Saison beer is a style that is gaining popularity among craft breweries for its intensity of flavor and the sensory experiences it offers to consumers. Yeasts and spices are the “star” ingredients of this style, immersing us directly in an extremely interesting experience of flavors and complexity.
In this article, we are going to go over in great detail what a Saison beer is, what ingredients are usually used to produce it, and the types of grains, yeasts, hops, and spices that are recommended.
Without further ado, let’s get started!
What is a Saison beer?
A Saison is a beer with a spicy and citric profile that is imparted to it by the diversity of spices that are added in the brewing process, as well as by the yeast and hops used.
Saison is an extremely dry beer due to the highly attenuating fermentation generated by the yeast. The addition of fruits and spices, such as dried orange peel, coriander, or lemongrass, add complexity to the beer and a slightly citrusy and spicy profile.
The hops used are preferably of the “noble” kind, which give a light and delicate bitterness, with a slightly spicy touch that contributes to the characteristic profile of the beer.
Finally, Saison beers vary in their alcohol content, with them usually ranging from 5 to 7%.
Best Grains for Saison Beer
SAISON beers are made almost entirely with Pilsner malt, although Vienna and Munich malts are often used to add color and complexity as well.
However, I’d recommend using mainly pilsner malt.
If you want to add more complexity to it, you can add Vienna or Munich malts without exceeding a 5% proportion.
Carapils, caramel, crystal, and biscuit malts, among others, are not recommended, as they leave high levels of residual sugar, caramel, and nutty flavors that can compete with the flavor provided by the yeast, which is not something we want with this style.
The following are the appropriate percentages of grains for Saison brewing.
- Pilsen: 80 %.
- Munich: 5 %.
- Wheat/Rye: 15 %.
Adjuncts such as rye or wheat can also be used but in a proportion ranging from 15-30% grain ratio.
These cereals provide some additional flavor and greater head retention in the beer.
In terms of flavor, rye reinforces the malt flavor of the beer in a very pleasant way.
Historically, Saison beers also often use syrup and beet sugar to increase the alcohol content without necessarily increasing the body of the beer.
Most used hops in Saison Beers
The hops most commonly used in Saisons are generally those of European origin which provide a light and delicate bitterness that complements the fruity and herbal flavors of the yeast really well. These hops are used to provide bitterness, as well as flavor and aroma to the beer.
The most commonly used are:
- Kent Golding.
- Styrian Golding.
- Brewers Gold.
Characteristics of hops used in Saison:
|Name||Taste and Aroma||Utility||% Alpha||% Beta||Substitutes||Beer Style|
|Hallertauer||Floral, spicy||Aroma||3,5 – 4,5||4% – 5%||Tettnanger, Mt. Hood, Liberty||Saison, Pilsner, Pale Ale, Wheat, Lager|
|Kent Goldings||Floral, and an earthy, spicy, and slightly sweet flavor.||Aroma||5 – 6||1,9% – 2,8%||Fuggle, Progress, First Gold||Pale Ale, ESB, Dark Ale, Christmas Ale, Belgian Ale, Porter, Stout, Saison, Triple Ale|
|Styrian Goldings||Resin, earthy, spicy||Aroma||2,8 – 6||2% – 3%||Fuggle, Willamette, Bobek||Saison, ESB, Ale, Bitter, Lager, Christmas Ale, Barley Wine, Oktoberfest|
|Saaz||Earthy, spicy, herbal||Aroma||4 – 6||3% – 4,5||Saaz, Hallertau, Tettnanger, Lubelska, Sterling||Saison, Lager, Pilsner|
|Brewers Gold||tasty and citrusy||aroma||5% – 9%||3,3% – 6,1%||Northern Brewers, Gallena||Apa, Bitter, Barley Wine, Imperial Stout, Saison|
Best Hops to generate Bitterness
- Kent golding
- Styrian Goldings
Best Hops for adding Aroma
The hop aroma is not dominant in a Saison, however, there are spicy and peppery aromas provided by hops such as Hallertauer, Fuggle, Kent Golding, and Stryan Goldin.
They are usually added in the last minutes of the boil to avoid losing essential volatile substances.
The hops intended for this style are those containing a low concentration of alpha acids and a relatively low amount of beta acids. These are the so-called “NOBLE” hops, such as Saaz, Spalt, Tettnang, and Hallertauer Mittelfrüh.
