After my fourth try to ferment a Saison using Wyeast 3724 Belgian Saison, I’ve finally succeeded. The yeast has a reputation for fermenting down to about 1.030 and stalling, requiring a finishing yeast to get it down into the dry saison range. It also likes warm temperatures – I’ve even tried fermenting in my summertime garage to make it work to no avail. Heating blankets, no bueno. So then I read Gordon Strong’s “Brewing Better Beer”, a book I highly recommend, and learned the yeast is likely descended from red wine yeast and does not like pressure at all. Two process tweaks and I’m measuring final gravity at 1.009 with no stalls, the first is covering the carboy with loosely crumpled aluminum foil secured with a rubber band to minimize pressure buildup in the carboy. The second tweak is use of an aquarium pump set for 84 degrees in a water bath to maintain a constant, slightly elevated temperature. The second tweak is going to come in handy when SWAMBO does her Zinfandel, a wine that likes warm fermentation.
In the aforementioned book, Strong mentions two qualities that make a good brewer, or for that matter, anything else. The first is to understand what matters and focus your attention accordingly. In our world, that means if your sanitation is not good, no amount of water tweaking will improve your beer. The first principle in brewing, as in just about anything, is to know what’s important. To me, what’s important is to get harshness out of my beers so most of my process changes are designed around that. I focus my energies on good fermentation control, clean wort into the fermenter, first-wort hopping and using only chloride salts to add calcium. The second principle is know your control points and what actions to take. Strong and I share an engineering background. When running a process, you can’t always control what’s happening but you can control – take action – at certain points to ensure successful completion of the process. That’s the principle at work. Know where a control is appropriate, measure and take action. Your beer will improve.