Friday, July 20, 2012

Saison vs. Dark Saison

Day vs. Night...
Order vs. Chaos...
God vs. Satan...  
Hero vs. Villain...  
Morality vs. Temptation...  
Good vs. Evil...  
Saison vs. Dark Saison...  

Perhaps a bit of a stretch, but no less intriguing than the other classic dichotomies.  They each present a metaphor for man's struggle against his own human weakness (perceived or real) and suggest a certain codependency of existence.  In much the same way that good as a concept cannot exist without evil, so must Saison beget Dark Saison as a counterbalance. ;)

All joking aside, Dark Saison is nothing new among homebrewers and other beer innovators.  Its very name is a bit of a misnomer along the lines of "Black Imperial India Pale Ale" since the saison family is typically pale straw to orange in color; I'm not particularly inclined to a strictness of style (and I prefer the term Cascadian Dark Ale, personally).  The idea of taking the highly attenuated dryness and spiced characteristics of a saison, and complicating the profile with darker flavors suggesting stone fruit is intriguing.  I took plenty of cues, recipe ideas and encouragement from others who have already brewed this style.  I also decided to do something different with a more traditional saison base and have two saisons fermenting side-by-side.  And, taking the philosophical/literary approach, I named them appropriately.

Protagonist Cucumber Saison w/ Grains of Paradise

Yes, cucumber.  Lewy suggested this idea and it appealed to me immediately.  Cucumber water is the sort of delicate beverage that you find in spas and upscale summer resorts, but it's a pretty refreshing and simple drink to make.  The cucumber gives the water a mild clean neutrality that I hope will compliment the refreshing, thirst quenching flavors in a saison.  I plan to add sliced cucumber to the beer for a brief amount of contact time after transferring to secondary.  The grain bill is about as simple as you could ask for, using only Belgian Pale Malt and Flaked Wheat (87% and 13% of the grist, respectively).  I also added grains of paradise during the last 20 minutes of the boil for a citrusy pepper note.  Czech Saaz hops and WLP568 Belgian Saison Ale Yeast Blend round out the ingredient list.

Antagonist Dark Saison w/ Dates and Molasses

Pureed dates.
With the two saisons being complementary, I decided to use the same percentage of base malt for both, with Belgian Pale and Pilsner Malts making up 87% of the Dark Saison's grist.  Vienna, Carafa II (dehusked), Caramunich, Flaked Oats and Special B provide the additional grain-based fermentables and up the SRM above 21.  The specialty grains should provide some additional sweetness and complexity.  I'm excited to see how the Special B's characteristic raisin flavor works as a compliment to the nearly two pounds of pureed dates I added during the final fifteen minutes of the boil.  An additional 6 ounces of a mild molasses (not blackstrap) added along with the dates should give some burnt brown sugar flavor.  I decided to hop this beer a little more aggressively, using Citra hops in greater than normal quantities to provide some additional fruitiness in an attempt to layer the darker malt flavors.  Like the Cucumber Saison, this beer is fermenting with WLP568.

1500ml of WLP568.
Lewy provided yeast from his delicious Sorachi Ace'd Saison, generously washed and shared with me.  The beers will be allowed to free rise in my garage (outside of the fermentation chamber) during initial fermentation.  I can't wait to have these on tap side-by-side.


  1. Yum and Yum.
    I was thinking about Cucumber in beer the other day. And it makes great sense in a Saison.

    The Dark Saison sounds great too. The one thing that I will mention is that mine took a while to meld together. When it was young the taste was hard to describe, as it aged then the distinct flavors came out. So give it some time before passing judgement. Also I ended up souring half of my batch and it's one of my favorite beers ( I think Mike does this too).

    What O.G. did you go with for these?

    1. I appreciate that insight. I was hesitant to use the molasses in the dark saison but your experiments with treacle gave me some confidence. I think it's going to be a bit of a challenge finding the right amount of contact time for the cucumber addition in the light saison, but I'm hoping for some fortunate results. Regardless, it should be interesting.

      The OG for the light saison ended up at 1.050; the dark saison had an OG of 1.066. I'm sure you'll be trying some of both at some point.


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