Brew Day – Belgian Saison

Brew Day!  Today’s brew is the 90 Degree Saison, so named because of its fermentation temperature.  Rests 1 and 2 are over, I’ve recirculated a gallon of wort and am currently running the mash off into the kettle.


The wort is still a bit cloudy, pale, almost colorless – perfect for a Saison!  So far I’ve hit my rest temperatures closely enough, the first was a bit warm, the second a bit cool.  My sparge water is where it needs to be so all I’m doing now is waiting for the wort to run off.

Okay, we’re starting the boil now:


Boil time will be 90 minutes.  I use that as my default time after conversations with brewers.  They say the 90 minute boil makes a better beer through more kettle caramelization and more DMS driven off.  So what’s good enough for a GABF Small Brewery of the Year award winner is good enough for me!

So now we’ve finished the boil and we’re starting the chill.  I use a copper tubing immersion chiller.


Beer is now in its fermentation home, a cable tub with a heating blanket in it.  Pictures of this invention tomorrow.  Cheers!

Sauerkraut :-(

It’s not looking good for sauerkraut this year.  Another hailstorm has beaten the cabbage to a pulp and it’s nearly too late to plant any more for summer harvesting.  I’ll likely try a fall crop.

The Saison yeast starter is spinning away, happy yeast all around.  One practice I’m starting with this beer:  Write down your intent.  I want a sweet-peppery saison, dry but with some estery sweetness up front, some tartness.  The maize in the grist should provide the sweetness, the wheat should provide some head and the turbinado sugar some body.  Hops will be light, just enough to offset sweetness.  I’m looking for 85% attenuation so the beer will be stronger than the grain bill would suggest.  Warm fermentation, use of a helper yeast to finish the brew, should be dry, peppery, flavorful.

The lagers are finally lagering.  Did some calculations and if I brew my Oktoberfest on 21 July, it should be done in time for mid-September, an Oktoberfest-only competition and a friend’s Oktoberfest party.

Saison Underway

Sprint sucks.  That out of the way, my next brew is underway, a Saison brewed with maize in the grist.  I’ve done it before but got such a high attenuation the beer finished at 10.5% ABV.  I don’t think Wallonian farmers used a beer that strong when working their fields so it’s time to tone it down.  This one should finish out at about 7.5%.

Sprint’s latest sin?  My wife broke her phone a while back and Sprint replaced it for $75.  I broke mine a couple days ago and nothing to do but get a new one.  Neither phone was insured.  Not insuring the phone was my choice but please, Sprint, don’t treat the Customer two different ways.  If you can replace one for $75, you can replace two.

Sangiovese is bubbling away.  We put it in a water bath to keep fermentation temp down, a tip I’ll use with the beer after next.  In the past, when I wanted to ferment a bit cooler than basement temps I’ve used a “redneck swamp cooler,” a cable tub with the fermenter in a bit of water cooled by wrapping a towel around the fermenter to wick the water up, and a fan to cool the towel.  Works well, pictures to follow next time it’s employed.

Next Up – Wine!

Second batch of wine is bubbling away downstairs.  This time it’s a Sangiovese.  We made a conscious decision to make it stronger than the kit stated, targeting 14% ABV instead of the approx. 12.5% the kit produces.  No, we don’t want a Chianti, a regional variety made from mostly Sangiovese grapes, we want a dinner wine.

In the Beer department, lagers are slowly coming down to lager temps.  I’ve run into a slight problem:  I need to do another Oktoberfest before mid-September but may not have the refrigerator space to do it.  Thinking about the logistics now, if the Helles and Schwarz are done quickly, it’ll work, barely.  We’ll have to see.  Thinking backward, if I need the Oktoberfest in mid-September, it’ll need two weeks to condition, bringing us to early September.  Four weeks are required to lager, ten days in primary….  It’ll be close, very close.  I’ll have to brew mid-July.

Or get another fridge.  I don’t think SWAMBO was very keen on that idea….


Lagerthon Follow-Up 1: Diacetyl Rest

The Helles and the Schwarzbier are far enough along in their fermentation process I can put them into a diacetyl rest.  Diacetyl is a compound that tastes like the butter flavor in butter flavored popcorn.  Combined with malt it can taste like butterscotch but it’s generally considered a flaw in lagers.
To test for it is relatively simple.  You can’t just taste it, there’s a diacetyl precursor that’s tasteless but converts on storage to diacetyl.  So what you have to do is warm the beer up to about 160 degrees to allow the precursor to convert, then cool and taste for diacetyl.  Not everyone can taste it but it also has a mouthfeel, a slippery, oily feel.
Producing diacetyl in lagers is the result of a compromise we homebrewers make.  If we could pitch our yeast at fermentation temperature, about 50 degrees, lager yeast won’t produce enough diacetyl to be perceptible.  But we homebrewers generally pitch warmer, either because we can’t get the wort that cool or because we don’t want to wait while it cools in our refrigerators, the benefit of which is the longer we wait to pitch, the greater the chance some bug can take hold in our brews and produce something much worse than butter-flavored beer.  Yeast both produce it and, once nutrients start getting scarce, metabolize it so we can accept early production and get rid of it later.
To conduct a diacetyl rest, let the beer warm to about 65 degrees for a couple of days prior to lagering.  This will allow the yeast to become a bit more active and consume the diacetyl.  They will produce some esters due to the warming, also not desirable in a lager, but the amount will be miniscule.
The diacetyl rest illustrates the compromises a brewer has to make but thankfully, yeast are very good at their job.  Give them the proper conditions and care and they will make good beer for us.