Silas Whitley | Crumbs
This week, I compared two Saison style ales — “Hennepin” from Brewery Ommegang of Cooperstown, New York, and Fort Bragg, California North Coast’s “La Merle.”
Saison type beers are generally pale, and can be similar to hefeweizen in flavor. I have yet to make a saison, but the beer style is becoming more popular, especially among micro breweries and home brewers. Saison style beers usually utilize saison style yeasts which can ferment slightly warmer than ale yeasts (upwards of 85 degrees Fahrenheit). The higher temperatures are in part responsible for certain flavors created by yeasts.
The North Coast Saison cost 10 cents less (per 12 ounce bottle) at $2.89 compared to the Ommegang at $2.99. It was also barely more alcoholic. Both beers were crisp and dry and light, but they varied hugely in flavors. Both would satisfy on a hot day.
La Merle was very fruity and sweet upfront. It tasted as if an apple cider was mixed with a pale ale. There was a just barely noticeable hint of Saison or hefeweizen yeast flavoring in the aftertaste. It finished clean.
The Hennepin saison started off with a large initial “rubberlike” or “smoky” yeast taste, often found in hefeweizens. The beer finished dry and crisp. The flavor of Hennepin seemed to evolve more than La Merle. It started with flavors made by yeast, moved to tasting fruity, similar to La Merle, then finished sweet and clean like a light ale. Despite the immediate hefeweizen similarity, which I am no huge fan of, the Ommegang “Hennepin” is more exciting, and is therefore the better beer.
Works in Progress
On Tap: Gingerbeer, Red Ale
Bottles: Red Ale, Pecan Red Ale
Primary fermentation: Strawberry Blonde Ale
Secondary fermentation: Stout
Queue-to-Brew: IPA, Pilsner
By far, the most important thing in homebrewing is cleanliness. The result of any recipe will be a function of ingredients no doubt, but can also be dramatically affected by unsanitary methodology. Even the best of the best recipes can be ruined by bacterial infections caused by carelessness or lack of proper sanitation. Saison and hefeweizen yeast create a lot of flavor, but imagine what flavors a mold or bacterial infection can impart.
I like to use bleach to sanitize my equipment and brewing area. Using a dilute solution of bleach and cold water, soak all equipment prior to use. Be sure to rinse the equipment with hot water to remove the bleach if the equipment will be introduced to a finished product. Keep equipment in the sanitizing solution of choice until ready to use. Also, be careful to not soak metal equipment for extensive periods of time, because bleach corrodes metals.
Avoid opening your fermenter for any reason. Some advanced methods that involve opening the fermenter, like removing krausen and measuring gravity, are not necessary in order to make good beer. These techniques may help the final product, but overall, methodology will ultimately be the determining factor. It is always safer to be patient and let your beer do its thing.
Silas Whitley can be reached at email@example.com