Thursday, December 8, 2011

ECY Brett Rye Saison Tasting

Rye saison next to a box of hops.American saison has almost become a style in its own right. It shares many commonalities with the Belgian original, but the fermentation character tends to be cleaner and less idiosyncratic. There are certainly some oddball American versions, but few that have the more provincial and surprising flavors that Belgian brewers are known for. Visiting McKenzie's Brew House a year ago and sampling their Saison Vautour was a revelation for me in terms of American saison, that amazing combination of rye and funk with some other weird flavors that I couldn't place. Nathan and I just bottled our portion of the collaborative Irma Extra we brewed while visiting the brewery.

Inspired by head brewer Ryan and his assistant Gerard (who is about to open a new brewpub, Forest & Main, with several saisons planned) I brewed a rye saison with my friend Nate. We used the simple grist of 75% Pils and 25% rye malt, fermented with yeast and Brett from East Coast Yeast (as always Al's bug did not let me down). If you can't get your hands on ECY cultures, brew it anyway with the saison strain of your choice (McKenzie's uses White Labs Saison II) and Brett from a lab or harvested from bottle dregs.

Brett Rye Saison

Appearance – Brilliant burnt gold (love how Brett and time can clear a beer). Plenty of apparent carbonation streaming through, keeping the tight white head stay aloft. The rye really helped with lacing, what a beautiful beer!

Smell – The aroma has a complex blend of cereal (from the rye and Brett) and complex fruit (pear and apple) and spicy (pepper and coriander) aromatics from the yeasts. I wouldn't call it funky, but rustic is certainly right.

Taste – The flavor is much more Brett forward than the nose, with hay, leather, and overripe fruit. A well balanced beer, with the bready rye adding substance to the body without making it sweet. Some of the spice from the primary fermentation is still there, but it isn't as powerful as it was in the nose. There is a lingering minerally bitterness from the combination of hops and Brett. Probably the most authentic (read Fantôme) tasting saison I have made, thanks in large part to the bugs.

Mouthfeel – Solid carbonation, but not enough to make it foamy or sharp. The rye adds substance to the body without making the beer sweet. One of the tidbits I picked up from talking to the geyser of brewing information that is Chad Yakobson was that many saison strains produce more glycerol (which improves mouthfeel) than other brewer's yeast strains, which makes them especially good to pair with Brett (which does not produce glycerol in a significant quantity).

Drinkability & Notes – Really pleased with the results of this batch. There is not much I would change if I brewed it again, except getting some of the gravity from sugar (as we originally planned) to leave less for the Brett (to shift the balance just slightly towards the primary yeast character and away from the Brett).


  1. Speaking of saison: maybe you can help out here. Several American saisons use brett, but the result is generally a sort of an in-your-face, brett-dominated beer. The saisons I've made with brett have generally ended up similarly.

    I've been culturing yeast from several Belgian saisons, and in two saisons I didn't expect to find it, I readily isolated bretts (Brasserie De Cazeau's Cazeau Saison and Brasserie à Vapeur's Saison De Pipaix). Neither of these saisons had a very obvious brett presence while drinking (although Pipaix definitely had some lactic acid presence); they simply had a bit of wild complexity. I prefer this to the brett-dominated beers, but how do they do it? How do they keep the brett in check and well-integrated?

  2. Agreed. Try to get the beer to attenuate well before adding the Brett to reduce what it has to ferment. You can also try pitching a smaller amount of Brett. I suspect at least some of the Belgian beers are just getting some wild character from their equipment, rather than a pitch.

  3. How long did it sit?

  4. It was brewed in in early February, the Brett went in three weeks later when we racked to secondary. Waited until September to bottle. For future reference you can always check the recipe page (in this case linked from "rye saison").

  5. You suggest adding the brett for secondary rather than at bottling time? I made a non-brett saison last summer, and took 1L of it and bottled it with a bit of priming sugar and a mix of bugs I had been cultivating for a lambic (dregs of about 8 different beers). I was very happy with the results of that subset of the beer and planned of repeating that beer with a half- or full batch. I got a really nice character after 3 months of aging in the bottle.

    The thing I've been struggling with is how to ensure that between the additional attenuation from the bugs and the priming sugar, that the carbonation will be appropriate. Sounds like perhaps letting the bug fermentation happen in a secondary fermenter could avoid this risk. Thoughts?

  6. Exactly, while it is possible to dose Brett and other microbes at bottling it can be risky due to CO2 production. As homebrewers it is hard to have the same level of consistency on fermentation and attenuation that commercial brewers (like Orval) do. If you want to go this route it is best to have a pretty well attenuated beer to start and bottle in heavy bottles that can hold higher carbonation. It only takes .002-.003 of fermentation to fully carbonate a beer, so be careful.

    Good luck!

  7. Have you done any brewing with coffee in a stout. I am about to put together a coffee stout. I like your blog and would love your opinion on when to add the coffee. Thanks.

  8. Hi you are doing a great job. I found it on your page its really amazing. Thanks for sharing such a valuable information. I am sure that these are your own views. I hear exactly what you’re saying and I’m so happy that I came across your blog. Thus, you made me feel like I should learn more about this. I’m officially a huge fan of your blog.

  9. I've done several coffee stouts. I'm a big fan of adding the beans (whole or crushed) directly to a beer for a short period (12-48 hours) right before bottling. Do a search on the blog for coffee for more details on exactly how much coffee/time I have used.

  10. Thanks, yeah I was considering a bit of time in the secondary.

  11. I feel really great about my Wild Grape Yeast and Brett Saison as you do about this one. I wish I had been able to bottle it so that I could get a more experienced brett brewer's opinion on it. My wife and I just moved so I had to toss everything into kegs for the trip. It's just loads easier to move cornies than bottles. The brett I used was C and it has a subtle cherry thing going on but the spicy character of the 3724 still holds its own. There's a hint of citrus I think from the grape yeast. Deliciously complex. I love it.

  12. Sounds great, Brett C is the best choice for letting the primary yeast's character come through.

  13. Nice write up you have here. I've noticed that 15% rye malt is a popular amount in most people's recipes (both Rye Saison's and Rye IPA's) for a subtle yet present earthy rye component and some body contribution. I've read that at higher amounts of rye malt like 40% of the total grain bill (as seen in The Bruery's Sour in the Rye) the rye malt seems to take on caramel-like flavors. Any thoughts?

    If that's true, what I'm trying to find out how much % of the grain bill can consist of Rye Malt before getting into the realm where the rye comes through as caramel-like. What made you land on 25% rye malt? I just brewed what will be a Rye IPA yesterday, and went with 25% Rye, but have no previous experience with rye to compare to. Inspired to incorporate rye into as many brews where I see a good fit after recently having the pleasure of getting to try De Garde's AMAZING Foeder d'Or!

    Love the blog by the way!
    Cheers, from sunny Los Angeles, California