>Saison #5A (Saison Royale) Tasting & Recipe

>This recipe was an attempt to formulate a jumping-off point for playing with the Saison style. Saison has an enormous amount of flexibility flavor-wise, and I wanted to have a standard recipe that I could experiment with and build upon progressively, in order to explore the possibilities. It definitely needs some work, especially when it comes to yeast and fermentation (the essential ingredient in all beers, especially Saison), but it shows enough potential to be something to play with.

2011-013 Saison #5 (Saison Royale)

Brewed: 03/11/11

Racked to secondary: n/a

Kegged/Bottled: 03/21/11

Ready: 03/26/11

Batch Info


Batch Size: 5 Gallons (split)

Extraction Efficiency: 80%

OG: 1.058

FG: 1.003 (wow!)

IBU: 32

SRM: 4.7

Boil Length: 90 minutes

Grain Bill


German Pilsner Malt: 8lb (80%)

US Wheat Malt: 1lb (10%)

Belgian Cara-Wheat: 8oz (5%)

US Rye Malt: 8oz (5%)

Hop Bill


German Perle (6.5%AA): 28g @ 90 minutes

French Strisselspalt (2.9%AA): 14g @ 30 minutes

French Strisselspalt (2.9%AA): 14g @ 0 minutes



Whirlfloc: 1 tablet @ 15 minutes

Servomyces: 1 gelcap @ 15 minutes



75% Carbon Filtered San Bernardino Ground Water

25% RO Water



Fermenter A: East Coast Yeast ECY08 Saison Brassiere Blend

Fermenter B: East Coast Yeast ECY03 Farmhouse Brett

Mash Schedule


Sacch Rest: 150F for 90 minutes

Fly Sparge

Fermentation Schedule


Pitch @ 68F, freerise for 10 days



Quick Carb: 35psi, shake for 60 seconds



Appearance – Gold, a shade below copper. Three inch pillowy white head. Some staying power, with some fine lacing.

Smell – Fruit, biscuit and spice. Herbal. On the citrusy side. Earthy. Some funkiness. Taste – Big fruitiness up front, almost tropical. The herbal and spice notes blossom more in the back palate, with a light funkiness throughout. Slightly tart. Bitterness is pretty assertive, right where I like it.

Mouthfeel – A light sweetness from the crystal, with a quick and bone-dry finish. Very nice.

Thoughts – The mouthfeel, color and bitterness are spot-on where I’d like them, but I wanted more out of the yeast. I overpitched, so I’m sure the proper pitching rate would help considerably. I think the right pitching rate and a warmer fermentation temp would really add complexity and more of the spicy character I’m after. I also think upping the finishing hops would help add some extra dimension. I also am very much looking forward to tasting the Brettanomyces-spiked version called, what else, the Royale with Cheese.

>The Great Sour Mix Experiment Brewday

>Along with the Flemish Blend, Saison Blends and Old Newark Ale, my recent purchase of vials of East Coast Yeast also included the now-mythic Bugfarm (my version being #5). Inspired by the experiments I’m always hearing about on Basic Brewing Radio and my recent order from Northern Brewer allowing me access to Wyeast, I decided to create an experiment that would allow me to answer a series of burning questions:

1. Of the commercially available Sour Mix cultures, which is the best?

2. How do the flavor profiles of said mixed cultures compare?

3. Can said cultures get as sour as commercial beers, as some have spoken of their lack of final acidity?

4. Is buying these sour mixes even necessary? Can one sour a beer effectively using brett & bacteria cultured from bottle dregs?

I love sour beer, as previously stated, and I want to be able to make the best sour beers I can; given the limited space and time I’m allowed, I’d rather not waste that time and space on a beer that will produce less-than-optimum results. I think this experiment will allow me to figure out what base cultures to start with from here on out, or at least which to use in what situation.

The experiment began, naturally, with the yeast (and bugs).
The cultures used were, left to right, Wyeast 3278 Lambic Blend, White Labs WLP655 Belgian Sour Mix I, East Coast Yeast ECY01 BugFarm V, and my own sour dreg blend. My sour blend started as 500ml of 1.040 wort, to which I added dregs from a Lost Abbey Isabelle Proximus, Lost Abbey Duck Duck Gooze, Drie Fonteinen Oude Gueuze, Cantillon Gueuze, and Russian River Temptation (the extra volume in the starter was the liquid from said beers). I can say for a fact that this was by far the best tasting way to make a starter ever. EVER.

