Jun 28 2016

Saison – Nørwegian Farmhøuse with Sigmund’s Voss Kveik

The devil in marketing is that it can convince you that you need something that you have never previously heard of, or ever dreamed that you needed. I’m not drawing a straight parallel between, say, the Zune and Sigmund’s Voss Kveik, but I think the drive to grab the next, hot thing either plays to your early adopter personality, or you are the type who is happy to let other people test the latest, shiny thing.

As a home brewer, there’s not a lot of downside to trying the latest yeast, hop or adjunct. If things go horribly wrong, you are only out 5 gallons and you’ve learned something. Perhaps only that being an early adopter is a roll of the dice.

When The Yeast Bay announced that they had isolated a single strain of saccharomyces cerevisiae from a Norwegian farmhouse blend, I knew I needed this thing in my life. I also did not have a keg to share at Homebrew Con in Baltimore, and this was an interesting experiment to bring to Club Night.

The kveik, that was supplied by Sigmund Gjernes who does the Lars Garshol blog, is a Norwegian word for “yeast” and refers to, at least in this scenario, yeast is reused for generations and generations in Norwegian farmhouse brewing. The yeast is traditionally captured on these interesting and intricate rings that are covered in the yeast and then hung on a wall to wait for the next batch of beer.

Kveik Yeast Ring

Kveik Yeast Ring picture stolen from http://www.garshol.priv.no/blog/291.html 

The beer is made from pilsner malt, saaz hops and water infused with juniper branches, and the kveik is added to ferment. My understanding of the kveik was that is a faster fermenter that throws some spice and orange peel flavors and aromas, while keeping the phenolics and fusel alcohol low despite higher fermentation temperatures.

(For a deeper understanding of this, check out Sigmund’s Voss Kveik post about his brew day, and Milk the Funk Wiki for Kveik.)

I ordered this yeast and planned out a recipe and brew day that mostly mirrored a traditional saison. The reason for this was I wanted to get a good understanding of the yeast before adding traditional flavors like juniper. And I would be using a juniper berry tincture, instead of branches, to make the spice easy to add before kegging. The story behind Norwegian farmhouse beers is very interesting, but this was to be just an initial test of the yeast. 

Yeast Bay Sigmund's Voss Kveik

Yeast Bay Sigmund’s Voss Kveik

I built up a 2000ml yeast starter in the traditional way and added it after I had crashed the wort down to 70F. The starting gravity was 1.061 (15 Plato) and I aerated and pitched the yeast planning for it to free rise naturally. In order to understand if it did suppress phenols and fusel alcohol, I needed it to run hot.

Within 10 days, the gravity dropped from a 1.061 to 1.005 (7.4% ABV). I had a few weeks before the batch needed to be kegged, so I let it remain in primary for a little longer. Between the 10th and 20th days of primary, it dropped another 4 points to a final gravity of 1.001. Great attenuation, but more saison-like in terms of speed for fermentation to terminal.

Nørwegian Farmhøuse

Nørwegian Farmhøuse

The final beer, before the tincture, was low in phenols and perceived alcohol despite reaching the mid 80s in fermentation temperatures. There was some spice in the way of a light pepper, but very restrained if you expected saison levels of spice. I sensed a hint of the orange peel, but it was more lemon-like to my tastes and subdued citrus brightness.

Norwegian Farmhouse

Dark Norwegian Farmhouse picture

I added a tincture of juniper berries at bottling to give it a hint of what I thought a traditional Norwegian farmhouse beer would be, but I kept that light so as to not overpower the spice and lemon of the base beer.

All and all, I was impressed with the subtlety of the beer despite the high fermentation temperature and delicateness of the yeast driven flavors and aromas. I have heard others mention that this yeast would be great for IPAs, and I can’t disagree. The dryness and clarity of the final beer would benefit the style and the citrus flavors would support big, bright American hops.

The Nørwegian Farmhøuse (my apologies for abusing the “ø” for my amusement) was poured during Club Night and promptly kicked before 9pm. It got solid feedback and obviously big interest from the crowd. Even drinkers who said they don’t like juniper found it refreshing and easy to drink. Perhaps too easy.

I hope to reuse the yeast for an American IPA, at Belgian yeast temperatures, in the coming weeks. I’ll report back about how that went.



The recipe I used is below.

