Wednesday, January 4, 2012

American Farmhouse Currant Dark Saison

The wine soaked oak and dried currants.I like the idea of seasonal beers that are always similar, but never the same. For the last four falls a few friends and I have brewed dark funky saisons with dried fruit. Each year we keep the basic concept the same, but change the ingredients and methods to suit the dried fruit we select.

After previously using raisins, dates, and figs we decided that currants were the next logical choice. Dried currants have a flavor similar to raisins, but it is slightly more acidic with winey complexities. While there are "cassis" lambics flavored with fresh (or juiced) currants, I think the best example of their use is dried in Russian River's Consecration. Recently I went to a tasting at a friend's house where we opened five bottlings, and while each one was interesting in its own way the 001 had the perfect balance of acidity, Cabernet Sauvignon, tobacco, and dark fruit (too bad it was my last bottle).

For the malt bill of this year's dark saison we used a base of Vienna to give it more bready/toasty flavors than previous batches. Rather than getting all of the dark color from dehusked roasted malts in the mash, I made a cold extraction with roasted barley first processed in coffee grinder. I mixed a half pound with 20 ounces of water, although I probably would use a quart the next time. After sitting overnight at room temperature I strained it through a tea strainer (my initial attempt with a paper coffee filter quickly became clogged). We added the resulting 10 ounces of syrupy jet-black extract to the kettle at the start of the boil.

Appropriate since roasted barley was historically used to cut coffee.Fermentation was a mix of saison strains and Bretts. This was my first time using White Labs WLP670 American Farmhouse which includes a mutated version of Brett bruxellensis from The Lost Abbey. I missed the initial release last summer, but Brandon (who writes the excellent sour beer blog Embrace the Funk) was kind enough to send me a slurry he had saved (the strain will be available again as a year round release for 2012). Alex and I also pitched Wyeast Brett bruxellensis and Farmhouse Ale to complete the fermentation team. For once we did not add bacteria, so while this beer will be funky it will not have the sourness that the previous batches did.

For the first three dark saisons in this series we pureed the dried fruit and added it to the end of the boil, but this time Alex and I decided to wait until secondary to preserve more of its flavor. As these currants were coated in oil (from the feel of them) I gave them a quick rinse in Star-San followed by filtered water to remove the head destroying lipids.

For oak a fellow homebrewer (Tom, who also hooked me up with a bottle of Surly Five) sent me a few slices of an oak stave that had been in a red wine for some time. Even the smallest one, at 1.75 oz, was a bit more than I usually add, but since it had already had a good deal of its character extracted and had relatively low surface area I decided to risk over-oaking. I am also planning on adding some citrus zest when the beer is closer to bottling, but that will depend on the flavor.

Alex stirring his mash tun.
We are starting to run out of dried fruits to use in dark saisons, so if anyone has a suggestion please post a comment. I think maybe even prunes would be a good choice...?

Dark Saison IV
Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 10.50
Total Grain (Lbs): 25.00
Anticipated OG: 1.067
Anticipated SRM: 29.3
Anticipated IBU: 22.4
Brewhouse Efficiency: 77 %
Wort Boil Time: 80 Minutes

92.0% 23.00 lbs. Vienna Malt
2.0% 0.50 lbs. American Chocolate Malt
2.0% 0.50 lbs. Carafa Special II
2.0% 0.50 lbs. Special B Malt
2.0% 0.50 lbs. Roasted Barley

The aging beer with currants and oak floating.Hops
0.75 oz. Warrior (Pellet, 16.00% AA) @ 75 min.

WYeast 3726 Farmhouse Ale
White Labs 670 American Farmhouse
Wyeast 5112 Brettanomyces bruxellensis

Water Profile
Profile: Washington DC

Mash Schedule
Sacch Rest - 60 min @ 159 F

Brewed 12/17/11 with Alex.

Used spring water for the mash and sparge.

One week earlier had made a cold extraction with the roasted barley and one pint of water. Filtered after 18 hours at room temperature, rinsed with a few more ounces, and saved in the fridge. Added to the start of the boil.

