Belgian Super Saison
"Just tapped this today. Very tasty! I had my wife, whom doesn't like beer, sample this recipe and a Dupont and she said they taste very similar so I consider this batch a success!" - dward4421
They say that to be considered a 'real' craft brewer, one that beer geeks will take seriously, there are two styles of beer that absolutely must be included in your regular line-up. The first one should be obvious to most: A hoppy American IPA, the top selling craft beer style in America for many years now (and showing no signs of ever slowing down). The second style may come as a surprise to some: A Saison.
Saison (sometimes referred to as Farmhouse Ale) began as a crisp, quenching pale ale brewed in the cooler, less active months in farmhouses in Wallonia, the French-speaking region of Belgium. Before refrigeration, brewing was restricted to the cooler months before flowering crops released wild yeasts into the air and brewers could no longer control their fermentations.
At harvest time farmers required teams of field workers who in return required plenty of beer, for refreshment and energy. Saisons provided the answer: Beers which could be brewed during the winter and stored for consumption during the summer harvest. "Saison" is French for "season" and the beer style evolved to meet this specific requirement.
These farmhouse beers traditionally were lower in alcohol content, typically around 3 to 3.5% ABV on average, as they were served to farm workers. With typical allotments in the range of 4-5 litres per worker per day, lower alcohol was very important if productive work was expected. 😉
As the style became more popular for pleasurable drinking than for farmworker survival, brewers began making them stronger. Today, most Saisons are in the 5 to 8% ABV range. Because of the wide variety of strengths, three classifications exist:
- Table Saison: 3.5 – 5.0% ABV
- Standard Saison: 5.0 – 7.0% ABV
- Super Saison: 7.0 – 9.5% ABV
Our recipe here at 7.9% is well into the 'Super' Saison range. Feel free to make a lower alcohol version if you like by reducing the amount of grain and table sugar, but keep the relative percentages the same. The hopping rate should also be reduced, keeping the gravity to IBU ratio close to the same as our original recipe.
Saison has gained enormous popularity over recent years, possibly due to the magazine Men's Journal naming Saison Dupont "the Best Beer in the World" in 2005.
Saison Dupont. The definitive example of this beer style. Image (c) growlermag.com
Saison is certainly a popular style amongst craft beer aficionados including Garrett Oliver (gastronome and brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery) who in his 2010 book The Brewmaster's Table concludes:
"If I were forced to choose one style to drink with every meal for the rest of my life, saison would have to be it. At any given time there is at least one case of saison in my cellar. Saison is not just versatile – it’s downright promiscuous. It seems to go with almost everything. The combination of dynamic bitterness, scouring carbonation, bright aromatics, spicy flavors, pepper notes, dark earthy underpinnings, and racy acidity gives these beers a hook to hang their hat on for a wide range of dishes.”
What makes a Saison a Saison?
According to the 2015 BJCP style guidelines, Saison is a wide and varied style that can not only include low to high alcohol content (3.5% to 9.5% ABV) but also run from pale to dark brown in colour (5 to 22 SRM) and include flavours such as: Fruity, citric, spicy, earthy, musty, grainy, peppery, hoppy, herbal, bitter, tart, prickly (due to high carbonation), and perhaps even funky or slightly sour if some non-Saccharomyces wild yeast is also used.
Some brewers will say that pretty much any beer fermented with a Saison yeast automatically becomes a Saison given how wide and varied the style is, but we think most Saisons share some common traits, including:
- Dry: The finishing gravity in a Saison must be low and there's no such thing as 'too' low. There should be no residual sweetness. Do what you have to do to dry it out, including swapping out up to 20% of the base pilsner malt with simple sugar if you have to. With 7.6% simple table sugar, ours finished at 1.003 for a whopping 95% attenuation. Doing a multi-temperature step mash as recommended in our recipe (instead of a single temperature infusion mash) also helps ensure high fermentability.
- Spicy and Earthy: The interesting flavours found in a Saison are yeast derived. Saison is not typically spiced. Most of the spicy, peppery flavours come from the yeast. It's for this reason that the yeast makes or breaks the style. Dozens of speciality Saison yeast are available from various manufacturers, all producing slightly different results. For our recipe we used White Labs WLP565 Belgian Saison yeast which is said to be sourced from Brasserie Dupont, makers of the classic beer that defines the style.
- Lively: A Saison needs high a higher than normal carbonation level. Around 2.5 to 3.5 volumes of CO2 minimum, and possibly as high as 4.5 or even higher. In his book Brew like a Monk, Stan Hieronymus mentions that Westmalle goes to 4.0, Duvel to 4.25, and Orval as high as 5.0. If bottling, make sure to use thicker bottles rated to higher carbonation levels such as champagne bottles.
Follow our recipe below and brew up your own fruity and spicy Saison. Enjoy!
