100 Bottles of Beer – A Saison for Any Season

A Homebrewer’s Personal Journey through His Craft – Part 36 – Saison

Home Brewing Saison

Saison is a seasonal beer, literally, Saison is French for season. Saison was originally brewed in Wallonia, the French speaking part of Belgium, as a rustic, artisanal ale made with local farm-produced ingredients for consumption during the active farming season. Originally a lower-alcohol product intended to not debilitate field workers, but tavern-strength products also existed.

The BJCP style guidelines describe style 25B Saison as:

“Most commonly, a pale, refreshing, highly-attenuated, moderately-bitter, moderate-strength Belgian ale with a very dry finish. Typically, highly carbonated, and using non-barley cereal grains and optional spices for complexity, as complements the expressive yeast character that is fruity, spicy, and not overly phenolic. Less common variations include both lower-alcohol and higher-alcohol products, as well as darker versions with additional malt character.”

I commonly describe Saison as a “Belgian style, typically Blonde or Amber, flavored with the herbs, spices, or fruits of the season”.

Belle SaisonBristol Christmas AleBelle Saison

I went on a bit of a Saison kick a while back when I discovered Lallemand Belle Saison ale yeast. This is a packaged dry ale yeast with a very high attenuation rate which results in very complete fermentations.

The first of these seasonal brews came about by my thought to pitch a summer version of my Christmas Ale to the brewers at Bristol. You may recall, Bristol Brewing has been using my recipe for their Christmas Ale for several years now.off season saison




I called this brew:

Off-Season Saison

  • 6 lb Pilsner malt
  • 3 lb Munich malt
  • 1.5 lb Wheat malt
  • 1 lb Panela hard brown sugar
  • 1 oz Northern Brewer hop pellets (60 min)
  • 1 oz Czech Saaz hop pellets (30 min)
  • 1 oz East Kent Goldings hop pellets (5 min)
  • 1 oz dried Bitter Orange Peel (5 min)
  • .3 oz Whole Coriander (5 min)
  • .1 oz Whole Black Peppercorns (5 min)
  • 3.5 oz Instant Mulling Spice Blend (5 min)
  • 1 Whirlfloc tablet (15 min)
  • 11g Belle Saison dry ale yeast
  • Priming: 5.5 oz corn sugar

Brew It

As you can see, it is a fairly typical Saison with the orange peel, coriander, and black pepper. Then I throw in brown sugar and mulling spices for that hint of Christmas in the summer.

Heat 3 gallons water to 165°F strike temperature, add crushed malts. Nailed the mash-in temp of 153°F. Mash for 60 minutes, transfer to lauter-tun and sparge with 170°F water. Collect 7 gallons of wort. Bring to boil and add Panela. Boil 30 minutes. Add hops at times indicated and add orange, mulling spices, crushed coriander and black pepper for final 5 minutes. Total 90-minute boil. OG 1.064

Activity started vigorously and continued until it was spitting through the lock then settled back down. Left it in primary for ten days.

Rack to secondary, intermediate gravity was an astonishingly low 1.004 for 8.2% ABV. Tasted very good, the spices were subtle but more apparent than the hops. Alcohol level was not intrusive. The beer seemed to have more body than the gravity would suggest,

11 days in the secondary before bottling with 5.5 oz corn sugar, using a weight measurement instead of the usual volume as this was the quantity recommended by Randy Mosher in Extreme Brewing for a proper level of  carbonation for a Saison. FG 1.001 for about 8.7% ABV.

A Bite on the Pitch…?

This turned out quite good. Flavor was light with an equal balance of malt, hop and spice. A bit under-carbonated for the style (Randy was wrong!) and I would have liked a little more spice.

Did Bristol bite on my pitch and add this to their seasonal line-up? Unfortunately, no! Mike Bristol found it an interesting idea but, alas, had a Saison on the brew schedule already.