Chilled to 70 F. Aerated with ~45 seconds of pure O2. Pitched my five gallons with 375 ml of loose slurry from the acid malt saison, 75 ml of dense slurry from WLP670 American Farmhouse, and half a package of Wyeast Brett B.

Good fermentation by the next morning at 64 F ambient in a large bucket fermentor. Never produced much krausen. Left the lid on lightly to mimic the low pressure of open fermentation.

12/27/11 Racked to secondary with 27 oz of dried currants (first rinsed with Star-San and then filtered water) and a long chunk of oak from a wine stave (1.75 oz).

2/7/12 Already had enough oak character (tannins especially), racked off of currants and oak stave. It would have been nice to let the currants ferment longer, but at 6 weeks they should have given up most of their flavor.

7/21/12 Bottled with 3.25 oz of table sugar and 1 g of Primere Cuvee yeast rehydated.

2/6/13 Tasting notes, nice contribution from the currants and oak. The cold steeping worked to prevent an acrid flavor.


Anonymous said...

How about prunes, acai, cranberries, elderberries, blackberries..... Glad to hear white labs is bringing back the blend. I was a bit dopey and didn't save a slurry.

Eric said...

Curious to how fine you grind the roasted barley. I've tried "capping the mash" to darken up a beer, but didn't use enough grain (just 2 ounces) to see much of a difference. Interested in different techniques.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Elderberries would certainly be fun if I can find a good source. My problem with some of the weirder berries (goji for example) is how much they cost.

The grind on the dark grain was really fine, similar to what you would for a pot of french press coffee.

Ken said...

Dried cherries sounds like an obvious choice to me...

Señor Brew™ said...

I think we use the exact same cooler as a mash tun, right down to the color:

mc said...

I second the cherries, maybe a mix of them? Also, maybe Wyeast Lambicus for some additional cherry flavor...

Flobo said...

goji (as you mentioned -- cost prohibitive), blueberries & blackberries. The dried verieties of these are all excellent (and more cost effective).

Anonymous said...


I also came to think of cranberries. They would certainly provide som tartness and also add an american twist to the beer. I know that, in Sweden, cranberries come in dried form, but to my knowledge we dont have them growing domestically (we do however have plenty of their cousin lingonberry). Thank you for a great blog, I never miss a post.


Hokiebrewer said...

Or go the opposite direction and use dried pineapple/papaya/mango and dryhop with Amarillo and Simcoe before bottling...

Anonymous said...

prunes or fresh plums or black currant would be cool

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

I think the tropical fruits and big American hops would work well in a pale saison, but I think it might clash with the darker base.

Cranberries or cherries (and the other berries) could work well at lower levels I think. We don't want the fruit to dominate the character of the beer, which is why we've been sticking to the more subtle fruits (there aren't many great fruit-forward saisons).

A.B.rx said...

Definitely agree with the cherries. What about apricots? They seem to be pretty prevalent and inexpensive.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

If I recall correctly, DFH ApriHop was originally brewed with dried apricots, rehydrated in hot water. Seems like another one of those fruits that could blend beautifully with some hops in a pale saison. For a dark funky saison I want a fruit that will add to that character without getting too assertive. That said, I liked The Bruery and Cigar City collaborative ISO:FT which had enough guava to lighten an overly stodgy base beer (Marrón Acidifié).

Anonymous said...

Although it's not dried. I diced up a fresh Buddha's hand and preserved it this weekend. Man, it has citrus characters but you can see why it is more often used in perfumes. Very interesting.

Anonymous said...


Jeffrey Crane said...

I have a bunch of elderberries that I could donate for all the great advice over the years. (Plus I've been meaning to send you some bottles)

The only problem is that they are currently frozen, but I would be happy to try to dry them myself. Any advice on drying berries?

About the Oak Stave. Are you using the whole oak stave or is the outside layer somehow cut off? And any special cleaning?

romantic bed and breakfasts said...

