A recent New York magazine article got me thinking about saison, the Belgian farmhouse ale style that was once considered an endangered species of beer but has in recent years become a rather hot craft-brew trend.
I already knew that originally they were a relatively crisp and dry low-alcohol beer, made to quench the thirst of farm workers during the summer months. What the article states that was news to me is that they also were originally made with "leftover odds and ends of the grain harvest," and thus were not traditionally limited to certain ingredients and flavors. That knowledge made me feel more confident about the possibility of attempting a batch of saison homebrew. Even better, a friend wanted to collaborate on the brew and offered to buy the ingredients if Lady Hophead and I would supply the brewing equipment.
Homebrew Headquarters had a recipe for a partial-grain clone of Ommegang Hennepin's very fine saison, but did not have all the ingredients. The recipe calls for 7 oz. Belgian pale malt and 1 lb. 9 oz. Belgian pilsner malt, but they sent us home with 2 lb. of Belgian pilsner malt. And with no Styrian Golding hops available for bittering, we substituted an ounce of the slightly more acidic U.S. Saaz hops for the recipe's 1.3 oz. of the Golding hops.
I've already written about my mediocre first and fairly successful second attempts at homebrewing, so I won't rehash all the steps taken in steeping the grains, boiling the wort and pitching the yeast. Suffice to say that I was much more confident about the process this time, and it went much more quickly thanks to a commenter's tips on how to expedite the cooling process. Of course, I was not without my usual neurotic anxieties about contaminating the batch.
The major differences this time came with the addition of an ounce of dried ginger root, an ounce of bitter orange peel and 2 lbs. of candi sugar, as well as my first-time use of a hydrometer, which measures the density of the liquid. This helps determine how thick the body will be as well as how alcoholic the beer will be. By subtracting the Final Gravity (hydrometer reading after fermentation is complete) from the Original Gravity (hydrometer reading before fermentation begins), you can calculate the alcohol content because beer becomes less dense as it ferments and sugars are replaced with alcohol.
After taking a reading, however, I was not so confident.
Either we're making the world's strongest, densest saison or I screwed something up. The recipe says you should have an OG of 1.070. Ours is 1.165 -- thicker than the OG of most barleywines, and with a potential alcohol reading of nearly 22 percent.
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I think I know what might have happened. Hopefully, the reason for the screwy reading is that I drew my hydrometer sample from the bottom of the fermenting bucket. My primary fermenter is also my bottling bucket. Instead of sticking a sampler into the top, I was lazy and just poured a sample out from the spigot at the bottom. It wasn't very long after I had pitched the yeast, so I figured the density would still be pretty uniform from all the agitation. Hopefully I was wrong, or else our beer is going to be damn near flammable with alcohol and/or syrupy sweet. Not that either would stop me from drinking it -- and continuing the learning process that comes with a new hobby.
Wolfgang Puck's Five Sixty has a five-course Texas beer dinner featuring beers from Real Ale and Saint Arnold set for Tuesday, August 3. The event begins with passed appetizers in a meet-and-greet at 6 p.m., with the meal starting at 7 p.m. The menu will include locally sourced meats and produce. Saint Arnold founder Brock Wagner and Real Ale owner Brad Farbstein will both be on hand. Cost is $95, so you won't see me there, but if any City of Ate readers go, hopefully they'll share their thoughts.
And Flying Saucer on the Lake is celebrating its first anniversary Sunday from noon to midnight with a luau. Kona Firerock Pale Ale will be $3 all day, and the event features grilled Hawaiian themed munchies and a raffle. Most important, it includes special tappings of Breckenridge's Flying Saucer 15th Anniversary Ale (which beer guru Keith Schlabs mentioned in this profile) as well as a cask from Rahr and a firkin from Avery.