SMASH Saison (all-grain)

saisonThis is my first SMASH beer (Single Malt And Single Hop) so I’m excited to see how this turns out! It makes sense that it would be a great way to learn about different ingredients and isolate their flavors/effects, and I really don’t know why it’s taken me so long to make one. I know for sure that I tend to get ingredient-happy and make beers more complex than they need to be, which often makes the beer taste sorta muddy and over-complicated. Recently I’ve been scaling back my recipes to use a maximum of 2 to 3 malts and I really think the results have been for the better.

Originally I wasn’t set on doing a saison for the style of this SMASH beer; all I really knew was that I wanted something refreshing, crisp, slightly dry with a subtle hop presence to it. The rest sort of fell into place as I toyed around with different styles to go after. Saison yeast should be able to really attenuate down to below 1.01 and throwing in some hops at 60 and 30 should yield a nice amount of bitterness with a hint of hop flavor.

This is also my first go around with the Sorachi Ace hop. It’s definitely an interesting breed; offering a lemon, dill, grassy type of character. I’ve tasted IPAs that try to make it the focal point, and honestly, I think they’re very weird and unappetizing. But in other more subtle uses I really enjoy them. I tried to really scale back (only using 1 oz for the entire recipe), but I think they’ll mesh really well with the spicy complexity of the saison yeast.

This beer should be around 43 IBUs, and result in a 5.7% ABV beer.

  • 9.5 lb Belgian pale malt (Franco-belgiess)
  • 0.5 oz Sorachi Ace hops (12.6%aa) 60 min
  • 0.5 oz Sorachi Ace hops (12.6%aa) 30 min
  • White Labs Saison Ale yeast

// Mash in 2 qts/lb at 148F for 30 mins, raise to 158F for 20 mins, raise to 168F for 10 mins. Batch sparge to collect 7 gal 1.04 pre-boil wort. Boil 90 mins adding hops at specified times. Chill to 75F, let sit for 25 minutes. Transfer to primary, aerate, pitch yeast starter. //

I wanted to mash low-and-slow (148 for ~1 hr) to give the yeast plenty of sugar to munch through, but a thunderstorm was coming while I brewed so I had to speed it up.

UPDATE (6/9): I set up my usual blow-off tube for the primary (it normally always overflows), but this one never quite picked up fermentation to that level. It got started right away, but never exceeded about 1 bubble ever 30 seconds with about a 1 inch layer of krausen on top of the beer. Gravity reads 1.016 after 7 days. Amazing nose; really get that classic spicy/fruity saison experience right up front. Still quite a bit sweet and under-attenuated – this yeast definitely still has some more work to do. I pitched a vial of american ale yeast and racked to a secondary to help aerate the wort and get things moving. The taste is really nice for not having dried out completely yet. Definitely fruity – lots of pear, orange, lemon. Hops aren’t so noticeable at this point, but it has a nice level of bitterness – they might show up once the rest of the sugars are gone.

UPDATE (6/15): Bubbling picked up then slowed to about once per minute, and most of the yeast dropped clear in the secondary.  Even more amazing nose than before; true saison – grass, spice, lemon, slightly perfume-y and also a slight funkiness (awesome!). Gravity reads 1.007 but doesn’t taste super dry, still has a little bit of body and retained some sweetness. Can’t wait to taste this with some carbonation and chill, it’s gonna be awesome!


If there’s one takeaway from this batch, it’s this: saison yeast is amazing. With every sip of this beer comes an explosion of complex flavors/aromas that makes your brain go “whoa” –  then I’m quickly grounded when I remember how simple the original ingredient list was.

The Sorachi Ace hops sit pleasantly in the background and do a great job supporting the complexity of the yeast. They’re not always noticeable, but every once in a while they jump out. I would support bumping up to 0.75 oz at each addition; a whole 1 oz at 60 and 30 might be overbearing, but would probably give just an edgier American twist on the style.

I’ve been hesitant to make a saison for a while ever since the first one I did about a year ago. The biggest lesson learned is that this yeast is sloooooow to finish, but worth the wait. I’ve also not been a huge fan of the past few Belgian beers I’ve made, which I think is attributable to a few different factors. I’m a huge snob with Belgian beers, so anything less than “the real thing” really rubs me the wrong way. I’m happy to say that this saison came out 99.9% delicious in my books.

I did a side-by-side comparison of this saison with Yards Brewing Co.’s saison. There were a lot of similarities in terms of flavor and aroma, even color. Theirs was just a hair darker, clearer, and had a tiny bit more body, but you can tell they probably keep their recipe really simple, too. I really like theirs, and would be down for adding just a tiny bit of light crystal to mine to boost the body and provide a hint of color. Anything more I feel would overcrowd the amazing effects the yeast has on this style of beer.


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Filed under Belgian, Saison

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