Welcome to a very special DOUBLE brew day post! No, I didn't brew twice in one day—who would do such a thing? But, I did brew (almost) the same beer twice. Doing multiple iterations of a recipe, making slight adjustments each time, is a great way of dialing in a beer. Sometimes the extra iterations get you closer to your goal, sometimes not. Sometimes the different versions are all good in their own ways. Sometimes you end up with a very long blog post.
One of my favorite beers is Dupont's "Avec Les Bon Voeux De La Brasserie" ('With the Best Wishes of the Brewery'), a 'super saison' of around 10% abv, framed as a kind of winter seasonal. Conceptually, the beer is something like a Belgian farmhouse barleywine. Imagine Dupont Saison's fruity, spicy intensity with Westmalle Tripel's alcohol and body, and you'll have a good idea of what Bon Voeux offers.
My goal was to make something similar. Insolation is French for 'sun stroke', continuing the theme of my Coup de Soleil ('sun burn') standard saison. Let's start with the first batch. When I brew a beer for the first time, I start with the simplest recipe I can, adding and altering that base if things don't work out as I envisioned. Simpler recipes are almost always better. Almost.
For these recipes, I'll include the percentage of fermentable material coming from each type of source, then break down each of those by weight. That should allow you to adjust the recipe to your brew system and batch sizes. If I gave the exact weights of grain and adjuncts I used, but you get higher or lower mash/lauter efficiency, your yeast would end up eating more or less adjunct than mine.
Grain (91% of fermentables)
Sugars (9% of fermentables)
I started with the grist, which I milled quite fine and let sit (sealed) overnight.
The morning of brewday, I pitched a small vitality starter with my slurry and the fresh pack of yeast. I then doughed-in for my mash-in-a-bag/no sparge process, performing a simplified version of the step mash outlined by Markowski in Farmhouse Ales (114 for 30, 145 for 30, 154 for 15).
I somehow ended up with scorch marks on the mash tun, making me worry that I'd get ashen, burnt flavors in the beer. I'm still not sure about the cause, since this is the only time it's ever happened. Happily, the beer didn't taste like cigarette butts. Though, for all I know, 'cigarette ale' could be the next big beer trend.
After the mash, I ran off some very cloudy wort and boiled for 90 minutes, adding hops as listed above.
After I got the wort into a bucket fermenter, the yeast blend was pitched at 70F. I placed the fermenter in a bin of water with an aquarium heater, violently ramping the fermentation temperature up to 82F in only 16 hours, then up to 86F 24 hours after that. You're probably thinking "that seems stupid." And maybe you're right. But that's how I live. Saison yeast will not respect you if you're timid with the fermentation temperature. Fermenting saison requires courage. This isn't fucking Cal Ale. As usual with my Belgians, I left the fermenter open the first 2 days, covering it loosely with aluminum foil. This makes top cropping a breeze.
I bottle conditioned the beer to around 3.2 volumes of Co2, priming the bottles with cane sugar and champagne yeast.
The beer turned out to have a deep golden color with a thick white head and lively carbonation. It was pretty close to Bon Voeux, with a strong citrus and spice aroma, smooth texture and a medium-light, yet substantial, body. The flavor was bright, with only subtle grain notes and a slight tart quality, with some noticeable bitterness in the finish. You couldn't taste the alcohol. If I hadn't known, I would've guessed it was a 5% abv beer.
I was quite happy with this beer, but suspected it might be better without the tartness from the wheat. And since a simple grist with a complex yeast blend produced good results, I wondered whether an even simpler grist with an even more complex blend would be even better. I also tried to get by with some cheaper grains, purely for cost reasons, and made other small adjustments based on ingredient availability. Thus...
Grain (94% of fermentables)
Sugars (6% of fermentables)
The process for this beer was much the same. This time, I mashed in a 138F, then immediately ramped to 146 for 30 minutes, then to 158 for 30 minutes. It was windy during my brew day, so I had the propane burner cranked during the boil to compensate. At some point, the wind died down when I wasn't looking, leading to my first ever boil over.
To make things interesting, I pitched this beer at 66F and ramped the beer up to 91F, leaving the fermenter open for the first two days. I bottled conditioned the same way I did for the last batch.
This version had an extremely creamy white head and a deep orange-gold color. Initially, there was a berry note in the aroma, but this dropped out to leave an aroma of mixed fruit, especially pineapple and generic citrus, with some subtle hop notes. Interestingly, the body seemed quite heavy for a beer that finished with such a low gravity, probably from glycerol production by the French Saison yeast—the bubbles tended to rise slowly in the beer when poured. The mouthfeel was medium, with a slightly slick texture initially. Flavor-wise, the beer reminded me of a hopped mead, with a strong honey note and a botanical, somewhat spicy hop flavor. Though a bit boozy at first, the beer settled in eventually, giving only a mild warmth in the back of the throat.
The hunt for the perfect big saison continues! Of the two versions above, I preferred the first. The second felt too heavy in the mouth and the honey note was too strong, making the beer too thick and sweet for a saison. I suspect that excess glycerol from the French Saison yeast is to blame for the heft and adding the sugar syrup to the fermenter, rather than the boil, might explain the honey quality. The cheaper ingredients and mash scheme might also have a role. In future versions, I'll simplify the yeast blend, keep a little wheat malt, and add the syrup at the end of the boil. The more expensive grains might be worth it. If you have other ideas, I'd be happy to hear them!