However, there are others that can also be used that don’t belong to the “noble” category, such as Styrian Golding, Fuggle, and Brewers Gold, among others.
All these hops mentioned, provide a light and delicate bitterness to the beer, making them ideal for this style.
When to add Hops?
Usually, a moderate amount is added at the beginning of the boil, then after 30 minutes to add flavor, and lastly, 10 minutes before the end of the boil to provide aroma.
Hops with a spicy, citrusy, and earthy profile are always used to combine and enhance the flavors provided by the yeast and spices.
The addition of hops in dry hops is not common in this style but can be used in small amounts to add complexity to the beer. Just know that it’s not common practice.
Quantities to be used
- Bitterness: 1 g/l at the start of the boil (60 min)
- Flavor: 2 g/l between 20 and 30 minutes before the end of the boil.
- Aroma: 2 to 4 g/l depending on the intensity sought (10 min before the end of the boil).
- Dry hopping: 0.5 to 1 g/l (not usually done)
The hop aroma and flavor should be present and complement the rest of the ingredients, without dominating the overall flavor and bitterness of the saison.
The amounts to use vary a lot, but you should always be cautious when adding spices since they can be very overpowering, and once you put in too much, there’s no way of counteracting this.
The spices are added directly to the fermenter to achieve a more pronounced aroma profile, or they can be added in the final minutes of the boil if what you’re looking for is more flavor.
If added to the fermenter, it is of vital importance to sanitize them with 70% alcohol or prepare an infusion with a white drink, such as vodka, before adding.
The most commonly used spices are:
- Grated white or pink grapefruit peel.
The yeast used in the Saison style is of the utmost importance as it provides most of the aroma and flavor present in the final beer.
Fermentation temperatures can play a major role in the characteristics of the beer, for example:
The higher the temperature, the more phenolic flavors, such as spicy, fruity, and floral, will be present, while the lower the temperature, the more moderate all of these characteristics will be.
All the yeasts listed below have the particularity of achieving a high attenuation, producing dry beers with a great capacity to generate spicy, floral, and fruity flavors.
The most common are:
- Fermentis – Safbrew T-58 SafBrew BE-134
- Lallemand – Belle saison
- White labs WLP566 and WLP568
- Wyeast WY3711 and WY3724
It is recommended to add the yeast to the wort at about 20°C and to slowly let the temperature rise to about 21°C to 23°C. However, some brewers prefer to ferment in a more moderate temperature range, between 18°C to 22°C.
What is IBU and what does it represent?
The IBU (International Bitterness Unit) is a value that quantifies the bitterness of beer. It represents the amount of dissolved alpha-acids in the beer, so 1 IBU is equivalent to 1 milligram of alpha-acid per liter of beer.
Something very important to take into account when calculating this is the time of addition of the hops, as the optimum time to extract all the bitterness possible is at 60 minutes of boiling them. However, if what we want is to take advantage of the aromas, the addition should be done 10 minutes before the end of the boil.
In essence, the longer the hops are boiled, the more bitterness they add, and since bitterness is the main characteristic we want to extract from the hops when brewing a wheat beer, you should aim to boil the hops for at least 60 minutes.
That said, how do you calculate IBU?
This would be very simple to do if you just take into account the Alpha Acid content that a hop variety has and how much of it is added to the beer, and then simply calculate the IBU using the number of liters left after the boil and the number of grams of AA according to the percentage of AA of that specific hop, but this isn’t the most accurate way.
If we want to make a more accurate calculation, we must calculate the amount of AA that are isomerized in the wort, and for this, we must add to the equation the utilization coefficient.
To measure this coefficient, the most commonly used method is the one created by Randy Mosher (See the graph below): It is a graph where different curves show how boiling time affects bitterness, aroma, and flavor, and when those hops additions should be made in order to extract those characteristics.
As far as Saisons go, you’re looking for a moderate IBU, ranging from 20 to 35, but not any higher than that!
Saison beer is a style where very diverse flavor nuances can be observed and which are generated by the wide range of ingredients used, such as spices, fruits, and hops, as well as by the different strains of yeast and fermentation temperatures.
Make sure to not overdo it with the spices and the hops and you should be on your way to brewing a great Saison!