Tag Archives: Crystal Hops

SaisonFest 2013

Saison Party_1

I ordered a bunch of American saisons at the beginning of the year and planned on doing a springtime saison tasting party.  Spring came and went, so I planned for summer.  I added to the bottle collection over the following months with anticipation building for the most ultimate of all ultimate beer gatherings.  In furtherance of my saison party prep, I brewed a ten gallon batch of saison and split the fermentation between two saison yeast strains so we’d have a homebrew representation.  And then summer passed (I showed a surprising amount of self-restraint not opening that ever growing stash of farmhouse style brews).  With cold weather looming, we decided to dust off the bottles, push the kegerator outside, buy a shitload of olives and cheese and get the party started.

Much fun was had, the weather was beautiful, and plenty of saisons were tasted.  Some standouts for me were the Boulevard Tank 7 (and Brett version), Logsdon Seizoen (and Brett version), Great Divide Colette, and Pretty Things Jack D’Or.  My homebrewed versions held up surprisingly well, and I’ve included some tasting notes below.

For these beers, I kept the grainbill pretty standard for a saison using 90% pilsner malt, 5% flaked wheat, and 5% table sugar (added to the fermentor).  As is often the case with my I’m-a-dad-now abbreviated brewing schedule, this batch performed double duty as part of a single-hop saison experiment for my Brooklyn Brewsers homebrew club.  I chose Crystal as the single hop for it’s noble hop similarities (most classic saisons use noble hops), making sure I didn’t go too far outside the box and have ten gallons of really weird beer to drink.

The wort was split between two yeast strains, Danstar Belle Saison and East Coast Yeast ECY08 Saison Brasserie (actually a blend of several saison strains).  Both were fermented starting at 72F and allowed to free rise to 80F over the course of fermentation.

Belle Saison

Appearance.  Somewhat hazy golden hue with a dense rocky head that persists.  Much clearer than ECY08 version.

Aroma.  The Brewsers chose to have everyone dry hop their saisons, so the hop aromatics were definitely accentuated.  That said, both yeast strains were still able to come through in the nose.  The Belle Saison has notes of mineral, citrus, lemon zest, spiciness, somewhat fresh-cut grass, hay, earthiness, and noble hops.

Taste and Mouthfeel. This version finished very dry (.996!) and with the extra carbonation was spritzy and refreshing on the tongue.  The initial dryness is accentuated by yeast notes of black pepper, delicate smooth bitterness, and noble hops popping one after another.  There is a distinct citrus note present, a lot of lemon and grapefruit. 

Overall Impressions.  Very drinkable.  This keg was gone (mostly from me) very quickly as it was my go to beer for a while.  I like the not-so-complex layers of flavor that seemed to get out of the way of each other.  This beer took a while to round out and after two months in the keg it was peaking, although it was almost gone at that point.

ECY08 Saison Brasserie

Appearance.  Same golden hue as Belle, but cloudy throughout its tenure in the keg.  I knew it was going to be this way after seeing them both post-fermentation with Belle Saison forming a nice thick trub pile at the bottom of the carboy and ECY08 as cloudy as a hefeweizen.

Aroma.  Very noticeable barnyard, minerally, citrus, reminds me a lot of Saison Dupont.  Lemons and grapefruit once again, most likely from the Crystal hops.

Taste and Mouthfeel. While not as dry as the Belle version, this beer finished respectably dry at 1.001.  Very spritzy and lively on the tongue as well, allowing the flavors to bounce around in your mouth.  Lemons and grapefruit present as well as mineral notes that set this apart from the Belle.  Grassy, earthy, and some spiciness, but mild compared to the black pepper present in the Belle Saison.

Overall Impressions. This beer, even at an advanced age, was more coarse than the other version, making me think of the word “rustic” for some reason.  Both beers took a while to come into their own, as is often the case with belgian-style beers.  One of the most interesting things for me about this split batch was my wife’s surprised reaction when I told her that the beers were exactly the same recipe except for the yeast strains — despite having the same grainbill, hop and fermentation process, the flavors of the two strains and yeast-driven esters made two completely different (and totally drinkable) beers.

*photo credit to Naoko Machida

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Dry Hopping Miller Lite

Brewsers Dry Hop Experiment

When I saw this dry hop experiment floating around on the internet, I thought it would be great to do with my local homebrew club.  The basic idea is use pellets to dry hop a commercial light lager in the bottle for a few days, cold crash it, and then do a sensory analysis (mostly olfactory) on the effects of different hop varietals.  Any light beer will work, so I bought a case of Miller Lite and dosed six sets of four, each with a different hop.  I used a combination of classic hops as well as some new experimental hops to see what kind of unique aromas we could find.  Here are a few of the descriptors I pulled from the homebrew club audience of about 25 people.

Dry Hop Experiment Bottles

Amarillo: Mild aroma, dill, flowery, slight onion, perfume, very slight tropical note.  This was the surprise of the bunch.  I ran a test prior to dry hopping the entire case on a six pack and found amarillo to be underwhelming.  Needs something to amplify it, possibly in combination with kettle hopping (which usually happens anyway) or paired with another varietal in the dry hop.

Centennial: (Older package) Not a great aroma, flowery, grassy, muted, semi-dull.  I think I will attempt this variety again because the hops I used were from a one-pound package from the 2011 harvest which I have slowly used over the past two years.  Loosely packed pellets created tons of floaties and was generally unappealing.

Simcoe: Powerful aroma, cat pee, tropical notes, fruit punch, nettles, pine, pineapple, nose-bomb.  This was the clear standout and my personal favorite.  I also did a pre-test with this hop and gladly drank the entire bottle after sensory analysis.  Made Miller Lite taste like a delicious craft beer.

Hop Steiner EXP 1210: Mild aroma, Pineapple, English cask like, light citrus, burnt orange.  This hop smelled delicious upon opening the bag and persuaded me to brew the Hop 2 It recipe to bring to this year’s National Homebrew Conference.

Hop Steiner EXP 6300: Suntan lotion, wet leaves, crab shells (?), coconut butter, oily, cinnamon.  Very weird hop.  I recently did a single malt and single hop (SMaSH) beer with this, and it definitely is a very unique hop.

Crystal: Mild Aroma, slight tea leaf, spicy, flowers, earl grey tea, herbal, noble like character.  Very nice, gentle hop to go against the other aggressive varietals.  This hop, with it’s thin, very densely packed pellets caused the only problem when dosing the beers.  Every time I would drop a pellet in it would cause the beer to foam out uncontrollably, losing a bunch of beer.  We were still able to evaluate the beer, but it was messy and generally sucked.

Overall, the experiment was received well and we’re planning to do another batch at the next meeting.  Stay tuned for those tasting notes.

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