Having these cultures, I needed a simple recipe that would allow the differences in the cultures to shine through, and allow the bugs plenty of unfermentables to chew on over the long aging period. I went with a simple, mid gravity (1.053) wort, with 65% Pilsner malt, 15% Malted Wheat, 15% Flaked Wheat, and 5% Flaked Oats, bittered with enough Perle for about 15 IBUs. I figured this would be clean enough to not impose any malt flavor, while providing a good variety of proteins and long-chain sugars to feed the bugs over the long fermentation.

The brewday went off pretty much without a hitch, barring the extra long chilling process due to it being 95 outside that day, and the wicked sunburn I got by stupidly doing my brewing shirtless. For the brewday I used the 10 gallon system I inherited from my dad, splitting the final result into the four 3-gallon Better Bottles they will spend their long stay in. Any 10-gallon brewday is hectic for me, but it went well enough that I could snap a few photos:

Heating strike water in the bigass 15 gallon pot:

Mashing in:

My fancy-shmancy sparging setup (aka a board, kettle lid, and piece of aluminum foil):

My less-than-effective counterflow chiller, doing its job ludicrously slowly, even with the ground water pre-chiller:

The final product, pre-pitch. I was surprised by how even I was able to get the fill lines:

The four carboys, pitched and snug in their new home, with their other sour buddies:

Admittedly, there are a couple of caveats to this experiment that may effect the results:

1. Each of the sour blends were produced at a different time. The White Labs and my own mix were produced relatively close to each other, with the Wyeast being about a month old, and the Bugfarm being produced in January. Also, the Wyeast “smack pack” uses a yeast energizer in the package, which shortened the lag time. Ideally, each of the blends’ production dates should have been as close as possible to each other, but I worked with what I had, so I’m not too worried. Interestingly, the lag times of each of the blends accurately reflected the freshness/pitching methods of each package; the dreg starter was by far the quickest to start, with the energized Wyeast following soon after. The White Labs took about 24 hours to get going, and the BugFarm dragged behind considerably, only showing signs of activity after about 36 hours. Another interesting experiment would be to pitch multiple vials/packs of different production dates, to see how the lag time effects the final outcome.

2. Each of the yeast packages were designed to have a cell count suitable for pitching into 5 gallons of wort. I honestly don’t know how this will effect the final outcome, if one strain of yeast or bugs will dominate another in a way not intended by the manufacturer, etc. This is probably the most important caveat in this whole experiment, but again, given my limited space, I’ll take my chances with what I’ve got. It’ll still be fun either way.

This is probably obvious, but I’m REALLY excited to see how this goes! I’ll be making occasional updates with how this whole thing progresses over the coming months.



>Sour #4 (Flemish Red) Recipe and Progress

>Rodenbach is the beer that turned me on not only to Flemish-style sours, but sour beers in general. I’ve been wanting to do a Flemish sour for a long time, and after a vial (cube?) of East Coast Yeast‘s ECY02 Flemish Ale became available, I jumped on the chance.

Then I thought, why stop there?

I’ve heard of people making excellent Flemish Reds with Wyeast’s 3763 Roeselare Blend, And I wanted to compare the two side-by-side to see which I would use for future batches. I could have done my usual Small Batches, or split a 5 gallon batch into two 3 gallon carboys, but this time I decided on a different route. I try to maximize my mileage when it comes to sours; 2.5 gallons is perfect for experiments and the like, but if something is going to sit for 12-18 months, I’m simply going to want more volume. I had two 15 gallon kettles from my dad’s old brewing setup, and I could fit a mid-to-low gravity 10 gallon batch in my 10 gallon cooler, so I said F it, I’m gonna go for it!

My last post
is how said brewday went. In short, it kinda sucked.

But I did end up with 10 gallons of red wort! So I suppose this batch has been successful so far. We’ll see how the souring/aging part goes…

The recipe I used was very much inspired by the recipes in Jeff Sparrow’s excellent Wild Brews. It’s a bible of wild beer production, and I highly suggest it to anyone looking to learn more about sour/brett beers.