Moving On

OK, that was a Christmas Ale for the summer…or…was it a summer ale for Christmas? Pick your season…or Saison. Our next Saison is more of an autumn or fall creation, when pumpkin spice is all the rage. Have look back at Part 15 of our journey for a previous version of Pumpkin Ale.

pumpkin saisonPumpkin Saison

  • 6 lb 2-row pale malt
  • 3 lb German light Munich
  • 3 lb American white wheat
  • 3 oz 120L crystal
  • 1 oz chocolate malt
  • 1 lb 3 oz organic maple syrup
  • 3 lb cubed pumpkin
  • 3 Tbsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 2 ½ oz Homegrown Santiam hops (60 min)
  • 2 oz Homegrown Brewers Gold hops (30 min)
  • 1 oz Czech Saaz hop pellets (5 min)
  • 1 Whirlfloc tablet (15 min)
  • 1 oz cinnamon stick (secondary)
  • ½ oz whole clove (secondary)
  • 11g Belle Saison yeast
  • Priming: 6 oz Piloncillo sugar

Cube That Gourd

Gut and peel one small (10”) pumpkin and cut into 1” cubes, yielding just over 3 lb.

Add to 1-gallon cold water with 2 Tbsp pie spice. Bring to boil until pumpkin is soft, about 90 minutes. Mash the pumpkin with a potato masher, cover and keep warm.

Heat 13 quarts water to 166°F strike temperature and mash in the milled malts. Stabilize temperature at 154°F, cover and let mash for 1 hour & 40 minutes. Only intended 1 hour, the extended mash time was due to an interruption. This could result in too much tannin from the grain hulls.

Lauter and sparge with 170°F water and collect 6 gallons of wort. Add the maple syrup and bring to boil. Boil for 30 minutes before adding hops and whirlfloc at times indicated for a total 90-minute boil. At 30 minutes left in the boil, strain the mashed pumpkin into the kettle, sparging with some of the hot wort. At 5 minutes remaining add 1 Tbsp pie spice.

Strain out the hop debris, cool the wort and pour into fermenter with rehydrated yeast already pitched. OG 1.062.

Rack, Bottle, Drink…

Rack to secondary after 9 days. Intermediate gravity 1.005. Still cloudy and flavor was too hoppy, needed more spice. Added 1 oz cinnamon stick and ½ oz whole clove.

Bottled after 19 days in secondary (very slow to clear) with 6 oz piloncillo brown sugar. Used piloncillo as it may have more unfermentable sugars and this beer does need some sweetness. It is too hoppy bitter and may have too much spice now. Also, still not as clear as I want. FG: 1.003 for about 8.2% ABV.

The first sampling of this was very nicely carbed to a respectable Belgian style level. Has not cleared completely and has chill haze. Fortunately, I believe the spices and hops have balanced out a bit better and it has bit more sweetness which it needed. Overall, very good brew with no obvious ill effects from the extra-long mash.

Red Red Wine… Saison?red wine barrel saison

Our next brew is a basic Saison recipe with the twist that it will be aged on red wine soaked inner slats from an oak wine barrel. I ran across these at summer festival in the Dallas area. There was a vendor selling furniture made from wine barrels. They also had this small section of oak pieces intended for use in a smoker. They were stained dark purple from all the wine absorbed into them. I immediately saw a more creative use.

red wine barrel saisonRed Wine Barrel Saison

  • 6 lb 2-Row pale malt
  • 3 lb light Munich malt
  • 3 lb wheat malt
  • 1 lb Carapils malt
  • 2 oz acidulated malt
  • 1.25 lb organic cane sugar
  • 1.5 oz home grown Santiam hops (60 min)
  • 1.5 oz home grown Santiam hops (30 min)
  • .5 oz home grown Hallertau hops (5 min)
  • .5 oz dried Spanish orange peel (5 min)
  • .5 oz crushed coriander seed (5 min)
  • .5 oz crushed black peppercorn (5 min)
  • 1 whirlfloc tablet (15 min)
  • 11g Belle Saisson dry yeast
  • 6 oz California red wine barrel inner oak slats (secondary)
  • Priming: ½ cup corn sugar & ½ cup DME

Boil It Up

Heat 14 qt water to 166°F strike temp, add milled grains and stabilize at 153°F mash temp and mash for 60 minutes.

