The Belgian Saison is a beer for warmer weather. Traditionally, brewers in southern Belgium would brew Saisons in the spring for consumption throughout the summer. Want to try home brewing a Saison beer for this summer? Then read on and you’ll be able to create your own extract or all-grain saison beer recipe!
Saisons, as with many Belgian beers, are difficult to place into strict style guidelines. They’re farmhouse ales, often made with adjunct grains, such as spelt, oats, and wheat, and a mix of herbs and spices — basically whatever can be found around the farmhouse. They’re a great beer for exercising creativity, and one of the few styles that lends itself to an “anything goes” approach.
Still, there are some general guidelines to keep in mind when brewing a Saison beer. According to Michael Jackson’s Beer Companion, Saisons range from “child strength” all the way up to “royal” strength, with the strongest version, la saison de mars, having an original gravity as high as 1.060. According to the BJCP Style Guidelines, a Saison should be “a refreshing, medium to strong fruity/spicy ale, with a distinctive yellow-orange color, highly carbonated, well hopped, and dry with a quenching acidity.” Further, according to the BJCP, Saisons should fit more or less within these guidelines:
- IBUs: 20 – 35
- Color (SRM): 5 – 14
- OG: 1.048 – 1.065
- FG: 1.002 – 1.012
- ABV: 5 – 7%
Here are some suggestions for ingredients to use when brewing a Saison. Just keep in mind there are probably at least as many saison recipes as there are brewers, so don’t let this list restrain your creativity.
- Beer enthusiast author, Michael Jackson states that “local hard water may have helped provide the body, mouth-feel and extraction of flavors from the grains…” Consider using relatively hard water for increased body and flavor. Using Burton water salts may be appropriate. This is particularly important wine brewing a saison all-grain recipe
- All-Grain: Start with a very light 2-Row Malt, such as Maris Otter or Belgian Pilsner malt. You may want to use a little Belgian Aromatic malt (20L) for color. Consider throwing in some Munich, Vienna, or Belgian Biscuit malt for added complexity. Small amounts of raw oats, spelt, or wheat can contribute additional complexity and body.
- Extract: If brewing with malt extract, use Steam Freak Light Malt Extract for your base. If brewing partial mash, consider preparing a “mini-mash” with some Vienna, Munich, and a touch of Belgian Aromatic Malt. Again, use a small amount of raw oats, spelt, or wheat for added complexity and body.
- Belgians are notorious for adding sugars to their beers. In the case of the saison, adding some light candi sugar or corn sugar can help achieve a dry finish.
- Saisons are typically brewed with Belgian or UK hop varieties, with an emphasis on the early hop additions. Other European hops are sometimes used as well. When brewing a Saison beer consider using UK Kent Goldings, Fuggles, and Styrian Golding. Sometimes saisons are dry-hopped.
- Just about anything goes here. You might try orange peel, star anise, peppercorns, chamomile, but try not to go overboard: herbs and spices should enhance the characteristics of the yeast and hops, rather than dominate them. Herbs and spices may be added early in the boil for bittering or late in the boil for flavoring and aroma. Herbs and spices added during secondary fermentation will contribute to aroma. Usually an ounce or so is plenty for a 5 gallon batch, but it depends on the herb or spice in question. When in doubt, use a small amount, and if you want to use more in a future batch you can do that.
- Use a Belgian ale yeast, such as Wyeast’s #1388. To get a dry finish, we need a yeast that achieves a low FG.
- Advanced: Some Saisons are made with a blend of yeasts. If you feel comfortable with it, you could try using a couple different Belgian yeasts. If you really want to go crazy, you could try an open fermentation, but chances of a contamination with this method are very high, and therefore not usually recommended.
What ingredients and techniques do you use when home brewing a Saison beer? Do you have a Saison beer recipe you’d like to share. Share in the comments below!
Til next time…Cheers!
David Ackley is a beer writer, brewer, and self-described “craft beer crusader.” He holds a General Certificate in Brewing from the Institute of Brewing and Distilling and is founder of the Local Beer Blog.