2011-014A/B Sour #4 (Flemish Red)

Brewed: 03/16/11

Racked to secondary: 03/23/11

Kegged/Bottled: eventually

Ready: even later than that

Batch Info


Batch Size: 10 Gallons

Extraction Efficiency: 75%

OG: 1.055

FG: dry!

IBU: 18

SRM: 15

Boil Length: 90 minutes

Grain Bill


German Pilsner Malt: 12lb (55.8%)

German Vienna Malt: 4lb (18.6%)

US Flaked Maize: 2lb (9.3%)

Belgian Special B: 2lb (9.3%)

US Flaked Wheat: 1lb 8oz (7.0%)

Hop Bill


German Perle (6.5%AA): 35g @ 90 minutes



Irish Moss: 1 tsp @ 15 minutes

Servomyces: 1 gelcap @ 15 minutes

French Oak Cubes (Medium Toast): 2oz (In Fermenter)



75% Carbon Filtered San Bernardino Ground Water

25% RO Water



Fermenter A: East Coast Yeast ECY02 Flemish Ale

Fermenter B: Wyeast 3763 Roeselare Blend

Mash Schedule


Sacch Rest: 158F for 90 minutes

Fly Sparge

Fermentation Schedule


Pitch @ 68F, hold for 7 days

Rack onto 1oz oak cubes per carboy, let age until ready.

I had some pics from the brewday, but I destroyed them out of spite. Here’s a few from the racking day:

The two beers, just before racking:

The Roeselare is on the left, the East Coast Yeast on the right. Interestingly, the Roeselare batch racked brilliantly clear, while the ECY was much more turbid.

An ounce of tasty oak, waiting to be steamed:

I use a stove-top vegetable steamer to steam my cubes. It removes a bit of the tannin and sanitizes them a bit:

Racking into secondary:

Happy sours chugging along in the closet:

>The Dreaded Trainwreck Brewday (And How Not to Handle It)

>I admit, I get frustrated fairly easily. As a brewer (home or otherwise), this isn’t the best personality trait to have. Many things can go wrong in a brewday, some you can predict and prepare for, others….. not so much. When these things-that-can-go-wrong seem to happen one after another after another, it becomes what I refer to as the Dreaded Trainwreck Brewday (from here on out known as DTBs.) A more level-headed gentleman would shrug off their DTBs and continue on. Me? I prefer obscenity. Lots of obscenity. Generally at high volume.

This is not the proper way to handle a DTB.
Especially one with the conditions I was operating under yesterday. It was my first ever 10 gallon batch (A Small Batch Brewer brewing 10 gallons…… irony?), and I should have known the day would be fraught with unpredictability. Calmness? Nope. Level-headedness? Not really. Cursing? You bet!
After the beers were at last in their fermenters, I thought to myself “There’s NO WAY I’m blogging about today! This was a ^#&$^@$*%^ bunch of &)#^$#%^ with a side of &#*%^!!! *$&^ this!!” However, once the steam cleared from the top of my head, I decided to take the day as a learning experience (aren’t all brewdays, though?) and share what I learned with my readers, as admittedly few as they are (readers… not lessons…)

As with most DTBs, including mine, this is the source of most errors. Brewdays are all about keeping to a schedule (60 minute mash, 90 minute boil, 30 minute cooling, 6 hour lag time, etc), and when the schedule is compromised the beer often is as well. Letting the mash go too long can lead to a thin beer, overboiling can lead to a beer that is too strong or bitter, chilling too far down can lead to stuck fermentations, etc. In my case, my schedule was compromised due to new equipment issues, leading to me mashing for almost 100 minutes instead of the intended 60 (cue cursing). Fortunately, I was high on my mash temp (about 157F), so excessive fermentability I don’t believe will be a problem, but nevertheless I should have prepped my equipment days before, not while I was in the middle of my mash.
Another preparation issue I had was due to my epic chilling apparatus fail. I’ve spoken of my love for the whirlpool chiller and its advantages. Unfortunately my immersion chiller is 25ft of 3/8″ copper tubing – big enough for a maximum of 5 gallons of wort. For this 10 gallon batch I used my tube-in-a-hose counterflow chiller I inherited from my father’s homebrewing system (along with the 15 gallon kettles I was using). It proved to be slow, but effective…. once I got the flow rates dialed in…… halfway through the process. One of my fermenters ended up having to go into my kegerator to be chilled down to proper fermenting temperature (more cursing). Also, I had an idea for how I was going to monitor the temp of the wort coming out of the chiller, but it proved to be rather ineffective, leaving just the thermometer strips on my buckets to let me know what temperature I was fermenting at (you guessed it. more cursing.) Again I was fortunate, overshooting my fermenting temp by only about 5 degrees. I brewed up a Flanders Red, a style requiring extensive aging, so I believe any off-flavors created by a warmish fermentation will fall away or be consumed by the plethora of wild yeast and bacteria in good time.
2. Good Personal Condition