Thanks for sharing. Currants are really beneficial for the health. Following are the benefits of currants:

Anti-Inflammatory Action
Reduces the effects of arthritis
Powerful Anti-oxidant Action
Maybe help prevent cancer

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Thanks for the offer Jeffery, but the next batch won't be for another year, so we won't be dealing with the fruit until closer to then. I assume a food dehydrator would work if you want to dry the berries for your own use.

The stave was actually a piece of wood aged fully submerged in wine (similar to the spirals a lot of brewers seem to be using). So there is no outside part as there would be on a stave from an actual barrel.

Glad to hear the currants will turn this batch into a health tonic, the anti-oxidants should allow for more graceful aging as well.

Jay said...

Consider Pomegranate. Moderately expensive fresh fruit (or maybe not compared to Goji?), but you can buy dried pomegranate fairly cheap on the internet. Strong taste that could withstand a dark beer and complement when used in moderation.

Brandon said...


Alex said...

Yo... you mention cassis (black currants) in your post but those look like Zante currants to me, which are actually a type of tiny grape and not in the Ribes genus (cassis, red currants, gooseberries, etc.) They should taste sharply acidic, tannic, and have a curious cough syrup-like backbone.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Interesting, I was uncertain exactly what type of currants they were. Russian River uses Zante, but I was unaware they were not true currants. Thanks for the clarification. They were rather acidic and raisin like, but that tannic.

Alex said...

If the resulting concoction isn't deep purple, I'd bet that they're Zante. Although they're abundant in Europe, cultivation of currants was banned in the US in the early 1900s and then later relegated to state authority so they're only now starting to turn up again. As a former Massachusetts resident, I can vouch for the quality of the currants from Bug Hill Farms, in Ashfield, which is quite near Valley Malt of Hadley. It'd be worth calling to inquire about the season in spring if you're interested in sourcing some, as it is always over far too quickly.

I've been brewing and home-fermenting all kinds of stuff for only a little longer than I've been reading your blog, by the way, and it's been a wonderful source of motivation. I'm staying in Bangladesh for the year, so if you have any ideas for tropical fruits send them my way. I think starfruit would marry a pale ale perfectly, and I may be able to find them on the cheap. Please continue to keep us informed on your culinary and zymurlogical (that can't possibly be a word) ventures!

Anonymous said...

I've done dried cherries and liked the results. If you want to do pomagranate you can look at middle eastern markets for a syrup. I have some that will be going in a dark Belgian sour soon.

Duffbowl said...

It's saison season here, and the question about what fruit has given me an idea - something indigenous to Australia. Not much use to you, sorry.

Anonymous said...

I'm considering making a similar saison, but I plan to do a quick lacto souring first (sour wort for a few days then boil). I know you aren't too impressed with this method, but I think a saison with so much else going on it might be worth a try. What do you think?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

I didn't mind the eventual result of the "sour worting" but it took considerable time to age to where I enjoyed it. I think a hint of tartness could enhance a beer like this, although I would go for a softer dark malt character. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Why coffee grinder instead of milling for the roasted barley? And how did you like the cold steeping results? Were you just trying to get color? I was thinking about trying cold steeping for a russian imperial stout, but I'm a little worried about not getting all of the flavor out of the grain... would you recommend upping the amount of dark grains used if I cold steep?

Also, did you add any brewing salts to the boil to compensate when you added your roasted barley cold extration?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

The finer you get the grind the better/faster the extraction is. The issue with grinding normally is tannin extraction from the husk and lautering ability, but with heavily roasted grains this is not an issue.

I don't think this is a good method for something you want to be sharply roasty like an RIS, but it could be used to boost the character if you are worried about overdoing it. If you do go this route I would certainly up the roasted grains and then add to taste.

No water adjustments on this one, since it was post-mash I wasn't worried about pH. Especially for a beer like this a bit of acidity isn't a bad thing.

gordsellar said...

I'm really late to this comment thread (got here researching something else), but I would recommend omija berries. They're an Asian berry, used in tea mostly, and they have a distinctive flavor. the "o" in omija is for "5" because the berries are supposed to have five "flavors": sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and spicy. However, to me the flavor is just, well, distinctive and complex but, if used sparingly, not so overpowering.

