Saison is dead, long live saison! For a style that has about as much cohesion as IPA these days, there are so many opinions on what saison is. Last week while I was in Brazil for a homebrewing conference, I spent many hours talking to two of my homebrew heroes: Drew Beechum and Denny Conn (authors of the fascinating book Experimental Homebrewing). Drew is one of the handful of people who deserve credit for popularizing saison's range since I started brewing in 2005, but he is suspect when it comes to adding Brett to the style.
BJCP seems to agree with Drew; with the 2015 Beer Style Guidelines they have given Brett’d saisons an explicit home in the American Wild Ale category’s Brett Beer sub-category (Belgian Specialty is gone!). Gordon Strong asked me to comment on American Wilds draft about a year ago, and I made the case that Brett has been isolated from several of the classic Belgian examples. Too much Brett and I agree the peppery-spice is overwhelmed, but I love a touch of funk in the style! His counterargument was that it is not intentionally part of many modern Belgian saisons, and breaking the funky versions out makes both entering and judging easier.
American Wild Ale is a new home for the sort of weird funky/sour beers that encompass most of what I brew. Clearly I need an edge after most of my sours scored in the mid-30s at the National Homebrewers Competition (my gueuze and cherry brown were knocked for being too sour, my lemon Berliner for not being sour enough). My general goal in commenting was to make the target balance and drinkability, rather than rewarding the sharpest or classic-Brett-forward beers.
This funky/tart rye saison was brewed with a fellow government employee during the great furlough of 2013. We split the batch three ways and pitched various microbes (mostly from the dregs of homebrewed saisons). I wanted to taste the influence of such a small amount of bugs compared to the primary yeast (a blend of White Labs WLP585 Belgian Saison III and WLP568 Belgian Style Saison Ale Yeast Blend).
Left: Dregs from Funky Dark Saison #4 Middle: B. nanus and B. naardenensis Right: Two Bootleg Biology Pithos isolates.
Rye Saison Tasting - Three Ways
Appearance – Three seemingly identical beers. Clear muted-yellow, with delicate dense white heads. The sudden burst of rain didn't help retention.
Funky Dark #4 – Lambic-like. Musty-dusty with some lemon rind.
Nanus/Naardenensis – The fruitiest, but also some rubber band.
Bootleg Biology Pithos Isolates – Mild basement funkiness, while retaining the most peppery saison character of the three.
FD4 – The most acidic, more American Wild than Brett saison. Luckily the acidity is tangy, lactic, really bright. Lots of white wine (despite the lack of wine, grapes, or oak).
N/N – The least acidic and mildest funk. The fruit is more orchard than citrus.
Pithos – Mild citrusy tartness. Dry, earthy, but lacks depth.
Mouthfeel – All three are all pretty similar, firm carbonation (perfect for a pale/funky beers), medium-thin body. The proteins from the rye keep it from being watery, even after the carbonation calms down.
Drinkability & Notes – For my tastes, the dregs from Funky Dark #4 were the winner (itself WLP670 American Farmhouse, and Wyeast 5112 Brettanomyces bruxellensis). It has the balance of acidity, funk, fruit, and spice that I want in a beer. Rather than trying to recreate this beer exactly would be close to impossible, but I’d suggest that once you start bottling sour beers you’re happy with that you start using dregs from your homebrewed sours!