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)