Nørwegian Farmhøuse – Voss – 2016

OG: 1.061 (3/26/16)
        1.005 (4/5/16)
FG: 1.001 (4/16/16)

12 lbs Golden Promise
0.5 White Wheat
0.5 Flaked Wheat
1 lb Cane Sugar

Mash: 149F

0.5 Magnum pellets 13.1% AA (60 min)
1.0 Czech Saaz pellets 2.6% AA (10 min)
1.0 Czech Saaz pellets 2.6% AA (0 min)

Wyeast yeast nutrient

Yeast Bay Sigmund’s Voss Kveik

Juniper tincture made and dosed at bottling

Kegged and brought to HomebrewCon 2016


Dec 23 2011

Organic Blue Agave Nectar Saison Homebrew – Tequilana Saison

The moral of this story, and I seem to be laying that down at the beginning of my blog posts lately, is that you have to know when to quit when you are ahead. That applies to many things in life, but even more so in brewing.

New Brew Thursday and Bison Brewing joined forces months ago to hold a homebrew competition. (Yes, this is a very old post that I’m just getting around to posting now. The bulk of this sending and brewing occurred between May and June of 2011.) Winning brewers from the first three rounds would go to a final round where they’d have to brew an original and all organic beer. Those final beers would be judged by Daniel Del Grande of Bison Brewing and Dr. Bill Sysak of NBT. The winning brewer from that final round would fly out to Berkeley, CA to make their beer on the Bison system, and it will also be entered into the medal competitions at the GABF, too.

Cut to the chase, I entered my Triple Lindy Belgian tripel, which the NBT guys seemed to like, in the first round and that got me into the final round. I had done one batch of organic beer before, the Haka American wheat beer, so I knew brewing organic was no different than what I was already doing. There are just less ingredients to choose from. Not as many crayons in the box, so to say.

I had been planning to do my yearly saison, since I always wait until the heat of the summer when it is easy to maintain those saison yeast fermentation temps, so that seemed like a good way to go for the competition. So, I placed my order with Seven Bridges Cooperative and got to work.

I followed an old recipe that I’ve used several times and been happy with over the years. The only omission was that of my usual few ounces of acidulated malt. I brewed the organic saison up without incident, pitched the yeast, and let the beer begin to ferment.

Then I got to thinking. Yeah, that’s dangerous in any situation, but especially here. I started thinking, “What’s the hook to my beer?” Bison Brewing does a wonderful Honey Basil ale and even a Gingerbread porter. What was special or unexpected about mine?

That’s when I decided to act upon an old idea to use blue agave nectar in a beer. A few of the styles out there are traditionally made with simple sugars. Usually this comes in the form of cane sugar, or candi sugar. The saison style often gets a pound of cane sugar to thin the beer’s body and to help dry out with a low final gravity. Blue agave nectar, a sugar-like sweetener and the base ingredient for tequila, fits that description perfectly.

So at the 48 mark of fermentation, I added 12 ounces of blue agave nectar. When adding the nectar, I noticed that it had a “heavier” aroma than I was expecting. More like a molasses than honey. I was surprised by that but, knowing that it was such a simple sugar, I figured there wouldn’t be much left once it fermented out.

It fermented out very dry and reached a final gravity of 1.001, just above the density of water. I started the fermentation at 76° and let it go (and helped it along with a heating pad) up to 85° degrees Fahrenheit. I’m a fan of trying to ferment beers cool and patiently, but my readings have lead me to agree with some experts who think that saison yeasts are direct descendents of red wine yeast and they like heat and abuse. I’ve probably made saisons as much as any style, and they love to stall and under-attenuate. If you’ve made a healthy yeast starter and added nutrients, then the key is heat and some gentle agitation.

It did not win the Bison-NBT competition, as that was won by Andrew Bell for his Zeal Island Pale Ale. Congrats to him as it sounds like he made a fantastic brew. And thank you to the Bison and the New Brew Thursday crews for putting on a great competition that challenges brewers and celebrates homebrewing. That was amazingly cool. 

How was the Blue Agave Organic Saison? It was good, but not amazing. Two things happened with this beer.

1)        In my meddling with the recipe late in the game and adding the agave nectar, I did add a lot of extra, highly-fermentable sugars. It had a thinning effect and some of the malt soul of the beer was lost.

