be a good idea to add some simple sugars to the malt bill if you use these strains in order to increase attenuation. Try substituting half of the Vienna malt with cane sugar.
3711 is a monster yeast. In the right conditions it may ferment past the estimated 1.008 final gravity. My first batch sat for a month and a half and it kept fermenting all the way down to below 1.000! So don't bottle too early and don't be surprised if the yeast keeps on eating sugars for weeks.
Try out the recipe and let me know what you think down in the comments. Feel free to ask any questions.
Enjoy what I think is the perfect summer beer.