Friday, September 30, 2016

Spelt Saison w/ Imperial Organic Rustic - Amos Inspired

When I first read Phil Markowski's Farmhouse Ales years ago, it's worth multiple reads by the way, I became obsessed with tracking down a bottle of Saison D'Epeautre from Brasserie Blaugies. Described by Markowski as "possibly the most historically accurate version (of Saison) on the market today" (p.142 Farmhouse Ales), you can understand why I and so many folks seek it out. I had never had a beer brewed with Spelt back then and not only wanted to try that specific beer but wanted to brew with Spelt myself but figured I should try it for myself before diving in.  I went to way more bottle shops then I would like to admit but finally found and old green bottle somewhere in New Jersey. It was as beautiful a beer as Markowski described, so aromatic, silky, and drinkable, with not a sign of light struck character. I was dead set on brewing something inspired by it and went to my local homebrew shop to procure the Spelt, they didn't carry it, checked at the major online suppliers and they didn't either. What the hell? I ended up finding some flaked Spelt on Amazon, brewed a nice little Saison based on Markowski's Blaugies recipe and dug it much, but due to the difficulty finding malted spelt both online and at my local shop, I never brewed with it again....Until this summer!

Spelt or not, the real star of the show in Saison D'Epeautre is Brasserie De Blaugies house yeast strain, Markowski called it "an extraordinarily attenuative strain(p.142 Farmhouse Ales). I used it in that first Spelt Saison few years back by way of the Wyeast 3726 culture, but with it being a seasonal offering I kept missing it in the years following. But the stars aligned for me this year as my local shop dumped White Labs in favor of carrying only Imperial Organic Yeast, which made it easy for me to I grab their Blaugies isolate they call "Rustic", and put it to the test in a few beers over the course of this summer. 

Canned Yeast! What a time to be alive!
In spite of them being around for some time now, this is the first pitch I've bought from Imperial Organic Yeast and I must say I am very impressed. The can packaging is really great, super easy to use, no smacking, no issues with erupting vials losing valuable cells, simply pry open the wide mouth can and pour. But the most impressive and important thing here is each can comes with 200 billion cells, a significant amount that is plenty for most styles I brew without having to use a starter for 5 gallons. When I do brew 10 gallon batches a nice little 1 Liter starter and I am set to go for 1.050 OG beers, I'm all about things being easy. The can I picked up at Philly Homebrew Outlet was super fresh, only 10 days old. Thats some impressive viability considering there is a middle man, then again this was the first shipment of Imperial the shop got.

So why the sudden re-interest in Blaugies cultures and Spelt? Well earlier this year Amos over at Browne and Bitter did a really great post on his basic Spelt Saison recipe and it seemed to inspire a bunch of farmhouse brewers on the internets, myself included. If unfamiliar with Amos' site do yourself a favor and follow his exploits, very cool historical bent on Belgian and English styles, and some pretty snazzy photos to gaze at, plus he has street cred with medals and such

Raw, unmalted, uncrushed Spelt. I then broke my mill cracking it.
Also taking inspiration from Blaugies, Amos keeps the grain bill quite simple on his Saison with just Pilsner and Spelt, opting to use unmalted Spelt Berries and a cereal mash. Both due to the price and availability of malted Spelt (it's still not that widely accessible for homebrewers but can be found, pretty lame though). I opted to follow his lead, for both of the same reasons, but I'm not a big fan of cereal mashes so I wasn't super pumped about that, but I followed his lead. I tend to stray away from the classics a bit, even if small changes I like to throw a bit of a modern twist on my Saisons. After hopping throughout the boil with some spicy/floral German Perle I tossed in a fist full of my new favorite Saison hop Hallertau Blanc in the whirlpool to add a little floral/fruity thing to the aroma. Hallertau Blanc is like a baby Nelson Sauvin to me, more subtle but with a nice assertive citrus/fruity note that makes it an absolute perfect fit in modern Saisons for me.

So...why Spelt? Its a fair question that's been posed to me by a few folks, I don't claim to be an expert on ancient grains but I do feel there are enough differences between it and Wheat that it's worth giving a try. From what I understand, Spelt fell out of favor in the 20th century in favor of modern Wheat due to its ability to be harvested and processed both cheaper and faster. Spelt is actually classified in the same family as Wheat, while the differences in the end product when used in brewing (and baking) may seem subtle I tend to get a tangier, nuttier character from Spelt that I dont get from Wheat. Both grains can create a fluffy body in the end product but that nutty/tangy flavor in Spelt adds a nice little wrinkle for me. There are countless articles on the internet about the differences between the two, most of which go much deeper than I will here.

The day before I was set to brew I filled my kettle with all of the water I needed, treated it, weighed and milled my grain, then whipped up a little 1L starter for my 10 gallon brewday. I followed the instructions as laid out by Imperial Organic on how to use the cans, letting the can rest in the fridge upside down, venting to allow co2 to escape, then pouring the contents into my starter in stages with swirling in between to ensure any flocculated cells make it in. Due to the high variability and large cell count of the can I had a rip roaring starter in under 4 hours. Its always nice to know you have a highly viable/healthy pitch more than ready for the following days brew. 

