Friday, April 10, 2015

FarmWards Batch #2: The blandest of beers

Try as we might, not every beer turns out as the brewer had hoped. Despite planning, research and analysis of beers past there can always be a mistake, or in this case a mistake in judgement/process. For this beer I had set out to dial in a recipe for a little Saison recipe that was inspired by Tired Hands Saison Hands, what I got was something just north of boring. Now this beer isn't bad, as you'll read below, it is just lacking any real character you would expect in a Saison.

With this tasting notes post I wanted to change it up a bit and get the opinion of someone whom I respect and would give me positive feedback. I reached out to Brian Hall of to see if he would be willing to write me a little review. I really like Brian's reviewing style with beers folks send him for his blog, he is honest, articulate and honest. I can't stress how important it is to have someone whom you can rely on for honest to goodness feedback and I've always gotten that from Brian. I'll jump back in after the review with on how I think we got to this point with this beer but I will let Brian take it from here.

If nothing else its a pretty beer.
I know Ed from conversations when we started beta testing for the Yeast Bay.  Since beginning that project, we regularly send ideas back and forth regarding all things beer and bread. I’ve sent him beers and he’s returned great beers.  One of my favorites from his first package is one I plan on making soon.  
Recently he sent me two beers and asked me to give him a brutally honest review of a Saison he’d brewed up.  I told him no problem, I can do a “Brewtally Honest” review of any beer.  Three days later, they were on my doorstep. Lucky for me, the beer was racked off the keg so I wouldn’t have to let it settle for a week.
I wasn’t given any information other than that the beer was a saison.  Apparently he’d reviewed it himself on his blog, but to be honest I don’t recall reading that particular entry so I was starting with no knowledge (take that as you will.)  I didn’t pull out the BJCP guidelines, as I prefer to simply write about what I observe rather than end up looking for things that are missing.
I took the beer out of our fridge and let it sit for half an hour.  WIth a “kssst” the cap came off and for a second I thought I was in the presence of a gusher (impressive for a keg racking!)  However, it poured great and had an excellent finger of head which remained on the beer throughout most of the tasting.    
Before taking a quick photo, I plunged in for aroma.  And again.  At first (as the beer was a tad on the cool side) I didn’t get much, except for a strong “beer”-like aroma.  I’ll elaborate.  The nose was primarily pilsner malt - the same smell one would get from smelling any of the macro breweries - Bud, Coors, Miller.  In the same way you might describe what chicken tasted like was how I found myself trying to describe this brew - “Well, it smells like beer…”  As the beer warmed and I got past the pilsner, I noticed some very light notes of lemon zest, clove, and what I thought to be noble hops (turns out they were Cascade…)  I’ll reiterate, these aromas were in very small amounts.  I almost thought I got a little whiff of peppercorn spice, but it might have been in my head as I knew this was supposed to be a saison.
After making a few notes, I gave it a taste.  First impression was it was incredibly thin.  In the words of someone who tried my Pumpkin Beer of ‘12, “Is there any malt in here??”  Other impressions was that the flavors seemed somewhat muddled, as opposed to the usual crisp and clean.  Bitterness was low-med, and I perceived a slight astringency in the finish.  Carbonation was great, there was no DMS or diacetyl, or any other off flavors.
While easy to drink, not a huge “deliciousness” factor - sheerly just from the lack of overall flavor.  More hop flavor comes out as it warms.  A very, very thin beer, however beer nonetheless. Ed asked if my impressions would have changed if he would have pitched it as a table beer - my response was probably not.  I probably wouldn’t have “looked” for the peppercorn/spice, but other than that everything was just observation.  Even in a table beer, I’d still like a little more “going on.”  
I spoke with Ed a little about how he brewed this beer and the main thing he told me was that he tried a Ferulic Acid rest during his mash.  Brewing with Wheat states this rest is typically done around 111-115 degrees and - you guessed it - develops ferulic acid.  Supposedly this rest aids in the production of clove like flavors, however there has been debate over whether it works or not.  Did this account for what I perceived to be a light clove flavor?  Perhaps, as I wasn’t aware of the acid rest when I was sampling the beer. 
Would I buy this beer?  Probably not.  It’s not flawed, there wasn’t a “yuck” factor at all, it just came up short with my expectations for a beer simply due to the thinness of the drink.  Would I like to see this brewed again with a little more malt?  Yes please.

-Brian Hall 
So, a pretty forgettable beer in the end. I was happy Brian picked up on the strong Pilsner aroma, "beer-like" is really a great way to describe it, its something that I have gotten from almost every beer that I have brewed with Wallonian Farmhouse. But this character tends to fade with time, to the point that it virtually disappears

I was going for a pretty light beer, but not as light as this beer ended up. I had decided to ferment with Wallonian on the cool side, 67F, to see if I could still achieve a complex fermentation profile as well as a dry beer in doing so. I succeeded in the dry beer department with a FG of 1.002 but the fermentation character is way too clean. When you build a beer that leans so heavily on expressions from a characterful yeast you really need to ensure that happens or you might end up with a "beer-like" character resembling BMC. Yikes, back to the drawing board. 

Thanks again to Brian for his thorough and honest review, and be sure to scope out his site for a lot of great funky beer and cooking posts. Thanks to him and his sourdough culture he shared, bread baking has become a new obsession of mine and Brian knows his stuff in that department. Cheers!


  1. I have been working on brewing a table strength Saison for quite some time. And most of them I got your same impression - boring. They were easy to crush and people enjoyed drinking them when the weather was warm. However, I was really determined to brew a low alcohol beer that was big on flavor.

    I'm pretty happy with our most recent efforts, which is the base beer for Council Brewing's Beatitude. I think this style of beer needs 2 things: 1. A fairly large dose of rye 20-25% . (I noticed you used a mix of adjuncts, I haven't been pleased with my results with wheat or oats) 2. Mixed Fermentation - the low pH seems to bring the flavor intensity up greatly and the slight earthy Brett notes gives it some complexity.

    Looking forward to what you are doing with your next batch.

    1. The pains of getting that perfect session beer. I'm brewing another take on my Sorachi Ace Saison but more table strength this weekend. I agree with the Rye amounts Jeffrey stated. I'm currently at 18.6% Rye on mine and shooting for 5% ABV. Once I get that balance I'll start lowering it down into the 4.2% range.

    2. Those are great tips Jeff, I was thinking about how this beer might have been improved with a mixed culture. This was a split batch, a portion fermented out with The Yeast Bay Amalgamation so I will see if the blandness was due to the fermentation or wort production. I think for the next batch I will increase the Rye quite a bit.

    3. I like that method Chris, brew the beer a little bigger until you get the character you want then slowly scale it down into a more sessionable range.

      Its so much easier to brew an over hopped session pale ale but with a light beer like Saison where all components need to help eachother out there is really nowhere to hide.

    4. Yes, why do you think IPA's have flooded the market. The answer is easy, anyone can brew it.

      As for Saisons, you have much more experience with them, but I'm working on that now.

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    1. Those are some pretty harsh words. I will respectfully disagree, I have brewed many a great beer with the Wallonian strain, in this case I just fermented it a bit too cool. Hope you continue to give TYB a try, they have a lot of great strains to offer.

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