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09/22/05 10:52 PM  
Using Spices in a saison?
I've been reading about saisons recently. I figure with the number of great belgian brewers here, it is a good time to ask the following?

Is it traditionally appropiate to use dry spices in a saison? I've read information from two schools of thought, one that claims that the spicey character of a saison is the product of the saison yeast and only the yeast and that spice additions take the character of the beer to an extreme that would not have been popular among farmhouse brewers of Wallonia, the second school is that spice additions are absoultely apporpiate because the style is defined by the use of spices to provide flavor and aroma.

I've tried several commercial saisons, some brewed in Belgium, some in the US, while all have some degree of anise, coriander and other spice character, the degree varies and could be attributable to either the yeast or to spice additions.

As homebrewers we tend to take things to an extreme, be it hops, gravity or seasoning, but my question is, are we doing the right thing if we attempt to make a traditional, belgian-style saison using additions of spices?

All opinions are helpful.



09/23/05 04:51 PM  
Re: Using Spices in a saison?
From a historical perspective I can't imagine it is possible that saison was not spiced to some degree. One example of a saison that I bet is in line with what farmhouses used to do is Vapeur En Folie, it suppliments hop bitterness with an addition of chicory. I doubt farmhouse would have bought commerically available spices, but the idea that they would have collected items from their own fields to add to beer makes loads of sense to me. Chicory is a great example of that, orange peel is a great example of something a farmhouse brewer would not have had reasonable access to.

That being said:

"are we doing the right thing if we attempt to make a traditional, belgian-style saison using additions of spices?"

I think since we are homebrewers the rules bend a bit. A commercial brewer must be driven by what will sell. Someone exploring this in an effort to serve history must focus on authenticity. But our only measuring stick is what makes us - as our own consumers - happy.

I think using spices is authentic, but I think using exotic spices is not. If what you really want is to try and capture the past I would look in your garden for things that seem like they might go well in beer. As over-corriandered as the world of beer is, I hate to say that is probably an example of an authentic spice.

But keep one thought in mind as you aspire to relive the past Aeneas, it is VERY possible saison of the early 20th century was horrific beer by our standards. Without knowledge of science or sanization, control of temperature, quality brewing products or commercial concerns what are the chances that beer made to slake the thirsts of farm hands was actually tasty? My guess is if you had a tme machine and could go back to experience the roots of farmhouse brewing you would discover progress is a good thing.

Scott Jackson
09/23/05 07:27 PM  
Re: Using Spices in a saison?
So you are saying that my Saison du Potiron (Pumpkin Saison) would be traditional? ;)
09/26/05 06:54 AM  
Re: Using Spices in a saison?
Hummm, interesting question. I bet it is not traditional in terms of recipe, though I guess nobody would really know that for sure. But IMO the idea is consistant with the spirit of farmhouse brewing. I mean if they had pumpkins and they needed more stuff to put in their beer why wouldn't they use them?

I wonder if, in some ways, farmhouse brewers were sorta like mega-homebrewers. If they were making beer not for commercial availability but for use within the confines of the farm then a: are we really so different from them? and b: would getting recipe info on one that has been gone 50 years be like getting recipe info regarding a homebrewer who died in 1955?

Perhaps the way we are really different from them is we have homebrew shops thus access to all kinds of great brewing products. They probably just had mostly what they could grow. So you know what Scott, I'm not so sure there's a great arguement against yours being traditional!

09/26/05 03:05 PM  
Re: Using Spices in a saison?
I have formulated the following opinion based on the contribution I have received from this site and others as (in line with SteveG's opinion): Farmhouse brewers used what was available to them to create their beers. Their beers were a reflection of their environment, thus indiginous brewers would use indiginous ingredients in their beers. They brewed in line with their tastes using the materials at hand and we should do the same. The best a homebrewer can do to brew in the spirit of the farmhouse brewers is to use what we have on hand in our native area and create a beer that reflects our home and our taste.

This brings me to a new paradigm in my saison brewing, the indiginous saison. I have been inspired to brew using the local herbs as "spices" to create my own beers. There is a lot of sasafras growing here, so I may try my hand at a sasafras saison. It will be far from traditional, but may be good (it may not be as well). As I learn more about the indiginous plants of Long Island, I'll incorporate more into my brewing.


09/26/05 04:50 PM  
Re: Using Spices in a saison?
>>sasafras saison<<

That's sounds kinda cool!

>>It will be far from traditional<<

Maybe far from any recipe I've seen, but I bet if a farmhouse had sasafras handy they'd have at least given it a whirl. I think if you do what they would have done in your shoes then you have upheld tradition on an atypical - but very important - level. Less traditional in recipe, more traditional in spirit. Good for you! By all means let us know what happens when sasafras does its thing. Its not every day I hear of someone brewing with an item that I've never before heard used'

09/26/05 10:03 PM  
Re: Definition of Farmhouse beer
<<Farmhouse brewers used what was available to them to create their beers. Their beers were a reflection of their environment, thus indiginous brewers would use indiginous ingredients in their beers. They brewed in line with their tastes using the materials at hand and we should do the same.>>

I too agree that you have hit the nail on the head with this one. I have been brewing "Saisons" for the past couple of years using local ingridients. The cool thing that no matter where you are there is a never ending supply of different ingredients.

I just harvested 10 pounds of butternut squash from my mother's garden, and guess what this will be going into my Winter Super Saison that I will be brewing shortly.

I also picked up a couple of native ingredients that I plan on using next summer; two onces of Jamaica flowers (used for making a refreshing summer drink locally), as well as a pound of ground mesquite beans, and finally a pint of agave nectar.

I can't wait to use these in my upcoming Farmhouse ale interpretations.

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