Every year my homebrew club runs an advent beer exchange. This is one of my favourite events of the brewing year, as it brings out the creativity of the brewers in my club. This year featured many excellent beers, including a fantastic graff, some amazing sours, great IPAs and a handful of brett-fermented beers. My contribution was a black saison, inspired by a recipe in American Sour Beers. This saison features caramelised dates, cardamom and Brettanomyces.
I wanted this beer to have a good brett character, so I brewed this beer in early October, and scheduled it in the advent exchange for near the end of December. I lucked out, and ended up brewing on a beautiful early October morning. I used two “tricks” to maximise the saison & Brettanomyces flavours. Firstly, I used a blend of a characterful and rapidly fermenting saison yeasts to ensure a quick ferment with a flavourful finish. Secondly, I bottle conditioned the beer as, anecdotally, this appears to promote flavour development by Brettanomyces.
Recipe – XMas in Morocco Black Saison
6.33 kg Canadian 2 Row Pale Malt
0.31 kg Caramunich Malt
0.31 kg Special B Malt
0.27 kg Caramel/Crystal Malt – 40L
0.15 kg Chocolate Malt (Light, 300.0 SRM)
0.11 kg Special Roast (50.0 SRM)
0.08 kg Carafa Special III
0.08 kg Wheat, Flaked
14.17 g Warrior [15.00 %] – Boil 60.0 min (20.8 IBUs)
5.00 g Cardamom (Boil 2.0 mins)
0.60 kg Dates, caramelised and deglazed with red wine
The grains were mashed at 67.8C for 90 min, wort collected, and boiled for 60 minutes. The cardamom was added as whole seeds, 2 min before the end of the boil in a tea ball, and was pulled a few minutes after I had started chilling. After chilling the beer had a gravity of 1.079 – exactly as planned. A mixture of Wyeast 3711, Saison Dupont and a Brettanomyces I isolated from a commercial beer was pitched at 18C, with the temperature ramped to 25C over 3 days, starting on day 3.
Primary ferment was completed on day 5, at which time I caramelised 600 g of finely chopped dates, deglazed the pan with red wine, and added the wine/date mix to the fermenter. A week later fermentation has subsided and the dates lost much of their colour. By this time the beer had stabilised at a final gravity of 1.006. At this time I transferred the beer to a keg and force-carbonated to ~2.4 volumes over 48 hours.
I bottled the beer as soon as it has carbonated, adding to each 355 ml (12 oz) bottle 2 g of table sugar (dissolved into boiling water at a 2:1 sugar:water ratio). This provides an addition ~0.5 volume of carbonation, scrubs any oxygen out of the headspace, and (hopefully) promotes Brettanomyces flavour development. I also made a small handful of 750 ml champagne bottles for myself, carbonated to 6 volumes with honey.
Appearance: Jet-black with a beige head.
Aroma: The aroma is a strong maltiness, with a subtle spice and smoke note. As the beer warms stone fruit aromas begin to appear.
Flavour: Early-on, the cardamom flavour was overwhelming, giving the beer a medicinal flavour. Thankfully, this flavour faded by late December, leaving the beer much more balanced. At this time the beer had a complex flavour profile that changed greatly as it warmed. When first served there is a notable saison character, as well as modest earthiness and leather notes from the Brettanomyces. The cardamom is subtle but present, giving a character that flutters between smokiness and an almost menthol-like cooling character. As the beer warms the stone fruit and caramel flavour of the dates becomes more predominant. A warming from the high (9.5% ABV) alcohol content also appears as the beer warms. The aftertaste is a lingering caramel/date note overlaid on a cooling smoke/menthol spiciness.
Mouthfeel: This is hugely dependent on the carbonation level. In the bottles distributed to my brewing club (3 volumes CO2), the beer was heavy bodied and coated the palate. The champagne bottles (6 volumes of CO2) were much lighter bodied, had a carbonic bite that worked surprisingly well with the spice and fruit notes, and was much less coating on the palate. I wish I had pushed the carbonation even higher, perhaps as high as 9 volumes.
Overall: I am very happy with how this beer turned out, with a strong preference for the highly carbonated version. This beer is complex, evolves as it warms, and is a fun for a cold winters eve. I still have two champagne bottles left, and I am looking forward to seeing how they evolve over the next 6 months. I was concerned that this beer would be unbalanced, as the original recipe was intended to be a sour. This fear was unfounded. In fact, I’m not certain a sour version would be better as I think a lot of the subtle character would be lost.