Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Homebrew - American Apricot Saison

I haven't blogged for a while but that's because I was waiting for my latest beer to be ready before I wrote about it. I can now talk you through the brew day and how the beer turned out.  Saisons seem to be all the rage at the moment.  I wasn't sure at first but they have really grown on me... especially some of the more modern takes on them... generally the stronger ones (which probably goes against what Saisons were invented for in the first place - a thirst quencher for farmers with a low alcohol content such that their workrate isn't hindered).  If you don't think you're a fan of saisons, please try a beer from De Molen called Blikken & Blozen and if you still don't like them, then you're an idiot.

The Plan

A fruity, slightly spicy, quite strong saison but with an american hop aroma. Hmmm..... this might be tricky. Researching saison recipes, they commonly use a little black pepper to give the hint of spice and on the fruit side they often tend to use orange or lemon zest. I decided to add a couple of other things just to give it more body... oh yeah... and apricots. I decided to try some apricots to give it more of a fruity hit.  No real reason why I chose apricots, I just thought it seemed like a fruit which is not too citric or sour whilst hopefully not overpowering.

I was originally going to use a Belgian saison yeast... obviously, it's a saison, you obviously need some king of Belgian yest. When I came to ordering the ingredients, I realised I'd already got some US-05 yeast. For those who aren't familiar, this is more commonly used with american pale ales and generally fresh hoppy ales, but you wouldn't consider it for a saison. For some reason I thought "meh... that'll do... it'll just be a cross between a saison and an american pale ale".  Since making that decision, I read that the yeast is pretty much the most important part of a saison and that which gives it it's distinct taste. Sometimes home brewing can be exciting playing around with things but sometimes it really doesn't work. I was just going to go for it, I wanted to make beer and I had a free Saturday... I didn't have the option now to order another yeast otherwise I'd miss my window. So fuck it I thought.

The Recipe

(around 25 litres)


6kg     Pilsner Malt
0.5kg  Caramunich
0.5kg  Carapils


10g Columbus      60mins
15g Hersbrucker  20mins
25g Saaz              20mins
30g Calypso         10mins
30g Calypso         Dry Hop



Other stuff

Star anis
Black pepper
Lemon zest
14g Gypsum

Brew Day

Spare Saturday... not made any beer in a while... weather's a bit shit... Brew Day!
Here's my massive brewery, in my kitchen. 

Copper on the left, Mash Tun on the right

So... all seemed to be going pretty well. This is the most grain I'd ever used before, I wanted to get a decent ABV on this one, so the alcohol balances out the sweetness, I'm not a fan of overly sweet beers. I could only fit so much liquor in the mash tun and when I took the first runnings, I was disappointed at how little I got from it... obviously a lot more grain had really sucked up the water.

First Runnings
7.5 litres from about 16 litres of liquor
The remaining grain bed

So with all that grain and so little wort from the first runnings, I had to sparge a lot... but it kept running sweet, there was definitely enough sugary goodness in there which I was very happy about and I was happy to have to take the time to get the volume of wort I wanted.

Finally... enough lovely wort

So it was boil time.  I like boil time... because I get to measure out all the ingredients to add at whatever time I choose and it's at this point where I really feel like I'm creating something. Although it does sometimes make me nervous when I'm adding things I haven't added before like this:

Apricots? In beer??  yeah...... chuck em in

Right, now there's always something which doesn't go right on brew day, it never goes completely smoothly and it's always something slightly different each time.  So, I transferred all the wort back into the boiler and cranked up the temperature then made myself a sandwich while I waited for it to reach boiling. I kept checking the temperature and I knew something was wrong when it read 70 degrees three times in a row in the space of about 20 minutes. Shit... my boiler was completely dead. Great, so my boiler's knackered, that's brew day over... I was genuinely upset. The only thing I could do was to empty all the wort back into the fermenter bucket while I tried to figure out what was wrong.  The heating element was pretty limescaley so I thought that might be the problem.  After going to the local shop, buying some ciff and some brillo pads, giving it a scrub, then rinsing it, then sterilizing it, then rinsing it again, then pouring the wort back in... it got up to 70 degrees.... then 75.... 80. Yes....phew... relief is the word.

Boil you bastard
obviously, you've got to have a brew day beer on the go...

Boiling done, I was nearly there. However, due to the palava with the boiler I was running quite a bit later than I had planned so I was rushing a bit now.  I cooled it down and then lifted it onto the table.  I then immediately started drained it through a sieve when I really should have let it settle for a bit first to let to let the cold break material separate. This resulted in the tap getting clogged with crap, then it taking ages for me to drain the boiler and ending up with loads of cold break material in the fermenter.

The first day or two after making a beer is always a bit nerve racking, waiting for the bubbling of the airlock to signify fermentation has begun. This is the fermenter the next day:

check out all that lovely stuff in there!

Anyway... it turned out to be fine, fermentation kicked in within 24 hours and the next day the fermenter looked like this:

All nice and settled

I let it to ferment out for two weeks even though activity was done after about one so the yeast could clear up a bit of the sediment left over. All was left then was to transfer to the barrel and drop in a bag of hops.

beer in it's barrel
like a tea bag... but bigger... and with hops

The Finished Product

I left it for a week, then bottled with sugar.  I then left the bottles to condition for another 3 weeks. The end result is really so much better than I imagined.  I can't believe the yeast didn't ruin it... It does definitely have the hoppy aroma of an american pale ale or IPA but it also definitely has the sweet, almost slightly sherbet taste of a saison. I'm putting this down to a combination of the pilsner malt, the spices... and of course the apricots (which I don't really think you can identify in the final product to be honest).  All in all, I'm really proud of this, especially as I just went for it with whatever ingredients I fancied regardless of what category they fall into and what beer they are 'supposed' to be used for.  I'm still loosely calling it an 'American Saison' but I don't really care if it can't be categorised.... that would mean I've brewed something truly unique and that's got to be the ultimate for any homebrewer. Well... that and it also tastes really nice.

American Spiced Apricot Saison Pale Ale IPA Pilsner

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