I added some of the tea mix to a Kolsch I made with my students, and it came out really nice. (Fresh, the berries can also be used to cure the most amazing-tasting bacon.)

I'd be happy to post you a bag of some dried omija berries, assuming I can find one, but I'd need an address. If you're interested, let me know!

gordsellar said...

(Or your a Korean market over there might have some, possibly: this is the berry:

and the tea, in its Korean form:


The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

I've actually had a couple people suggest schisandra. Seems like a fun one to try. We're having trouble tracking down quince for our Dark Saison 5, maybe the Asian berry is a option to take it in another direction. I know Brian from Stillwater has added them to a couple of beers.

RJ said...

another dried dark fruit suggestion (quite late, I know): tamarind.

Unknown said...

how many oz of Zante Currants did you use to a 10 gallon batch? I think your notes say 27oz but was that per 5 gallon carboy or total to the 10 gallon of finished beer.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

This batch was split with Alex, the 27 oz of currants were just for my half (i.e., ~5 gallons). Sorry that wasn't clearer.

Unknown said...

i'm going to try this recipe, one question: the currant in secondary were leave intact or crumbled?

Pewther said...

Hi Mike, have you ever used sloe berries in a beer? We have quite an amount of sloes here in Ireland. I was thinking of adding some to a sour ale. Any precedence set?


The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Put the dried currants in whole.

Never done a sloe beer. At this point I'm sure someone has done it (looks more popular in ciders), but certainly give it a shot! Sounds like a good match for a paler beer?

Unknown said...

Sorry for the lame question case when you choose to rack off oak cubes and fruit from the carboy cause you feel it's oaky and fruity enough how do you make it? You rack off the beer to another carboy or you have some tecnique for pulling out just the cubes and fruits? I just can't figure out how can i make it if i have to pass through the small neck of the carboy.

The alternate method of adding fruit/oak after the secondary is done is always an option but it takes more time.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

I usually aim low on oak, this may be the only time I've had to rack off like that. For fruit, you'll have most of the flavor pretty quickly. This was a bit of a unique situation because the fruit was dried, usually I'd wait to add it until the beer was almost ready to package before adding fresh fruit.

Unknown said...

Mike, I'm planning a batch of something like this, so I have a couple of questions.

1. I've got some frozen fresh blackcurrants (and some damsons - a wild British plum) and was wondering whether you thought it was worth dehydrating them? Dried plums do take on a completely different character so I'm toying with the idea of using a dehydrator for some if not all of them.

2. I was also thinking about cold steeping the Carafa malt - I'd be using UK Black malt. Good idea? Or would I get some tannins/poor extraction?

3. Your recipe states that you added some roasted barley to the mash AS WELL AS the cold extracted barley, is that correct?

Cheers in advance!

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Never used dried plums, but I used frozen plums in a sour dubbel with good results. Your call on which would give the flavor you're looking for. Dried would likely be closer to the original.

Cold steeping is a good idea for whatever dark malts you are using, especially black malt.

I cold-steeped all of the roasted barley, the Carafa Special II and Chocolate were added to the mash.

Best of luck!

patrick said...

Zante currants are actually a more sour grape, whereas Red and Black Currants a whole other plant and animal for that matter. It's a misconception I was just corrected on and thought I'd share. So. maybe using dried genuine currants could be a good next try!?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Yep, this was discussed a few years ago in the comments above! Not a bad idea to try the real deal in another batch though.

Unknown said...

I do a Saison with juniper berries. It's a big hit with the brew club and should work well in your dark. The drier the saison the better it gets too and it works with Brett funk.

Just finsihed your book btw, loved it!

Unknown said...

Hey Mike,

I brewed this recipe 2 weeks ago. Came across it here: and couldn't pass it up. I did your recipe by the book, aside from adding 8 oz maltodextrin in the boil, and co-pitching Crooked Stave dregs (Surette and Colorado Wild Sage) along with the WLP670. I'm gonna let the brett/pedio do their thing for a good 8-12 months on the dried currants and merlot soaked oak cubes.