The combination a high stress day, lots of caffeine, and very little food is the perfect way to have a DTB. Not only does it lead to scatter-brain, but small issues seem much worse than they actually are (anybody who had overconsumed caffeine on too little food knows exactly what I mean. Lots of cursing.) This really leads directly back to #1, as my lack of preparedness screwed my brewday schedule, and the time I was supposed to be eating was consumed (pun intended) by equipment problems (and cursing.) Especially when a brewday is going to be unpredictable, a good personal condition is essential to keeping one’s head on straight.
3. Weather

Obviously, this is the element one cannot control, but somehow all of my DTBs have some kind of weather issue. Being in a valley in inland Southern California, my issue is usually wind. Rain I can handle. Cold? No problem. Heat? No sweat (ha!) Wind…. is the great brewday destroyer. If you aren’t working with a completely closed system, the amount of crap it can force into your unfermented wort is astounding, as is its ability to permeate wherever you go. For my Small Batches, I can just close the windows, but for 5 gallon batches or larger, when one must be outdoors or in a very well-ventilated area due to your propane burner(s), there is no escape. The secret here is to take it in stride. One can’t control the weather, and most can barely predict it, so should weather issues arise, have a beer and hope things turn out for the best.
Have you had a DTB recently? Are there common elements to your DTBs? Is it just me, or does DTB sound like an STD? I’d love to hear what your experiences are, so let me know in the comments!
Categories: advice, musings

>Porter #1 (London Porter) Recipe & Tasting

>After reading about White Labs’ Yorkshire Square yeast, I was intrigued by the description:

This yeast produces a beer that is malty, but well-balanced. Expect flavors that are toasty with malt-driven esters. Highly flocculent and good choice for English pale ales, English brown ales, and mild ales.

I’m a huge proponent of all yeasts English (WLP002 is my go-to yeast for just about everything), and it sounded like this one could make a tasty, malt-forward American Pale Ale. Frankly, the pale I made with it turned out to be pretty meh (I have issues with the excess of minerals in my ground water – more on this later), but the Samuel Smith Taddy Porter-inspired English Brown Porter I made with the washed yeast turned out to be dang tasty! It ended up a bit drier and roastier than the Sam Smith, but I’m still enjoying the heck out of it.

2011-011 Porter #1 (London Porter)

Brewed: 02/23/11
Racked to secondary: n/a
Kegged/Bottled: 03/02/11
Ready: 03/02/11

Batch Info
Batch Size: 2.5 Gallons
Extraction Efficiency: 84%
OG: 1.049
FG: 1.011
IBU: 22
SRM: 32.5
Boil Length: 90 Minutes

Grain Bill

UK Maris Otter: 3lb 8oz (75.7%)
US Chocolate Malt: 6oz (8.1%)
UK Brown Malt:6oz (8.1%)
US Caramel 80 Malt: 4oz (5.4%)
UK Black Malt: 2oz (2.7%)

Hop Bill
UK East Kent Goldings (5.5%AA): 8 grams (12.8 IBU) @ 90 minutes
UK East Kent Goldings (5.6%AA): 8 grams (6.9 IBU) @ 30 minutes
UK East Kent Goldings (5.9%AA): 7 grams (2.3 IBU) @ 5 minutes

(variance in alpha acid due to use of two batches of hops with different AA)

Whirlfloc (1 Tablet) @ 15 minutes
Servomyces (1 gelcap) @ 15 minutes

Carbon filtered San Bernardino ground water

White Labs WLP037 Yorkshire Square Ale Yeast
500ml starter @ 1.040

Mash Schedule
Sacch Rest: 154F for 60 minutes
Batch Sparge

Fermentation Schedule
Pitch @ 66F
Finished @ ~69F in 5 days

Shook for 30 seconds @ 30 Psi, let sit under pressure 1 hour.