2)       The saison showed signs of a brett infection about a month later. Now, as far as infections go, this one was a great one. Very similar to the house taste of a Jolly Pumpkin beer, but not what I intended and it caused the bottles to become super carbonated. Not to the point of bottle bombs but close. How did that happen? Either the late addition of the nectar post boil caused a problem (in theory, it shouldn’t have because it is hard for anything to live in a substance that high in sugar), or it picked up a Brett strain from my equipment. The latter is more likely.

All in all, a good beer, but nothing I planned. And, clearly, that was because there wasn’t a lot of thought going on about in this beer after I pitched the yeast. I second thought myself and got a little wild on the back-end. No pun intended.

And to be clear, I not saying that playing with beers after primary is a bad thing. I love splitting batches and adding fruit or oak, and seeing what comes of it all and comparing and contrasting the variants. But fundamental changes in sugar content can be problematic. Think about the beer you made and the effects of new ingredients. It can be wonderful, or it can leave you with something unbalanced.


Saison Tequilana – (Organic Saison) (5.5 gallons)

Starting Gravity: 1.055 (5/30/11)
Secondary Gravity: 1.006 (6/4/11)
Final Gravity:  1.001 (8/4/11) 66 Days
7.7% alcohol (by volume)
Apparent Attenuation: 98.2%
Real Attenuation: 80.4%

Mash (100 minutes ~145º)
13 lb Weyerman Organic Pilsner Malt
1 lb Weyerman Organic Wheat Malt
1 lb Briess Organic Munich Malt
1 lb Woodstock Farms Organic Pure Cane Sugar

Boil (90 min)
0.10 oz Organic Hallertauer Mittlefruh (4.7% AA) Pellet Hops (90 min)
1.50 oz Organic Hallertauer Mittlefruh (4.7% AA) Pellet Hops (60 min)
0.75 oz Organic Hallertauer Mittlefruh (4.7% AA) Pellet Hops (0 min)

1 tab Whirlfloc
¼ tsp Wyeast Yeast Nutrient

Primary (start 76º F-> 85º F)  
White Labs 565, 2 Vials, Starter was made
12 oz Wholesome Sweetners Organic Blue Agave (Agave nectar from Weber Azul) 6/2/11



Jan 14 2011

Black Saison Homebrew – Black Orpheus

This is another one in the strengthening pattern of my somewhat unhinged homebrew batches. After doing a lot of straightforward and style-centric beers over the last year or so, I’m back to doing absurd experiments. The brown ale with black rice is bottled, and I’m deconstructing a saison now.

Playing around with Carafa III in my black IPA (now called an “American-Style Black Ale” by the Brewer’s Association) and a few other brews was fun. So I decided to play with it again, but to make a black saison. Much about the saison has been written, and they are highly regarded by the beer geeks of the world.

My twist on the common saison recipe was to substitute some international ingredients. The German carafe III malts would blacken the beer. I used the Mexican piloncillo, or panela, instead of cane sugar. I added hibiscus flowers to enhance the herbal notes. I used African grains of paradise, this is not unusual for the style, to increase the pepper notes. And, finally, I used the Japanese hop Sorachi Ace as a late addition and dry-hop in the hopes of getting a light lemon note.

To complicate matters more, this was a split batch where one side would be racked onto white grapes during primary fermentation, and both carboys would get brettanomyces claussenii, a low intensity brett isolated from English stock ales, in secondary.

Yeah, this is a really fucking busy recipe and I’ll make no excuses for it. I had a certain idea in mind for it, that I’ll share in a later post, and hopefully this will make sense after it has time to evolve in the bottle.

I had intended to call this batch the “Ace of Spades”, but it appears that a brewery has already stolen that Motörhead reference. Bastards. (And was for a freaking double IPA, too.)

In the end, I went with something  unfunny and more literate. This batch is now “Black Orpheus”, and you can interpret that in any way that you desire. I’m unsure what the white grape variant will be called, if it gets a unique name at all. Maybe “Black Bacchus”

The brewday began with the mashing of the grains, and here are the acidulated and carafe III malts. My secret weapon in saisons has been about 4 ounces of acidulated malt to add a slight sour note to the finished beer.

Next came the piloncillo, hibiscus and grains of paradise.

The grains of paradise, or alligator pepper, were ground up and added at flame out.

Hibiscus was added at flame-out, as well. I’ve come to learn, later, that hibiscus can be a diuretic. So, if you get to try this beer, I apologize in advance for all the pissing and such.

