Thursday, June 6, 2013

Imperial Sour Saison - Recipe & Brew Day

sour saison krausen

Sometime last year, I figured out what to brew for my dad's 50th birthday: an imperial sour saison. Saisons have been one of my dad's favorite styles for the last couple years, and ever since I had him try a sour farmhouse ale from Crooked Stave out in Denver, he's become hooked on sours as well. (What can I say, the man's got good taste). I've been wanting to try some kind of imperialized wild ale for a while now, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity. As with the saisons I brewed with Hill Farmstead and Fantome dregs a few months ago, I'm interested in coming up with a few recipes for mild sours that don't require a year and a half of aging. They won't be as complex or sour as a lambic, sure, but halfway between that and your basic saison is still a wonderful thing.

Then I discovered another little bit of synergy that just set the whole plan over the top. Since I came up with this idea too late to be drinking it for my dad's actual birthday, I decided I'd simply brew around the time of his birthday and tell him he'd just have to be patient. Since it's a brew designed to be highly age-able, we'll be able to crack a bottle on his birthday for many years to come — if it all goes well, anyway. Then it occurred to me: with some lucky timing and a steadfast adherence to my brewing schedule, I could be brewing my 50th batch of homebrew for my dad's 50th birthday. So I had to do it. He may not be getting his present for a whole year, but it should be worth it.

Back in February, I brewed two petite sour saisons: both fermented primarily with White Labs Saison II strain, but one given dregs from some Hill Farmstead saisons, and the other dosed with dregs from Fantome saison. Both have been slowly creeping down in gravity over the last few months. I had hoped to have one ready for bottling by now, but since neither were, I decided to rack the Fantome saison to secondary, giving it the extra month or two it needs and freeing up its beautiful, funky yeast cake. All those bugs and Brett — or whatever is lurking in Fantome, which is a bit of a mystery, actually — are hungry and ready to go, so I'm hoping this gets tart fairly fast. The petite sour saison providing the yeast cake is tasting beautiful so far: incredibly juicy and tart, with a refreshing clean sourness and some good farmhouse funk to still mark it as a saison. That, of course, bodes well for a beer brewed on its yeast cake.

Of course, this brew will offer some learning opportunities, as opposed to just being an exercise in imperialization. With an original gravity of 1.067, I'm expecting this to get pretty dry and therefore fairly high ABV from the get-go... probably north of 8%. So here's the crux of the experiment: conventional wisdom has it that souring bugs don't like ABVs much above 9%. To start, how will this differ from the original petite saison — flavor-wise — simply by being higher gravity? Fantome is already an 8% ABV beer, so I'm guessing with just the starches from the grain — the original gravity of 1.067 — the bugs won't be slowed down much. I'm going to give this a few months to work up its funk and sourness over the summer. Then, when I think it's at a good place, I'm going to dump some honey or corn sugar into it — enough to raise the ABV to about 10%. Therefore, I should end up with a nicely sour, super light, dangerously drinkable farmhouse ale that happens to be imperialized. And, hopefully, it won't take a year to finish up. The critters in these saisons seem to act pretty fast, and saisons are so naturally dry that I'm counting on the bugs and Brett not having a ton to chew on over time. Not that I don't want the funk, but again, I'm not shooting for a lambic: I'm hoping for farmhouse saison flavors, with a nice base of acidity.

With any luck, my dad and I will be sharing the first bottle on his 51st birthday, and I'll be well on my way to the 100th Batch milestone. Wonder what I should do to mark that occasion?

5 Gal., All Grain
Mashed at 146 degrees F for 70 minutes
60 minute boil
Fermented at 74 F ambient room temp
OG: 1.067 / 16.4 Brix (pre-sugar additions)

60.5 % 2-row malt
27.9 % white wheat malt
9.3 % flaked oats
2.3 % honey malt

Hop Schedule-
~10 IBU
0.5 oz Citra @5

White Labs Saison II
Fantome Dregs

Brew Log-
Brewed 5.27.2013
Pitched onto yeast cake of petite sour saison with Fantome dregs
Aggressive fermentation within 8 hours
Krausen dropped within 3 days


  1. Sounds awesome, I'm interested to hear the results. I brewed something similar in January '12 with Bugfarm 5. I plan to post about it on my blog in a few days. I'm surprised you didnt mash a little higher to leave more complex dextrins for the bugs to chew on over time and still getting a dry beer.

    1. Nice, I definitely want to read about that. Yeah, I went back and forth and what mash temp to shoot for. Ultimately I figured that since this was going to be a bigger beer, I'd go with the low mash temp to have it finish up as quickly as possible. Might add some lactose sugar instead of corn sugar to feed the Brett later, too, but I didn't want this to turn into a year-long aging thing. Maybe I'll regret it, but oh well, it's all in the name of experimentation.

  2. Good idea here. What flavors are you getting so far from those petite Saisons?

    1. Both are tasting really nice so far, very tart, light, nice clean lactic sourness, funky saison character with some funky Brett character starting to come out. Pretty much exactly what I was hoping for honestly. I think the Fantome version has a little more Brett character where the Hill Farmstead version was a bit stronger on the lactic sourness side.

  3. Can I ask the efficiency this recipe was built on?


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