1. First time using UK Brown malt. I’ve read grist percentages of up to 35%, but I decided to go easy.
2. Starter was very active due to super fresh harvested yeast.


Appearance: Very dark brown, bordering on black. A bit darker than I had hoped, but still a good looking beer. Light tan head leaves some light lacing, and has fair staying power.

Aroma: Dark chocolate. Big toasty notes. The brown malt adds an interesting toasty/roasty character I like very much. Bready. A bit of smoke perhaps?

Taste: Chocolate first, with caramel quickly backing it up. More toast/biscuit in the mid-palate. A touch metallic (thanks, San Berdoo….)

Mouthfeel: Medium body. Pretty long finish. Slightly too much carbonation leaves it a bit drier than I expected.

Thoughts: For a recipe I threw together relatively quickly, this turned out very well! Unfortunately, I didn’t harvest the yeast, so this is a one-time batch, but I’ll definitely do another round with my preferred WLP002 to see how it turns out.

A note on recipe naming: I group my recipes by style, and then name each recipe individually. I also number each batch by year and sequence within that year (so 2011-011 Porter #1 [London Porter] is the 11th batch brewed in 2011, and the first porter recipe I’ve formulated.) I’ll write recipes out of pure boredom (I have almost a dozen Saison recipes), so If the order is odd, or a number is missing, that’s why.

Categories: english, porter, recipe, tasting

>Yeast Propagation Equipment for the Small Batch Brewer


I’ll admit it. This is an area that I don’t have a lot of knowledge in yet. I’m just super stoked that my order from Cynmar arrived! Soon I’ll be plating, slanting, and culturing myself a sweet yeast library. As I don’t yet have any practical experience, I can only point you to the two main sources of my research:

1. Eric Lowe’s awesome yeast slanting write-up on HomeBrewTalk.com: A great practical step-by-step tutorial on slanting yeast for long-term storage, with lots of references.
2. Yeast – The Practical Guide to Beer Fermentation by Jamil Zainasheff and Chris White: More in-depth and advanced than Eric’s write-up, with extra info on other ways you can use lab analysis to improve your beer.
Categories: advice, equipment, yeast

>Equipment for the Small Batch Brewer


The Small Batch Brewer’s equipment setup can vary just as much as any brewing setup, but the Small Batch Brewer has a few particular requirements due to the small batch size, and there are a few things that become especially handy. After about six months of trial and error, this is the setup I’ve come up with, and I think it works pretty well.
The Crush:
Much of my homebrew gear was inherited from my father when he stopped brewing. Fortunately, like me, he was a bit of a gear head, so I got a few very nice pieces of equipment I wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford. The first is my Valley Mill.
Some old-school brewers will recognize the brand; this was a pretty popular option before the company unfortunately went out of business. Owning my own mill provides two main advantages:
1. Bulk grain lasts much longer if stored whole. Crushed grains lose their freshness fairly quickly, and having many grains whole and on-hand allows me a lot of flexibility when it comes to quick recipe formulation.
2. Your crush is one of the biggest factors in extraction efficiency, and owning my own mill allows me to dial in my crush to my own system, instead of dialing in my system to my LHBS’s crush. After dialing in my crush, I regularly achieve 80% extraction efficiency with no lautering issues.
The Mash:

I mainly use a good ol’ fashioned 5 gallon Igloo cooler with a Phil’s false bottom.

For sparging, I’ve found that batch sparging is the most efficient and least time-consuming method. I’ve tried fly sparging a small batch, but I found no particular advantage, and it was more equipment-intensive and time consuming.

The Boil:

My main kettle is a 30 quart Polarware economy stainless steel kettle.

The 30 quart size is great because I can do 90 minute boils (with my boiloff rate, I start at about 4 gallons pre-boil) without worrying about boilovers, and I can also use it for the occasional 5 gallon batch.

I added the weldless spigot for the convenience of taking samples, draining from the bottom, and to use my pump for a whirlpool. I think any brewer worth their salt knows how handy a spigot on their kettle is.

Chilling the Wort:

For small batches, a standard 25′ 3/8″OD copper immersion wort chiller is more than sufficient for my needs. Mine is a suitably ugly homemade job.