Lauter and sparge with 170°F water and collect 6.5 gallons wort.

Stir in organic sugar and bring to boil for 30 minutes before beginning hop additions. Make first addition with 60 minutes remaining in boil, second addition with 30 minutes remaining and final addition along with orange and spices with 5 minutes remaining. Add the whirlfloc with 15 minutes remaining. Total boil time 90 minutes

Cool and pour into carboy with re-hydrated yeast. OG 1.068

8 days in the primary, rack to secondary with oak barrel slats cut in strips. These slats were about 6 inches long, 2 inches wide, and ¼ inch thick. Easy to cut into roughly ¼ inch wide strips to fit into the carboy. Intermediate gravity was 1.008 for about 8.1% ABV. Flavor was spot on for a Saison. It began to take on a hint of color from the oak strips while racking.

There was a chance of it souring from any bacteria that may be lurking in the oak. Hopefully they are friendly critters.

I left this in the secondary for a full month to extract as much character from the wine and oak as possible. Bottled with ½ cup corn sugar & ½ cup DME. FG 1.004 for about 8.5 ABV.

Oak & Wine

The Saison picked up some color and flavor from the oak. Unfortunately, the red wine character only came through in the aroma, no real wine flavor. Should have at least doubled the number of slats, but then, it may have been too oaky. Still, it was a very good Saison with a near perfect carbonation level. The only real flaw, in my opinion, was the heavy chill haze. Clear and sparkling would have been much better.

By the way, I got double duty out of those oak slats. I let them dry after getting them out of the carboy and eventually used them in the smoker. No detectable wine or ale character, just the oak smoke.

cerise saisonSaison & Cherries

Our next Saison is made with dried sour Montmorency cherries. A French variety of cherry, thus the name, Cerise, which is French for cherry. I picked these up at either Sam’s Club or Costco, I forget which. Checked the bag carefully to confirm it did not contain any preservatives, just dried fruit.

Also added the meager crop of sour cherries from my pathetic little tree in the back yard. 7 oz was all the birds left for me.

Cerise Saison

  • 6 lb 2-Row pale malt
  • 3 lb light Munich malt
  • 3 lb wheat malt
  • 1.5 lb Carapils malt
  • .5 lb flaked oats
  • 1.5 lb organic cane sugar
  • 1.75 oz home grown Liberty hops (60 min)
  • 1.25 oz home grown Liberty hops (30 min)
  • 1 oz Vanguard hop pellets (5 min)
  • 1 lb 4 oz dried Montmorency cherries (20 min steep)
  • 7 oz home grown sour cherries (20 min steep)
  • 1 whirlfloc tablet (15 min)
  • 11g Belle Saisson dry yeast
  • Priming: 3 oz. corn sugar & 32 oz organic pure tart cherry juice

Adding Cherry to the Brew

Heat 16 qt water to 168°F strike temp, add milled grains, stabilize at 153°F mash temp, and mash for 60 minutes. Raise temp to 170°F mash out. Lauter and sparge with 170°F water; collect 6.5 gallons wort.

Stir in organic sugar and bring to boil for 30 minutes before beginning hop additions. Make first addition with 60 minutes remaining in boil, second addition with 30 minutes remaining and final addition with 5 minutes remaining. Add the whirlfloc with 15 minutes remaining. Total boil time 90 minutes. Turn off heat and remove hops. Add cherries and let steep for 20 minutes. Cool with immersion chiller and pour wort, cherries and all, into carboy with re-hydrated yeast. OG 1.076

bird eating cherriesThe quantity of cherries was determined by the size of the package I purchased and by how many cherries the birds left on the tree. Note that all cherries where pitted.

Ready to Rack

At 12 days in the primary the brew was still very dense and cloudy. A layer of trub on the bottom and layer of yeast and cherries on top. Racked to secondary, leaving the cherries behind. Intermediate gravity 1.006 for about 9.1% ABV.

