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



Aug 25 2009

Brett and Sour Saison Split Batch Experiment


**2/22/11 Update** 

I sent the Brett B version of the saison (renamed Monsoon Season) to the Batch 300 competition put on by The Bruery. It didn’t get Best of Show, but it did come in first in Category 16. All and all, very cool. The results. 

The second split batch experiment happened on Sunday night with my latest saison. 

I’ve done a few saison homebrews, and I always find I enjoy the bretted and soured batches just a little bit more. Saisons are not complete strangers to wildness and sourness, and some of the more famous examples of the style from Brasserie Fantôme and Brasserie à Vapeur  are amazing because of those notes.  I think it adds more complexity to the beer, and I find myself ramping up the acidulated malt that I put into the mash a little more each time.  The idea behind this experiment was to ferment a saison and then to add a pure brettanomyces culture to one and brett and some souring bacteria into the other. 

The beer started out as one of my standard saison batches with the not-so-secret ingredient of some acidulated malt.  It started out with an OG of 1.068, and I fermented it at around 80 degrees.  It dropped down to a 1.006 less than a week later, and then I let it sit for another week just to clean itself up and let the yeasts drop out.  (I say “yeasts” because I pitch a saison yeast, in this case WLP565, and then a clean Cal ale yeast, the Safale US-05, 48 hours later to insure the beer dries out enough.) 

On Sunday (8/23/09), I split the batch evenly between two 3-gallon carboys.  Into one carboy I pitched a vial of White Labs Brettanomyces Bruxellensis (WLP650), and into the other I pitched a starter I had ramped up from the dregs of an Avery Brabant.  (Yes, this is deviation from the original souring gameplan.) 

 Split Brett Saison Batch

The Brett B is a pure culture of that brettanomyces strain and it is often used for secondary fermentation of Belgian beers and lambics.  It creates a medium intensity funk, and it is some pitched at bottling by brewers.  The Avery culture is a bit more of a wildcard.  It is my understanding that the Brabant undergoes a secondary fermentation brett b, too, but it isn’t the same culture as the tube.  The bottle dregs likely include lactobacillus (lacto) and pediococcus (pedio) bacteria. These can add extra tartness and perhaps add a vinegar quality to the beer. 

Since the final gravity of the beer was so low, the bretts shouldn’t have too much to feast upon and that should control the funkiness to a certain degree.  As of two nights later, the brett b carboy doesn’t appear to be doing anything visually, but its airlock seems to be under a bit more pressure.  The Brabant carboy is getting a white foaminess to it, and may be forming a pellicle.  

I’m not sure how long I will let these beers age and evolve.  I will likely taste them every so often and see if they are in a place where I want to bottle them.  

We’ll see where this one ends up.  

As a sidenote, I did use my wine thief a few weeks ago to fill up a few bottles of the pre-brett saison for tasting and a homebrew competition.  I tasted one right before the split and it was very, very good.  It made it harder to pitch uncertainty into what was an amazing beer, but at least I know I have the recipe I want dialed in for the future. 

The recipe for giggles: 

Le Moribond – (Saison) 2009

Starting Gravity: 1.068 (8/2/09) Days @ 80° F
Final Gravity:  1.006 (8/23/09)
8.15% alcohol (by volume)
Apparent Attenuation: 90.71
Real Attenuation: 73.35

Mash (147° 60 min)
10 lb Pilsener Malt
2 lb Golden Promise
1 lb Munich Malt
0.75 Wheat Malt
0.25 CaraMunich 40
0.25 Acidulated Malt (Sauer)
1 lb Cane Sugar

Boil (70 minute boil)
2.0 Hallertauer Leaves (4.3 AA) (60 min)
0.75 Hallertauer Leaves (4.3 AA) (0 min)
1 tablet Whirlfloc (Boil – 15 min.)
½ tsp Brewer’s Choice Wyeast Nutrient Blend (Boil – 10 min.)

Primary (>80° F)

White Labs WLP565 – Starter made
Safale-05 – Packet pitched after 48 hours in primary


Aug 6 2009

Soured Saison Split Batch Experiment

This update is more thinking (or is it typing?) out loud about split batches.  In an effort to get a lot of brewing experimentation and testing done in a short amount of time, I’m splitting batches and that began not long ago with the splitting of my barleywine.  Part of that beer was bottled according to plan and a portion of the barleywine is being aged a little longer on bourbon oak cubes.

Right now, I have a traditional saison in primary and I’m determining how I want to break that one apart.  I’ll post the recipe for it on a later update, but it is your garden-variety saison homebrew from the 10,000 foot view.  Lots of pilsner malt, some wheat, a pound of cane sugar (to dry it out) and a few other specialty grains.  I also threw in 2 pounds Golden Promise just to add a little malt weight to the mix. 

The secret ingredient for my saisons is a touch of acidulated malt.  The acidity of that specialty grain adds a subtle complexity in the finished beer, but sticking your nose in a bag of this malt is like inhaling fresh sourdough.  At first I only used 2 ounces per 5.5 gallon batch, but lately I’ve been using 4 ounces.  I might have gone a little higher with this brew, but part of the experiment is the souring of the saison with brett, and I didn’t want too much noise coming from the sour malt.

I brewed up a 5.5 gallon batch on Sunday (8/2/09), and it has been in primary for four days.  The original gravity was 1.068, I pitched a built-up starter of WLP565 into the carboy once it got down to 75° F, and then I pitched a package of Safale-05 after the first 48 hours of active fermentation.   Saison yeasts are notorious for pooping out too early, and I have been burnt before, so I usually pitch something strong and neutral to bat clean up for the saison yeast if it decides to die on me.

At this time, I’m looking to split the batch three ways:

  • Segment A (Control): 1 gallon will be bottled and carbonated in the usual way for the style
  • Segment B: 3 gallons will be racked in a smaller carboy and I will pitch brettanomyces bruxellensis (medium intensity brett – WLP650) on that and let it sour
  • Segment C: 1 gallon will be racked it a wine jug and I will pitch the dregs of a bottle of Jolly Pumpkin La Roja (American-made Flanders Red) on that

I’ve tried the Bruery’s Saison Rue a few times over the last few months, and I like that beer a lot.  It is unusual because of their use of rye malt in the brew, but they also add brettanomyces at bottling to sour it ever so slightly.  It is a solid and very balanced beer, but I wanted a little more sourness in my version.  For that reason, I want to give segment B a little extra time before bottling for the brett to do its thing.

Segment C is just a spur of the moment decision since a good friend brought down some Jolly Pumpkin beers, and I’ve been loving then so far.  Building up and pitching those dregs should add JP’s brett, pedio, and lacto cultures to the saison, and I’m most excited to see how that segment turns out.


Down the road, I’ll be looking to use the 10 pounds of cherries I acquired a few weeks ago, but I think those are better used on a Belgian dark strong or golden ale.

Stay tuned, and any thoughts or comments are welcomed.