Starting this miserable cereal mash on my floor burner,
I swear if I burn my legs I'm coming for you Amos!
I cereal mashed the Spelt with a very precise quantity of "two handfuls" of Pilsner malt, as per Amos' suggestion. I will be honest, I hate doing this, it's so hot over the kettle, you have to keep stirring, sweating, and worry about setting my legs on fire with my floor burner. Wahhh! I added the cereal mashed portion to the main mash and rested at 148F, I chose not to do a step mash like Amos this time. Aside from my complaining things went off without a hitch and I tossed the Rustic starter into 11 gallons of 1.045 wort. A nice little Spelt Table Saison in the making, we always hope.

Milk steak, boiled over hard, my good man.
Fermentation looked no different than most, a quick start was not a surprise after how quickly the starter got going. I pitched at 68F and let it free rise to 74F on day three before putting some heat to it and slowly ramping it to 80F after a total of 7 days where it was held until I kegged the beer. The aromas billowing out were wonderful and reminded me so much of the first Blaugies bottle I hunted down a while ago. After 21 days I measured the gravity at 1.002 and kegged it up, carbonated to 2.8vol of co2 via force carbonation. 

Tasting Notes:

That's my Treehouse taproom I'm building in my yard.
I carbonated this beer pretty high and it shows with how foamy the pours were. By the time I took the photo above the head dissipated, but it took some massaging to get a full pour anyway. With only Pilsner and Spelt in the grist the color is predictably a very pale straw yellow, it's a pretty beautiful looking beer.

The aroma is very complex, the Blaugies character abounds here. Quite earthy and spicy with notes of clove, white pepper, with an herbaceous character that kind of reminds me of Thyme. Its a super fantastic aroma, very classic old world Saison thing.

The first sip of the beer pricks your tongue with a tiny bit of bitterness/dry bite that wafts away quickly with waves of pure silk. Its kind of a weird sensation because you might almost expect the dry character to sting you in the back of the throat in the end but that never comes, and frankly I wish it was there. Its not to say that the beer fails because of that but it would be a nice finish that would get you grabbing another sip quickly. This is the second time I've used Perle hops in a Saison and Im not sure I am the biggest fan, that or the ratios are a little low for what I am looking for. When young, the bitterness was sufficient, but aged out a little faster than I had hoped, Saaz next time.

Final Impressions:

This is a really easy drinking beer, so light and refreshing that I killed the first keg early in the summer, the second keg is still on tap this fall with not much left. That said, the beer was best served fresh, at least the kegged version. The hops have faded significantly over the few months and what I felt might have already been missing a bit of bitterness or perception of dryness in the young product was exasperated as the beer aged. I believe though that a bottle conditioned, or a Brett aged version would help in those departments.
My kegged clean Saisons tend to have a shorter shelf life than my bottled versions, I might need to go back to natural carbonation in the kegs in hopes of mimicking the bottle some. That said, this is a really nice beer that went down so superbly well during the hot summer months. This here is a recipe I plan to work on and dial in even more, I dont think it will take much for this to become a staple around here, just no more cereal mashes okay?

I could not be happier with the fermentation profile of Imperial Organic's Rustic strain, it's very complex and attenuates very well even at cooler temps making for a great easy option in Saison. Combine that with their superior packaging and large cell counts you can be sure I will be turning to not only Rustic but other offerings from this lab. Over this summer I have used a pretty tame temperature profile which starts on the cooler side, but I plan to play with some more aggressive fermentation temps to see what differences I can get out of it. If you ever enjoyed a Blaugies bottle and wanted that character in your Saisons Rustic is a great choice that's available year round. I will be using it often both at home and at Kelly Green Brewing Company.

Amos Inspires the Homebrewed Saison World

Recipe Specifications
Boil Size: 7.00 gal
Post Boil Volume: 6.50 gal
Batch Size (fermenter): 6.00 gal
Measured OG: 1.045 SG
Measured FG: 1.002 SG
ABV: 5.3%
Estimated Color: 3.0 SRM
Estimated IBU: 32 IBUs
Brewhouse Efficiency: 70.00 %
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

71.6% - 6lbs 5oz - Pilsner Malt (Weyermann)
28.4% - 2lbs 8oz - Unmalted Spelt

Boil: 60min - 1.00oz Perle [4.30%] - 17.2 IBUs
Boil: 30min - 0.75oz Perle [4.30%] -  8.8 IBUs
Boil: 15min - 0.75oz Perle [4.30%] -  5.7 IBUs
Boil: 15min - 1 Whirlfloc Tablet + 1 tsp Wyeast Yeast Nutrient


Sacch rest - 60 min @ 148.0 F 

Fly Sparge 5.50 gallons 170f

Misc: 30 seconds of pure O2. Cherry Hill, NJ Tap water. Mash pH 5.31, Water Profile ( 113ppm Ca, 6ppm Mg, 10ppm Na, 107ppm Cl, 101ppm SO4). Some acid malt and some Lactic acid was used to lower the mash pH, your water profile may vary.