saison beer

What About Saison by Barry Cranston


What About Saison,

What About Saison, Can you fall in love with a style of beer? I really like nearly all styles and variations of beer but over the last year I have been seduced by the delicate allure of the Saison. Originally brewed for seasonal farm workers by French farmers it covers a broad style range. Historically it was a refreshing session beer at about 4% abv. Since the 1940’s the alcohol has drifted up to 6% or more. Therefore it allows for personal preferences and creativity by the brewer. Also it needs to be brewed at temperatures that range from 20oC to the high 20’s so it is a perfect beer to brew in the sweltering days of summer.

May I take you on my journey in brewing a Saison?

My first stop was to look for Saisons in the AABC style guides .

Lots and lots of words for this style but look firstly at the vital statistics.

OG                   FG                   IBUs          ABV

1048-1065    1002-1012      20-35        5-7%


So there are a lot of decisions to be made. I read the style guide then picked out the essential elements that make a Saison a “Saison”.

Appearance: distinctive pale orange but may be golden or amber. Long-lasting, dense, rocky white to ivory head “Belgian lace”. Clarity is poor to good. Effervescent.

Aroma: High fruitiness herb, spice. fruity esters citrus fruits such as oranges or lemons .A low/moderate sourness or

acidity may be present. The malt character is light.

Flavour: Combination of fruity and spicy flavours supported by a soft malt character, a low to moderate alcohol presence and

tart sourness. Extremely high attenuation gives a characteristic dry finish. Hop flavour is low to moderate, and is generally spicy or earthy in character. Hop bitterness may be moderate to high A low to moderate tart sourness may be present, High carbonation, moderately sulphate water and high attenuation give a very dry finish with a long, bitter, sometimes spicy aftertaste.

Mouthfeel: Light to medium body. Very high carbonation with an effervescent quality. A low to moderate tart character may be present but should be refreshing.

Overall Impression: A refreshing, medium to strong fruity/spicy ale with a distinctive yellow-orange colour, highly

carbonated, well hopped, fruity and dry with a quenching acidity.

The next step for me was to develop a recipe that met the needs of the style and my own personal preferences.

Let’s go through my most recent recipe to demonstrate the reasons for the choices of ingredients and processes.

OG 1.054, FG 1.004. Needs to have high attenuation with a dry finish but I don’t won’t the alcohol to be over powering.

IBU 30. Needs a balancing bitterness but I didn’t want it be dominant. With a BUGU of 0.54 this is a good balance.

Alcohol 6.5%, 6.8% bottled. In the range but could reduce OG to 1,050 or less.

ADA 92%. Gives the beer the needed lightness of body, dryness of finish and refreshing crispness.




 What About Saison

Amount Ingredient Character Contribution % or IBU
3,5 kg Vienna malt* Rich, aromatic malt, bready light toast 63.06%
0.5 kg Munich malt* Strong malty flavour and aroma, biscuits notes and an orange-amber colour 9.01%
0.5 kg Pilsen malt* Clean grainy, hints of sulphur 9.01%
0.5 kg Wheat, Torrified Light, creamy, smooth character as well as a mild toasted wheat flavour, aids head retention 9.01%
0.1 kg Acid malt* Sour, lactic adds to the crispness 1.8%
0.1 kg Cara Ruby* Sweet caramel, deep red, adds to colour 1.8%
0.35 kg White Candi Sugar Aids attenuation, lightness of body and dry finish 6.31%
35 gm Hallertaurer Hops 6.5% 60 mins Adds a pungent spiciness when used as a bittering hop          27.2
10 gm Saaz Hops 4% 10 mins Magnificently spicy             1
10 gm Styrian Goldings Hops 5.4% Delicate, slightly spicy             1.3
1 gm Calcium Sulphate mash Adds some crispness  
3 gm Calcium Chloride mash Boosts malt character to balance very light body  
1 tsp Yeast nutrient Yeast needs all the help it can get  
 1/2 tablet Whirlfloc Can have haze but should not be from trub  
 1 vial WLP565 Belgian Saison 1 Ale It produces earthy, peppery, and spicy notes. Slightly sweet  
Or 1 vial WLP568 Belgian style Saison ale yeast blend The strains work in harmony to create complex, fruity aromas and flavors. The blend of yeast strains encourages complete fermentation in a timely manner. Phenolic, spicy, earthy, and clove like flavors are also created  

Castle malts

Most of the ingredients are easily linked to a character of the beer that is wanted. However some might seem to be out of place. I could use more Pilsner malt and less Vienna and Munich malts but I find the toasty malts add to the complexity, provide a good colour and allow lightness of body without thinness. 

I could use more calcium sulphate and leave out the calcium chloride to reinforce the crispness. However with a very high ADA I didn’t want the bitterness to be too harsh.

The WLP565 yeast needs to be started above 20oC and allowed to reach the high 20’s. Otherwise it tends to stop and sulk, very hard to get restarted. Full bodied, cloying Saisons are to be avoided. A very good and safe alternative is the WLP568 Saison Blend if attenuation or temperature is a problem. A great yeast to use anyway.

The recipe is only the beginning. The correct process is also essential.

I mash this beer at 63oC for 80 minutes to ensure good attenuation. Then ten minutes at 68oC to ensure conversion. Then run off and sparge as normal. I always boil at for 90 minutes but it could be a bit less if needed.

Let it ferment for three to four weeks to be sure the yeast has done its job. Start at a relatively low 20-22oC and allow the fermentation to increase the temperature to the mid or high twenties.

I usually bulk prime with 140 gm of dextrose at bottling to ensure a good carbonation without having bottle bombs. If you keg you can increase the carbonation to your own liking.

 The great thing about this beer is that it is really drinkable when it is young but it also ages exceptionally well. Also it can be hazy so it is a good beer to take to picnics, homebrew meetings etc. It doesn’t matter if it is shaken up a bit.

I haven’t added spices to the boil because I believe the yeast adds enough character by itself. However I have made a lemon myrtle infusion (1 gm in a coffee plunger, add boiling water and allow to cool) and added that to last 5 litres at bottling. The lemon myrtle melds very well with the Saison and reinforces the fruity character and crispness. So feel free to experiment with this style of beer.

Non Mash Versions

What about Saison

If you want to make an extract version then you could replace the base malts with; 3 kg of Briess Munich liquid malt, 0.5 kg of wheat malt, 0.4 kg of white candi sugar or dextrose. Steep the 100 gm of carared. Follow your normal boil procedure adding the hops as stated in the recipe. You can add the calcium sulphate and calcium chloride to the boil. Aim to have 20 to 22 litres in the fermenter.

For a kit version you could start with a dry blonde lager, 0.5 kg of wheat malt and 1.3 kg of Briess Munich liquid malt. Steep the 100 gm of carared and add 12 gm of Saaz finishing hops.

So that was my Saison. What will yours be like?

Brew Well