Flavor was Saison-like but very tart & bitter. Maybe too much hop along with the sour cherries? No cherry red color. Hoped it would appear when it clears. A subtle fruitiness but no obvious cherry flavor. I was thinking I may add some cherry juice or perhaps prime with cherry juice or liqueur.

Was still a bit cloudy after 21 days in the secondary, although it was beginning to show some red color. Boiled up 4 tsp Sparkoloid to aid with the clearing. The bitterness was mellowing out some as well. Gravity was 1.004 for about 9.3% ABV.

Rack it Again

Another 16 days in the secondary and it has finally cleared, just a few floating bits of cherry. I chose to rack to a tertiary to clear out some of the floaters. Now at 1.002 for about 9.5% ABV.

Bottle… Finally

After another 21 days in the tertiary, this has sat around for far too long. The FG has held at 1.002 for the 9.5 ABV. Bottle with 3 oz. corn sugar and 32 oz organic pure tart cherry juice with a calculated sugar content of 3.25 oz, if I did the calculation correctly.

The brew was very foamy, acting somewhat carbonated already. It was difficult to get a final gravity before priming as the carbonation kept bubbling in the test jar. I just went with the previous reading.

But, How Was It?

Not exactly what I was hoping for but still very good. Heavy chill haze. Carbonation was low but adequate. Not a real defined cherry flavor, just tart, like sour cherry. This Saison did age quite well, gaining more cherry color and flavor. The chill haze lightened a bit. Really, although not what I had hoped for, it turned out quite good.

Just One More

Ok, I know this edition has gone on a bit long. I have one more Saison to present. This one may be a bit controversial as it contains a unique “Colorado Style” ingredient.

This could be considered a remake of my Cannabis Lupulus which was the subject of my post “Strange Brew”. It is not a remake. Strange Brew was an IPA, this is a Saison, totally different styles. The two brews do share a common ingredient, Marijuana.

I just want to restate, I live in Colorado, this is completely legal. If you do not live in a state where recreational use has been legalized, I do not recommend you brew this one. Enough said, on to the brew…

cannabis beer

Saison de l’Herbe (Season of the Herb)

  • 8 lb 2-Row pale malt
  • 4 lb light Munich malt
  • 4 lb wheat malt
  • 2 lb Carapils malt
  • 2 oz acidulated malt
  • 3 oz rye malt
  • 6 oz Piloncillo unrefined cane sugar
  • 1 oz home grown Brewers Gold hops (60 min)
  • 1 oz home grown Cascade hops (60 min)
  • 1.25 oz home grown Santiam hops (30 min)
  • .5 oz dried sweet orange peel (10 min)
  • .5 oz crushed coriander seed (10 min)
  • .5 oz crushed black peppercorn (10 min)
  • 1 oz homegrown marijuana buds (10 min)
  • 1 whirlfloc tablet (15 min)
  • 11g Belle Saisson dry yeast
  • Priming: ¾ cup corn sugar & ¼ cup DME

Putting it All Together

Heat 18 qt water to 166°F strike temp, add milled grains and stabilize at 153°F mash temp, cover and mash for 60 minutes. Lauter and sparge with 170°F water and collect 6.5 gallons wort.

Add piloncillo sugar and bring to boil for 30 minutes before beginning hop additions. Make first addition with 60 minutes remaining in boil, second addition with 30 minutes remaining. Add the whirlfloc with 15 minutes remaining, then add marijuana, orange and spices with 10 minutes remaining, cover and continue to boil.  Total boil time 90 minutes. Remove hops etc. with a strainer. Cool and pour into carboy with re-hydrated yeast. OG 1.076.

Had strong fermentation activity for seven days. Rack to secondary after 14 days. Intermediate gravity was 1.008 for approximately 9.1% ABV. As there was still some activity, and with the track record of this yeast, I expected it to go higher, maybe as high as 10%. Flavor, at this point, was very good, could taste the marijuana along with the hops. Still a bit yeasty. Had a subtle fruit flavor which was maddening as I could not identify it.