The piloncillo is a bitch to work with. I loved the taste of the sugar but the little pylons were hard as rocks. My Hispanic friends told me, after the brewday, it is common for people to put the pylons into pitchers of water to let them soften over night. Good to know. Wish I knew earlier.

The mash was for 75 minutes and at 147° F, in order to make the wort as fermentable as possible.

With 10 minutes left in the boil and during dry-hopping, I used the lemony sorachi ace hops that were developed at the Sapporo brewery.

After the wort was cooled, the batch was split into two fermenters. Half received white grapes after the first 48 hours of fermentation. Both received a healthy pitch of brett c as they were moved to secondary.

We will see how this all turns out. I’m not worried that too many ingredients and changes will overwhelm the beer. In this scenario, it is much more likely that some of the ingredients will just become unnoticeable.

This one is bottled and awaiting the bubbles of carbonation. I hope it doesn’t play hard to get.

The recipe:

Black Orpheus – (Black Saison) (8 gallons)

Starting Gravity: 1.061 (11/21/10)
Secondary Gravity: 1.012 (12/5/11)
Final Gravity:  1.006 (1/13/11)
7.3% alcohol (by volume)
Apparent Attenuation: 89.7%
Real Attenuation: 73.5%

Mash (75 minutes ~147º)

13 lb Belgian Pilsner
1.0  lb Munich Malt
1.0  lb Wheat Malt
0.50 lb Carafa III
0.25 lb Acidulated Malt
2 lb Piloncillo Sugar (4 pylons)

Boil (60 min)

0.25 oz Goldings (5.7% AA) Leaf Hops (90 min)
1.75 oz Goldings (5.7% AA) Leaf Hops (60 min)
1.0 oz Sorachi Ace (10.1% AA) Leaf Hops (10 min)

¼ teaspoon Grains of Paradise (0 min)
1 oz Hibiscus Flowers (Dried) (0 min)

Primary (80º F)

White Labs 565, 2 Vials, Starter was made

Secondary (72º F)

Brett C was pitched on both on secondary

1.0 oz Sorachi Ace (10.1% AA) Leaf Hops (Dry Hop) (0.5 oz per carboy)


Aug 26 2010

Belgian Pale Ale Homebrew

This one is a Belgian Pale Ale.  These are light session beers that are perfect for the absurd summer weather we’ve been having here in Virginia.  I think when most people think of Belgian beers, their first thought is of big, heavy and complex dubbels, tripels, Belgian strong ales and quads. Those are great styles, but they are a little challenging when you just want to turn off and chill out.

The Belgian pale ale is something easy and refreshing that you would enjoy drinking while sitting outside at a café in Brussels. I’ve done just that and it is amazing.

I went a little experimental with this one in that I used the limited edition Wyeast Leuven yeast. (Rumor has it that this is the yeast used by Corsendonk.) It is a little outside the norm, but it seemed like an interesting choice.

I liked how this brewed turned out overall. It is orange with some straw highlights. There are some malt notes, but the clearer taste characters show up as pear and some peppery spice.

If I would change anything about this brew, I’d ferment it a little warmer. I keep this one cooler than a normal ale (~66°F) to keep it balanced, but I’d like to see what letting this one go hot and wild would do. Belgian strains thrive on conditions that stall most yeast strains. Doing so would have made this one a little less…subtle.

I named it “They’re Filming Midgets!” To fully understand that line, your homework would be to check out the infinitely quotable In Bruges movie.

If you are interested, the recipe is below. Why was half of my base malt Canadian pilsner? No good reason, really.  I had won 5 lbs of it from the Devil’s Backbone in a homebrew competition and thought I’d throw that it in there in place of some of the Belgian Pils.

They’re Filming Midgets! – (Belgian Pale Ale)

Starting Gravity: 1.054 (7/5/10)

Final Gravity:  1.014 (8/2/10) Days    

5.3% alcohol (by volume)

Apparent Attenuation: 73.2%    

Real Attenuation: 60.0%

Mash (65 minutes ~153°)

5 lb Canadian Pils

5 lb Belgian Pils

0.75 lb Caramunich

0.50 lb Belgian Biscuit

Boil (90 min)

1.3 oz/39 grams East Kent Goldings (5.9% AA) Pellet Hops (60 min)                

0.3 oz/10 grams East Kent Goldings (5.9% AA) Pellet Hops (0 min)                

Primary (66º F)  

Wyeast 3538 Leuven Pale Ale (Starter Made 7/3/10)