Question on the dried currants.. did they seem to impart a good amount of grape-like flavors, even though they weren't pureed or chopped up? My guess is the sacch/brett/pedio will slowly chew away at them over the course of bulk aging? Never used dried fruit before so I'm just curious on how they contributed to the overall flavor.


The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

The contribution is subtle, but I think that is more a result of the currants themselves and less about not having chopped them up. Dried fruit tends to infuse pretty well (the moisture inside evaporated out, so it isn't too hard for beer/microbes to get in). The contribution is more dark fruit (raisin), less fresh grape or wine.

Best of luck, and please let me know how it turns out!

Unknown said...

Thanks! Just racked onto them 2 days ago, and the airlock activity is already smelling fantastic. Will report back in a year or so.

Unknown said...

Hello. Sounds like GREAT beer.
Question.... Why such a high sacc temp? Is it because Saison yeast is always that little more hungry and often finishes uber low?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Exactly, there would be nothing left for the other microbes if the saison yeast was allowed to finish at 1.000! I'd mash cooler (low-150s) if you wanted to brew it as a clean saison.

Unknown said...

Couldn't believe how good the sample of mine tasted the other day after only 3 months in secondary. I got impatient and had to see how it had been progressing so far. Nice and sour already (I used Crooked stave dregs in mine). pH around 3.5 and the oak has come through a lot. Hoping the brett/pedio will meld nicely with the oak.

Still sitting around 1.009 though so it's definitely gonna need some more time, but I highly recommend trying this!

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Cheers, and glad to hear!

Erik said...

I'm interested in trying a riff on this recipe this weekend. I haven't started my cold steep yet. I milled the roasted barley but set it aside from everything else. I was considering steeping 24 hours as you indicated that the finer the grain the better the extraction. Do you think upping the steep time will achieve my objective or should I consider re-grinding the grain? Thank you

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Steep and you can always extend if the flavor isn't intense enough. Finer will extract quicker, but wouldn't produce a better (or worse) flavor.

Bill said...

I finally brewed this recipe yesterday. It was bubbling within 2 hours with a starter of your yeast strain from Bootleg Biology. Can't wait to see how it turns out in a year or so! I did make a couple changes simply based on my preferences, mainly adding the dark grains at Vorlauf, and replacing Special B with Simpsons Double Roasted Caramel.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Best of luck! Let me know how it turns out. We just brewed a second version of this for Dark Saison 9, dark grains at vorlauf, big dose of rye. Fermenting with Saison III and Russian River dregs.

Lior said...

I saw this recipe in the book "American Sour Beers" and I have a question: I have a vial of WLP648 Brett Trios Vrai, do you think it will work as the only yeast? or do I need also some Sach saison yeast? (I have never tasted a beer made with WLP648 so I don't know what to expect from it)

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

I only did a primary fermentation with Trois Vrai for one beer, and given that it was sour and hoppy it I can't say how it would fair in a beer like this other than to say it would be different than the original. Might still be delicious, but it won't provide the same character as a saison strain plus a variety of Brett and bacteria.

Lior said...

So I guess I'll go with WLP670 and add another brett, and use the 648 for a hoppy beer to taste it. Thanks!

Bill said...

Michael, my previous comment is a few above. I brewed this in August of 17 and now nearly 1 1/2 years later this beer is great! I entered it in NHC earlier in 18 and came out with a score of 38/50. Plus it made mini bos.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Congrats! I've got 4 Chambourcin barrels aging with this recipe at the brewery. One with currants, one with dates, and two without fruit.

kennymfg said...

Hi Mike,
Just made this yesterday I only cold steeped the roasted barley and regular mashed the other dark grains is that how you did it? Also I was planning to age on currants after primary but only used beer yeast (Omega French Saison) do you think I’ll have problems with residual sweetness? Planning to keg anyway but looking for some advice.

This was made from the yeast from your Hoppy French Saison recipe which I have on tap now and absolutely love. Cheers!

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Correct, the Carafa was in the mash (I'm pretty sure).

If you transfer soon after primary the yeast should be OK to ferment the sugars from the dried fruit.

Best of luck, let me know how it turns out!