Ten days in the secondary and it had cleared very well. Bottle with ¾ cup corn sugar and ¼ cup DME. FG: 1.006 for about 9.3% ABV, not as high as predicted. Color was amber and very clear. Aroma of hops and marijuana. Tasted oddly sweet for the light gravity. The mystery fruit flavor was much lighter. More hop flavor than typical for a Saison along with an earthy herbal flavor of the Marijuana.

No Hop Monster

This was a very good Saison. The yeast almost, but not quite, overpowered the weed and hops with its slightly fruity and sweet esters. Unfortunately, due to very heavy chill haze, I almost preferred it not chilled, just basement temp, at which it was very clear. A little over-carbonated un-chilled and a little too much body chilled. These all sound like negative comments, still I think it was very good. Not the hop-monster Cannabis Lupulus was, although the ABV was just as high.

I did not note at the time any obvious effects from the special ingredient as that was not what this was about. I recall a certain mellow contentment not unlike what comes from enjoying a great beer, like a Saison.

Getting to the End

Saison de l’Herbe aged quite nicely with a good balance of yeast, hops, and herb. The chill haze lightened a bit making it much better cold. Very Good!

lemon flavorI had four bottles held back to get to the friend who had provided the pot plant starts. It was about four months since bottling and, unfortunately, I had been unable to arrange a meeting with him to pass them on so, tapped a couple with another friend who was passing through on his way to GABF. The brew had improved significantly. He was more than pleased with the myriad of flavors imparted by the “secret ingredient”. Never would have identified it if I had not warned him up front. He said it tasted “lemony”. Maybe that was the mystery fruit flavor I was getting.

Five Saisons, that’s more than enough for this time around. Think I’ll take a nap now…

saison nap


I am the HomeBrew Guru… My name is Bob Archibald. Some of you may remember me as the grumpy old man behind the bar at Bristol Brewing (bristolbrewing.com) in Colorado Springs where I had been pouring beer for over 12 years. They finally decided I was getting too old or didn’t have enough tattoos or something and replaced me with younger hipper bartenders. Oh well, it was time I moved on anyway. At least they kept my home brew recipe for the annual Christmas Ale! I have been home brewing since late 1994 and have brewed over 150 beers to date. Although I am not a highly technical brewer (its more of a ZEN thing) and still brew on a stovetop, I have created many different styles of beer and have gotten rave reviews for some of my creations. I have also dabbled with mead and wine to equal degrees of success. My latest endeavor is to try my hand at distilled spirits. I have found the basic stovetop method of brewing to be economical and in no way limiting in the quality and variety of beer which can be produced by the home brewer. I also still bottle condition my brews because I like the flavor of a good bottle conditioned beer. It is also more economical than the expense of kegging and the necessary draft system, just a little more time-consuming. A LITTLE MORE ABOUT MY BACKGROUND I am originally from Montana. I went to high school in the little town of Plains and later to an electronics school in Missoula, which eventually lead to a career in the telecom industry for about 23 years. First with Mountain Bell where I did everything from Operator Services to Central Office Installation to Outside Plant. From there I went to Northern Telecom, better known as Nortel, where I did Central Office Installation, Engineering, Grounding, Fiber Optics, and finally Sales Engineer. The telecom industry had a bit of a melt-down after the events of 9/11 and I found myself looking for work. I tried a couple of customer service jobs and ran my own retail business for 5 years. During that time I picked up the part-time gig with Bristol Brewing and I guess it sort of stuck, for a while anyway. 100 BOTTLES OF BEER I began writing my Home Brew Blog, 100 Bottles of Beer, about 9 years ago. It was hosted on Associated Content and then moved to Yahoo Voices. Both of those venues have shut down and I have now moved to WordPress. I went about two years without writing a new one but, I have now revived it here. The blog chronicles my fermentation adventures from how I got started in home brewing, my very first brew through my 100th brew and beyond. All recipes and instructions are included as well as related brewing history, brewing basics and advanced methods, personal experiences, successes, and failures. The most important thing to remember is… KEEP ON BREWIN’

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