I finally got over my negative response to the Smuttynose (Big Beer Series) Farmhouse ale from a year ago. It was too barnyard, horse blanket, vegital.. too funky for me. Certainly not saying it’s a bad beer, but it was not for me.
The Groundswell is labeled a Belgian Pale Ale, but I found it to be lighter in color and more mild in flavor than some Belgian Pales I’ve had. In this summer heat, I found those to be wonderful attributes. I did not find it so far removed from the Field Mouse’s Farewell Farmhouse Ale or the Notch Saison. They all had their own things going on, but the level of funkiness was right for me in all three beers. I’m sure were I to have them side by side, I’d be picking up differences, but again, this style is relatively new to my palate.
One thing I noticed with the Field Mouse was that Dann at Pretty Things did was use rye. And according to him, a good amount in this year’s batch. I’m a fan of the dry, peppery spice rye seems to add, so I will definitely be using rye in some amount.
So basics… most saison recipes call for a Pils for the base. Some then use a little wheat, munich or vienna, maybe some flaked oats. Noble hops of course. Then there’s a few different yeast choices, which I will delve into more later.
Luckily, many craft brewers are offering up their malt bills on websites, in general terms, and some will even answer questions about specifics. So after examining such info, and referring to sources like Jamil Zainasheff’s “Brewing Classic Styles”, I end up with as many questions as I do answers.
Some folks (like JZ) suggest adding sugar to the boil which will help reach a higher level of alcohol AND make it finish dryer. I’m considering this, but still unsure. No more than a pound of sugar if I do. (If I take Jamil’s recipe and remove the 1 lb of sugar he has listed, I go from 6.8% ABV to 5.5% and the estimated finishing gravity jumps up a couple points (1.009 to 1.011). The lower the Final Gravity (FG) the dryer the beer as a higher percentage of the sugars are converted to alcohol, leaving less residual sugar.
For now, I’m looking at this malt bill: Pilsner, Rye, Wheat and flaked oats. This is more in line with the grains used in the Pretty Things beer. Whereas JZ’s calls for Pils, Wheat, Munich, and a small amount of Caramunich III (adding some color) in the mash and the sugar in the boil. I am not yet sure if Field Mouse uses sugar or not. It’s 7% ABV, but their site describes it as slightly sweeter and more full bodied than their flagship Saison, Jack D’Or, I’m thinking maybe no sugar. (their site lists sugar with the grain bill for Jack D’Or, but no mention of sugar for Field Mouse)
If nothing else, I’ve had some good local Belgian beer lately, and maybe I’ll get around to creating one myself.
More on Belgian yeasts in my next posting.