A few years ago, while flipping through Beer Advocate magazine issue #75, I stumbled across a detailed article about Saisons, written by none other than Drew Beechum. The article was fascinatingly romantic, convincing me that the Saison was the ultimate summer sipper. And thus the concept for Beachcomber was born!
Beechum shared four key points to crafting a great Saison:
- Start cold: 63-65 F.
- No airlocks since Saison yeast is pressure sensitive. Used sanitized foil during primary instead.
- Let it ride. After a few days in the 60s, let free rise (avoid 90s).
- Use tons of yeast – a half gallon or more per standard 5 gallon batch.
I’ve always followed this advice, without hesitation. Beachcomber has been an incredible beer from day one, undergoing only minor recipe tweaks over the years.
Recently, however, I decided that I wanted to dive a bit more into Beechum’s advice. Specifically, I was intrigued by the pressure sensitivity of Saison yeast and recommendation #2. Having recently wrapped up a near one-year-experiment a few weeks ago, I thought a less intense, quick experiment was due.
On April 11th I brewed Batch 009 of Beachcomber, our most brewed recipe to date. Drawing inspiration from last month’s vertical tasting, I reverted to an older recipe iteration to try and enhance the tropical fruit aromas. Brew day went smoothly on our all-electric system; mashing extremely low (146 F) to ensure a dry finish, boiling for 60 minutes with a bittering and whirpool hop charge only, and transferring to two 6.5 gallon Better Bottles.
The only variable introduced into this batch was that one Better Bottles received sanitized foil instead of a stopper and airlock, in theory, testing the pressure sensitivity of the Saison yeast and it’s impact on flavor.
Both Better Bottles underwent identical post-boil handling; same fermentation temperature schedule, same dry-hopping regimens, and same kegging date. After two weeks on gas, I poured a small taster of each. Tasting notes can be found below.
Control Batch (Sanitized Foil)
Appearance – Pours a brilliant straw color with orange hues when placed in the sunlight. Frothy two-finger head sticks like glue to the glass rim long after the beer has vanished. Slight haze in the beer due to the yeast strain and high levels of dry hopping. As anticipated, the appearance is spot on to previous batches.
Smell – A big whiff reveals strong tangerine and clementine aromas. Emerging from the background is the hall-mark phenolic clove-like spiciness from the yeast strain and familiar potpourri aroma from previous batches. As the beer warms the citrus aromas are traded for white wine grapes.
Taste – First sip is noticeably lemon and lime tasting, with orange pith and overripe fruit salad also present. Mid palate features a flavor reminiscent of pulpy orange juice. As the beer moves to the back of the tongue the yeast derived spiciness becomes prevalent with increasing intensity. As the beer warms, the black pepper spice flavor becomes more prominent, finishing with a sweet orange flavor.
Mouthfeel – The low mash temperature shows in the mouthfeel, leaving the beer very crisp and dry (as intended!). I do sense a slightly astringent finish, which could be the pithy flavors resonating with my tongue or perhaps a touch of grassiness from the heap of dry hops.
Overall – This batch tastes very similar to the November 11th version, as intended. The appearance, aroma, and tasted are well received, but I do want to work on minimizing the astringent finish. All in all, one of the better batches in recent memory.
Experimental Batch (Stopper with Airlock)
Appearance – Identical to the Control Batch.
Smell – My nose picks up overripe fruit salad (mostly sun soaked pineapple) combined with herbal and clove-y yeast derived aromas. I swear there is also a mild aroma of Sprite, or perhaps I am just confusing that with lemon/lime notes. As the beer warms, there is a noticeable Pilsner malt aroma and the fruit and lemon is swapped for grapefruit. Wine is also noticeable, but less intense than the Control Batch.
Taste – Cracked black pepper leads the way here. After a few sips I also pick up on orange pith, mango, and pineapple flavors. The finish is predominantly rye malt flavored. I also sense a sweetness component in this version. Perhaps from the hop varietals?
Mouthfeel – Excellent mouthfeel, great carbonation, and easy drinking. This version does not reveal an astringent finish but it is noticeably sweeter than the Control Batch.
Overall – More spicy and less fruity than the Control Batch. There is also a perceived residual sweetness that may be due to hop selection but could also be a result of the pressure sensitivity of the yeast. Unfortunately I did not measure the FG of this version (doh!), but I wonder if the pressure caused the Saison yeast to attenuate less?
In conclusion, based on my taste preference, I can honestly confirm Beechum’s recommendation to use sanitized foil instead of a stopper and airlock for Saison fermentation. It allows the fruity yeast esters to shine through instead of the phenols. It would be interesting to push this to the extreme some day and perform a true open fermentation! It would also be fun to do a triangle test (hint) with some blinded tasters to see what their preference may be.