I mentioned I use a pump in conjunction with the immersion chiller; This dramatically increases the efficiency of the immersion chiller by continuously circulating the wort (my setup is inspired by Jamil Zainasheff’s Whirlpool Chiller. Googling it will bring up a ton of great info.) Without this, most brewers experience stratification, where the wort immediately around the chiller is much cooler than throughout the rest of the kettle. To create the inlet for the whirlpool, I simply bent a piece of 3/8″ copper so I could attach a hose coming from the outlet of my pump.

Here’s the whole apparatus in action:


For me, the six gallon bucket is the best and most convenient primary fermentation vessel. They’re cheap, easy to clean, easy to heat (for diacetyl rests), and easy to move. Also, having a spigot drilled makes transfer a snap. Yes, they are quite oxygen permeable, so I wouldn’t leave a batch in one for more than a few weeks, but for 1-2 week primaries the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages for me.

Instead of using a sealed lid and airlock, I have a loose fitting lid that sits on top of the bucket, effectively creating open fermentation. Honestly, this is more for convenience than anything. With the loose lid it becomes easier to quickly pull a sample, and the fact that it’s clear lets me see whats going on inside.

I rarely do secondaries, but when I do (dry hopping, fruiting, long-term aging) I’ve found nothing better than 3 gallon Better Bottles.

They’re light, easy to clean, unbreakable if dropped, punted for easy racking off the sediment, and their square shape makes multiples fit better into closets and the like. Here’s a couple in action holding some sour beers I’m aging, along with some 5 gallon sour batches, also in Better Bottles:
A quick word on Better Bottles: There are some in the homebrewing world who argue that glass carboys are superior. I personally have not heard a convincing argument that Better Bottles are flawed in any way. There is the oxygen issue (some argue that Better Bottles are oxygen permeable, which would oxidize the beer during long-term aging), but according to the Better Bottle website, the permeability is negligible unless you’re planning to age something for several years. I still have yet to hear an effective refutation of this, and I have had no oxidation issues at all (for the sour brewers out there, the pellicles on my sours are from burping the airlocks, not from any supposed wall permeability.) If anybody has proof otherwise, please let me know! The goal in the end is simply to make better beer, and I’m open to any method.

Like many experienced brewers, I grew tired of bottling days quickly. Kegging was the obvious choice, and as a Small Batch Brewer, the 3 gallon Corny Keg is both a blessing and a curse:

A blessing because of the perfect size for small batches, and the space savings in my keezer (a kegerator made from a chest freezer, for the uninitiated). A curse due to both the rarity (small kegs are becoming increasingly more difficult to find used), and the extraordinary cost of new ones (easily $120 new). Suffice to say, whenever I come across one, I try my damndest to get my grubby little hands on it.

I do bottle condition on occasion, mostly if I’m planning on aging a beer in the bottle (very big beers, sours, anything brett-spiked). The nice thing about bottling a Small Batch is that it usually makes a tidy single case of 12oz or 22oz bottles.


One last thing that is incredibly handy for a small batch brewer is the refractometer:

I check my gravities as frequently as I can (especially during fermentation), and if you use a standard hydrometer, the repeated pulling of large samples can take a significant toll on your final yield. With the refractometer, all that’s required is a few drops to get an accurate sample. Also, most refractometers have ATC (Automatic Temperature Correction), so the number you get doesn’t have to be adjusted for temperature like a hydrometer.

Unfortunately there are some disadvantages. First, most hydrometers can’t read over a gravity of 1.120, or 30 Brix. This isn’t a problem 95% of the time for me, but when it comes time to do a really big beer, it’ll be annoying to have to break out the hydrometer every time I need to take a reading, especially because fermentation schedules are so critical with high gravity beers and need to be closely monitored. Secondly, refractometers are built to take readings on pure sucrose solutions. Wort is mostly maltose, so there is a correction factor that has to be applied to get an accurate OG reading. Also, after fermentation begins, another correction has to be made for the presence of alcohol. Fortunately both of these issues can be sidestepped with almost any brewing software.


Many brewers can adapt their current setups for Small Batch Brewing, and I hope my methods can inspire other brewers to do the same. Do you ever do Small Batches? If so, let me know your methods in the comments!

Categories: advice, equipment