Belgian Super Saison
Size: 12 US gallons (post-boil @ 68F)
Mash Efficiency: 95%
Calories: 204 kcal per 12 fl oz
Original Gravity: 1.063 (style range: 1.048 - 1.065)
Final Gravity: 1.003 (style range: 1.002 - 1.008)
Colour: 5.4 SRM (style range: 5 - 22)
Alcohol: 7.9% ABV (style range: 3.5% - 9.5%)
Bitterness: 28 IBU (style range: 20 - 35)
18.25 lb Belgian pilsner malt (1.4-1.8L)* (80%)
1.3 lb Pale (or white) wheat malt (1.5-2.4L) (5.7%)
1.3 lb Dark Munich malt (9L) (5.7%)
3.7 oz Weyermann CaraMunich Type III malt (57L) (1%)
4 oz German Hallertau hops (4.5%) - added during boil, boiled 60 min [28.1 IBU]
1 Whirlfloc tablet (Irish moss) - added during boil, boiled 15 min
1.75 lb Regular table sugar (7.6%) - added during boil**, boiled 10 min (add slowly)
1.6 oz German Hallertau hops (4.5%) - added immediately after boil
*Can't find Belgian Pilsner malt? German pilsner malt (1.5-2.1L) will make an excellent Saison as well.
**It's been said that moving the addition of simple sugars like table sugar to the end of fermentation can help if you have attenuation problems. (We've never had issues so we always add to the boil per our recipe). If you prefer to add at the end of fermentation, heat up some distilled water to near boiling (above 180F) and stir in about 1lb of sugar. Let it cool and add directly to the fermenter. Repeat this process of adding 1lb every 2-3 days until all of the sugar is used up. Why is this said to help with attenuation? Yeast likes to eat simple sugars (like table sugar) first before it attacks the more complex ones produced by the grain. By giving the yeast only the 'less tasty' stuff (complex sugars) first they're more likely to finish it all before moving on the 'tasty stuff' (simple sugars). Giving them both at the same time is like giving your kids dinner and dessert at the same time. They'll eat dessert first and then be too full to eat their dinner. Given them dinner first, and there's always room for dessert. 😉
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Notes / Process
- Add 500mg potassium metabisulfite to 20 gallons water to remove chlorine / chloramine (if required).
- Water treated with brewing salts to our Balanced flavour profile: Ca=50, Mg=10, Na=16, Cl=70, SO4=70 (Hit minimums on Ca and Mg, keep the Cl:SO4 ratio low and equal. Do not favour flavour / maltiness or bitterness / dryness. For balanced beers.). For more information on how to adjust your water, refer to our step by step Water Adjustment guide.
- 1.5 qt/lb mash thickness.
- Start the mash at 147F and hold for 90-120 mins (beta rest).
- Ramp up to 155F and hold for 30 mins (alpha rest).
- Raise to 168F mashout temperature and hold for 10 mins.
- The lower the temperature the longer it takes for starches to convert to sugars, so the beta rest is held longer than the alpha rest. Mashing at two different conversion temperatures (first at the lower beta amylase temperature followed by the higher alpha amylase temperature) helps create a highly fermentable wort as we want this beer to finish very dry. If your system does not allow for step mashes, try a single infusion mash at 150F for 90 mins, followed by a mashout to 168F for 10 mins (if possible).
- ~90 min fly sparge with ~5.6-5.8 pH water (measured at mash temperature).
- Boil for 90 minutes, adding Whirlfloc and hops per schedule. Lid on at flameout, start chilling immediately.
- Cool the wort quickly to 64F (we use a one-pass convoluted counterflow chiller to quickly lock in hop flavour and aroma) and transfer to fermenter.
- Oxygenate the chilled wort to a level of 14 ppm dissolved oxygen. For more information refer to our Aerating / Oxygenating Wort guide.
- Pitch yeast and ferment at 66F (wort temperature) for the first 3 days then start raising the temperature approximately 3 degrees per day until you reach 85-90F and fermentation finishes. Do not allow temperature to drop. If the yeast seems to be stalling, do not be afraid to raise temperature as high as 95F to ensure proper attenuation as this yeast works well at higher temperatures. If the temperature is not raised this way the strain tends to stall out in fermentation at the 75% mark and then sometimes restarts as long as two weeks later. Some brewers have had to resort to champagne yeast to finish. Assume fermentation is done if the gravity does not change over ~3 days once near the target final gravity of 1.003. For us it takes approximately 9-10 days to reach final gravity, and being careful to never let the temperature drop means no stalling occurs. We use modified stainless fermenting buckets in wine fridges. The fridges are turned off after the first 3 days and then a single 23W CFL bulb per fridge is used as a heat source to take the beer up to 90F slowly over a few days. More information in the Pictures / Videos section below.
- Before packaging you may optionally rack to a brite tank (we use 5 gallon glass carboys) that has been purged with CO2 to avoid oxygen pickup, add 1 tsp of unflavoured gelatin dissolved in a cup of hot distilled water per 5 gallons of beer, and allow to clear for 2-3 days. In most cases we recommend skipping this step as the less you handle the beer and potentially expose it to oxygen, the better. The beer will drop brilliantly clear on its own during the conditioning period.
