Back in July I brewed three beers from one mash, a kettle soured Apricot Berliner, a radler, and a saison. The saison was originally intended as a quick turn-around, table saison. But a busy work schedule plus a heavy dose of laziness meant that this beer was still in the fermenter come September, and little did I know, fate was to smile on me. We live on a small farm – the previous owners were elderly, and let a large amount of our land go to bush. While inconvenient for us, it turns out that a large portion of the brush is a horribly invasive plant – the Autumn Olive.
A bit of research, and more than a bit of tasting, revealed these to be a potentially ideal berry for a saison – the skin has an astringent similar to that of cranberry, while the thin layer of flesh (covering a rather large seed) is both intensely fruity and sour. I’m a fan of cranberry in my beers (examples 1, 2 and 3…of at least 50), so I figured that this would be a great fruit to try in a saison.
Brewing with the Autumn Olive
Picking these berries is somewhat of a pain – they grow off of the stems of the plant, meaning that they cannot be easily stripped, and instead must be picked 1-by-1. It took my wife and I over two hours to pick a little over a kilo of autumn olives., which I figured would be a good amount to start with in the beer. I figured this amount would be enough to add the character, but not so much as to make the beer undrinkable should the olives impart unpleasant flavours.
My preparation of the olives was fairly simple; after picking I washed them in cold water in the sink. The ripe autumn olives sunk, making it easy to remove under-ripe fruit, leaves and other debris. A few rinses in a colander, and the fruit was clean and ready to go.
I dried the fruit on some towels and then transferred them to a zipper-sealed bag. I pushed out as much air as I could, and then froze the bag overnight in the deep freeze. In my past experience, this helps to extract flavour from fruit more quickly, and to provide a better total flavour extraction. I thawed the berries and placed the entire bag into beer, which at this point had already been aging for a month. The saison sat on the autumn olives for a little over a month, at which point they had faded to a dull pink and begun to float on the beer. The beer was then kegged, carbonated, and served.
Appearance: The beer pours a light copper colour which I’ve convinced myself has a faint pink hue from the autumn olives. The head is somewhat course and doesn’t last for long.
Aroma: This beer has the aroma I typically associate with a saison. Fruity, a touch of spice, all layered on a subtle earthy/loam backbone. The fruitiness is a bit stronger than I normally expect – but I do not know if this is a result of the autumn olives or the yeast blend I used.
Flavour: Up-front, this beer has a bready malt character, a touch of loamy from the yeast, and a wonderful fruity character. Despite the 1.003 final gravity, the fruit note gives a hint of sweetness, with berry-like and cherry-like ester notes. Surprisingly, none of the cranberry-like astringency comes through. The beer ends crisp and dry, with a lingering berry and loam note.
Mouthfeel: It’s a saison, and as you’d expect it is dry with a prickling carbonation.
Overall: This is a great beer, with a wonderful complexity provided by the yeast and autumn olive. To my mind, this beer is the essence of saison – fruity, earthy, complex and yet drinkable at the same time. The very high attenuation means that this beer also packs a bit of a punch, making it great to enjoy in the evening after a long day’s work.