We each interpret the saison story in our own ways.
My type of saison resembles a bitter, hop-forward pilsner that happens to have some moderately spicy and fruity fermentation character. I could also describe it as Saison Dupont-ish, but with more hops—like Saison de Dottignies from De Ranke, which is one of my faves and punches up to 45 IBUs.
So, I usually go with 100 percent pilsner—though I occasionally play with portions of rye or wheat—and lately I’ve gotten gorgeous results from Czech floor-malted. I like a classic step mash, including a protein rest that seems to promote great foam. I never have settled on a favorite yeast strain, but I enjoy the convenience, reliability, and high attenuation of Lallemand’s Belle Saison and similar “French saison” strains. (Careful with that diastaticus—keep your sanitation regime tight.) My chosen hops include spicy Tettnanger, herbal Hallertauer Mittelfrüh, fragrant Willamette, and, especially lately, lovely lemony-floral Loral. My sweet spot for bitterness is around 38–40 IBUs.
That’s the kind of saison I wish more commercial brewers made, but I understand—they’re all busy interpreting the story in their own ways. So, I just do it myself.
And then we live happily ever after.
For much more about this style and brewing it, see Saison: A Story in Motion, and Brasserie de la Senne’s Yvan De Baets Explains Saison’s Greatest Myth: the Yeast.
Batch size: 5 gallons (19 liters)
Brewhouse efficiency: 72%
9 lb (4.1 kg) Czech pilsner
0.4 oz (11 g) Perle at 60 minutes [11 IBUs]
1 oz (28 g) Tettnang at 30 minutes [12 IBUs]
1 oz (28 g) Hallertauer Mittelfrüh at 5 minutes [3 IBUs]
1.5 oz (43 g) Loral at whirlpool [11 IBUs]
Lallemand Belle Saison
Mill the grains and do a step mash: mash in at 120°F (49°C), rest 15 minutes; raise to 140°F (60°C), rest 15 minutes; raise to 149°F (65°C), rest 25 minutes; and raise to 170°F (77°C), rest 5 minutes, and mash out. (If you’re not so geeky about traditional step mashes, try a single-infusion mash at 149°F/65°C for 60 minutes; any differences will be subtle.) Vorlauf until the runnings are clear, then run off into the kettle. Sparge and top up as necessary to get about 6.5 gallons (25 liters) of wort—or more, depending on your evaporation rate. Boil for 90 minutes, adding boil hops according to the schedule. After the boil, stir for 10 minutes to conduct a whirlpool, add whirlpool hops, then allow 10 minutes for it to settle. Chill the wort to about 72°F (22°C), aerate, and pitch yeast. Cover the fermentor loosely with sanitized foil and allow to ferment at ambient temperatures—this yeast is very forgiving—allowing the temperature to free rise if it wants. Once the initial fermentation activity has subsided, after a few days, you can replace the foil with a lid and airlock. After about 2 more weeks, once the gravity has stabilized, crash, package, and carbonate to about 3 volumes.
I like to drink these beers when the hop character is fresh. Sometimes I’ll dry hop them—either during primary fermentation, after it’s chilled, or both. They are also good candidates for bottle-conditioning with Brett—just be sure that the gravity is sufficiently low and stable before packaging. Use sturdy bottles, preferably champagne bottles.