- Package as you would normally. Though some will argue that this style of Belgian beer should only be bottled, if we still had to bottle we wouldn't be brewing beer. 😉 We rack to kegs that have first been purged with CO2 and then chill to near freezing while carbonating at the same time in a 6-keg conditioning fridge. After ~1-2 weeks at serving pressure the kegs will be carbonated and ready to serve. In a hurry? Free to raise the CO2 pressure temporarily to 30-40 PSI to carbonate fast over a 24 period, and then turn back down to serving pressure.
- Carbonate this beer to higher than normal levels, around 2.5 to 3.5 volumes of CO2 minimum, and possibly as high as 4.5 (this is personal preference). If bottling, make sure to use thicker bottles rated to higher carbonation levels such as champagne bottles.
- The beer will improve greatly if conditioned just above freezing for 4 weeks before serving and will continue to change over time. Sampling is recommended.
For detailed brewing instructions, see our Brew Day Step by Step guide.
Questions? Visit our Belgian Super Saison forum thread.
Pictures / Videos
Interested in seeing what we're brewing right now? Follow us on Instagram for pictures and videos of our brewing activities as they happen.
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Going to be brewing a Belgian Saison next with WLP565 and I want to finish fermentation up around 85-90F. A quick test shows that a 23W incandescent bulb in my fermenting fridge is able to raise the temp all the way up to 90F so that's perfect (fridge off of course!). Putting it on temp controller with a thermometer would be better, but not really worth it for a one time use. This'll be the first beer in 25 years that I've fermented this warm. ;) . TheElectricBrewery.com ... A step by step guide to building your own brewery . #theelectricbrewery #electricbrewing #homebrewing #homebrew #brewing #craftbeer #beer #dohomebrew #homebrewer #nanobrewery #picobrewery #homebrewporn #saison
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Measuring out salt additions ahead of time for a weekend brew - going to make a Belgian Saison! . TheElectricBrewery.com ... A step by step guide to building your own brewery . #theelectricbrewery #electricbrewery #electricbrewing #homebrewing #homebrew #brewing #craftbeer #beer #dohomebrew #homebrewer #nanobrewery #picobrewery #homebrewporn #belgianbeer #saison #belgiansaison #saisonbeer
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Brew Day! This one's going to be a Belgian Saison. Just heating up the strike water. . TheElectricBrewery.com ... A step by step guide to building your own brewery . #theelectricbrewery #electricbrewery #electricbrewing #homebrewing #homebrew #brewing #craftbeer #beer #dohomebrew #homebrewer #nanobrewery #picobrewery #homebrewporn #belgianbeer #saison #belgiansaison #saisonbeer #brewday
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Busy day for the yeasties in the brewery: The WLP565 is munching away on a Belgian Saison at 86F (on it's way up into the 90's) while the WY1318 London Ale III culture spins up for next week's Electric Hop Candy (NEIPA). . TheElectricBrewery.com ... A step by step guide to building your own brewery . #theelectricbrewery #electricbrewery #electricbrewing #homebrewing #homebrew #brewing #craftbeer #beer #dohomebrew #homebrewer #nanobrewery #picobrewery #homebrewporn #wy1318 #wyeast #belgianbeer #saison #belgiansaison #saisonbeer @whitelabsyeast #wlp565 #yeast #yeaststarter #stirplate @whitelabsyeast #newenglandipa #neipa #ipa #northeastipa #electrichopcandy
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Belgian Saison brewed with WLP565 has gone from 1.063 down to 1.005 in exactly 7 days. May still have a point or two to go. I've never brewed anything this warm: Did 48 hours at ~66F then slowly ramped up to 90F over 2-3 days and held there. The hydro sample has a nice dry tartness to it. Perfect! This yeast is notorious for stalling but I thankfully had zero issues. Next up: Electric Hop Candy (NEIPA). . TheElectricBrewery.com ... A step by step guide to building your own brewery . #theelectricbrewery #electricbrewery #electricbrewing #homebrewing #homebrew #brewing #craftbeer #beer #dohomebrew #homebrewer #nanobrewery #picobrewery #homebrewporn #belgianbeer #saison #belgiansaison #saisonbeer #wlp565 #yeast @whitelabsyeast #electrichopcandy
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Belgian Super Saison. Spicy, crisp, and highly carbonated. They say that to be taken seriously as a craft brewer, you have to have a Saison in your repertoire. Fermentation ended up at over 90F! Recipe on my website with tons more pics and videos. Learn how to make the perfect Saison! 🍻 . Visit shop.theelectricbrewery.com 👈 A step by step guide to building your own brewery . #theelectricbrewery #electricbrewery #electricbrewing #homebrewing #homebrewingonly #homebrew #homebrewery #brewing #craftbeer #beer #dohomebrew #homebrewer #nanobrewery #picobrewery #pilotbrewery #homebrewporn #buildingabrewery #brewery #basementbrewery #beerrecipes #belgianbeer #saison #belgainsaison #saisonbeer