Monday, March 19, 2012

Keep it Crispy: Slightly Soured Citra Saison with Peppercorns

Coca-cola my ass! What's missing is a nice porter...
it could be sitting right there...
Battling a drafty house and consuming porter for warmth, I've recently been planning the nice crispy beers I will be drinking to slake my thirst during the summer. Although not a strict votary when it comes to drinking, I do find my year to be divided into two brewing seasons that correspond to my schedule at the university: richer malt-forward beers in late summer, fall and early winter (the "fall semester," in prep for the alcoholic hibernations of winter break); and drier, crisper beers in late winter, spring, and early summer (the "spring semester," gearing up for the horseshoe tournaments and canoe trips of summer).

While mid-winter is made for cast-iron stoves and comfort food, mid-summer (as Shakespeare has taught us) is for free-wheeling adventures and drinking in quantity with reunited friends. It being spring semester, I'm in prep mode for crispy summer drinking.

Translate, "Saison Dupont"
means "nectar of the Gods."
No, really...

In addition to the occasional enchanted silver bullet, in the summer I've always turned to pale ales and wheat beers. Over the last few "drinking cycles," however, I have come to discover that I really love me a good saison (I blame you, Saison Dupont!). The peppery, citrusy tartness and dry finish are able to cut the humid days of the northeast, or to spritz the oppressive dry heat of Northern California and Central Oregon, depending on where my summer finds me. Also, the relatively high alcohol content (5-7%) perfectly accentuates that summertime feel.

When thinking crisp, I think effervescent with a dry finish. The beer does not have to be tannic or uber-bitter to be crisp, but rather finish clean and dry and leave you excited for more. It should be light to medium bodied, with little or no creaminess.

I *think* I have a couple ways to design "crisp" into a beer, as well as some technical consideration on brew day. I wanted to avoid too heavy of a mouthfeel, so my malt bill should avoid heavy additions of caramel/cara- malts (which contribute unfermentable "dextrinous" sugars), and wheat malt (which contributes proteins that enhance mouthfeel and head retention). If I'm looking to go really dry, I'll add some simple sugars (cane, corn, beet, etc.) to take the final gravity down below 1.010. Knowing me, I'll probably want a perceptible level of hop bitterness, although not too much of a lingering syrupy or resiny character (adjustable to style). Because I build my water from scratch from reverse-osmosis, and soft water is good for clean, crisp beers, I don't need to add much in the way of brewing salts. On brew day, my mash temp will be around or below 150, emphasizing beta-amalyse and creating a more fermentable wort.

A Beer of Firsts
So let's talk about my saison. Despite my proclivity for consuming saisons, this is the first that I have ever brewed. While I do enjoy the traditional, I wanted to spin it a bit (that way I still have an excuse to drink more Chambly). I was hoping to go with some Sorachi Ace to give it a nice lemony flavor, but could not source them anywhere. So, on a whim at the LHBS, I opted for Citra. I have never brewed with Citra, either (although I have had Sierra Nevada's Torpedo Ale), and didn't recall their tropical properties until I did a bit of research after the fact. "Less citrusy, more tropical" is what they tell me. "We'll see" I say back to them..."We'll see."

I've also been rather interested in sour beers lately. So, I've been sipping them when I run across them and reading around on others' blogs (see links), but I have never brewed one. Basically I've been living my sour life vicariously through other brave souls. I saw on the kick-ass Embrace the Funk blog that White Labs has released their American Farmhouse Blend year-round. They tell me this blend couples all the funky spicy goodness with a nice tart sourness from Brettanomyces. "We'll see" I say back to them..."We'll see."

I enlisted my buddy Alex from The Saratoga Thoroughbrews to split a batch with me (he apparently has a lot of faith!). He suggested we throw in some peppercorns for good measure. Pink and black, just to get a nice rounded peppery character. They haven't really told me anything about peppercorns, so I guess I'll have to tell them.

I'm all in: First saison. First citra. First sour. First peppercorns. Virgin territory all around...

Here's the malt bill I came up with:                                      Hop schedule: (AAU = AA% x oz.)
(64%)  16 lbs.         Belgian Pilsner                                      60 min - 5 AAU Kent Goldings Pellets
(16%)    4 lbs.         Munich 10*L                                        20 min - 13.6 AAU Citra Pellets
(11%)    2.65 lbs     Wheat Malt                                             5 min - 13.6 AAU Citra Pellets
(1%)        .25 lb       Caramunich I (43*L)                              0 min - 13.6 AAU Citra Pellets
(8%)      2 lbs.         Cane Sugar

Mash @ 148*, 90 min boil.

Original Gravity: 1.065

Pitched 2.5 liter stirplate starter from White Labs WLP 670 - American Farmhouse Ale (w/ Brettanomyces - unsure of strain). It took off like a freight train.

18 hours after pitch -- beer @ 65*,
and bubbling away happily.

Fermentation schedule: 
Pitch at 65*, let rise to 67* on the 2nd day.
3rd day 70*... Increase by 2* daily until it hits 85*, then hold until desired FG (2 weeks)

At 13 days the beer had dropped to 1.010, 84.6% apparent attenuation, 6.8% ABV. Pretty good, considering the brett hasn't really done all its work yet!

I chilled it to 40* for 2 days to drop the yeast, and racked half of it into a keg for Alex, and the other half into a carboy for me. I'll let the Brett do its work for a couple months, tasting periodically, and probably drink the keg around the end of July.

This is at 85*, about 9 days into fermentation.
You can see the condensation on the
inside of the carboy.  

There was a slimy looking yeasty film on top,
and quite a bit of yeast clung to the sides,
even after cold crashing.
This yeast / Brett blend is a beast! 

One of the issues with a beer of firsts is that I am trusting myself to isolate the flavors that each ingredient contributes. I'm hoping that with my limited background with sour beer that this will not be a problem, although I can see the tropical Citra flavors kinda melding into the Saison character a bit. I'm also unsure how much hop character will actually be present after so long of a secondary...

Stay tuned to find out! Tasting notes to follow!

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