November 2, 2017

Sombrero Saison: Mixed Fermentation Saison with Grapefruit peel, Orange peel, Prickly Pear and Lavender

While I consider myself among those who despise the way saison/farmhouse beers are treated like a dumping ground for unusual ingredients, I can't ignore my own hypocrisy. I've treated saisons to weird ingredients--but I treat many styles that way. It's not that I oppose the introduction of weird ingredients into saison (like Fantome's many mysterious but wonderful additions). I just dislike that when many brewers want to play with strange ingredients they turn to saison. It's unnecessary as Scratch Brewing and others following their lead fantastically prove with their unusual beers branching out across many styles. Unusual concoctions can make sense in any style when there's a clear concept.

Still, this beer seems kitsch, even for me.

Grapefruit and orange peels, prickly pear and tequila. It's an unnecessarily large pour of simple syrup away from a cheap Mexican resort cocktail. I can feel you judging. I get it. It's the kind of beer that I want to throw in the trash when it's a lazy remix of a cocktail or overly boozy. But if the flavors are threaded together correctly it could be a complex saison/farmhouse beer with an obvious Mexican feel. It's either great or gross. Hey, Fantome did a tequila barrel aged saison recently. Why can't I follow the ghost's lead?

Sombrero Saison's Not-So-Mysterious Origins

This beer's origins began five or six years ago when a waive of prickly pear saisons came in vogue. I decided I wanted to hop on that train but couldn't find reasonably priced prickly pears. I eventually found some, stuck them in the freezer and never put the beer into my to-brew list. As I started thinking about winding down my kitchen and brewing supplies in advance of next year's move to Denver I decided I should go ahead and use these prickly pears. I started thinking about what I already have available to avoid buying more ingredients. I already had some fruit peels in the freezer and tequila which has been sitting on oak cubes for several years now. These ingredients go together well so it's a good start.

I thought about how these ingredients might play with the predominately berry and hay flavors of my mixed saison culture. This still seems like a good idea. A good mix of flavors, especially with some late addition hops to add to the fruit flavors and some minor herbal notes. Still, it seems to lack some balance in the phenolic side of things. My saison culture with the right amount of age loses that brett barnyard funk in favor of the dried hay/old unused barn smell. So I started digging around for possible spices.

Here comes the lavender. 

I planted a little lavender plant among the ground cover in my yard intending to use it in a beer but never finding a home for that floral soap flavor I so rarely enjoy in beer. In Brewing Local, Stan Hieronymous mentions that a long boil on lavender causes it to lose the floral flavor in favor of a cinnamon-like spice flavor. A gentle spice is exactly what I want to help tie together all these flavors. I don't want to specifically taste this ingredient. I want it to help glue everything else together.

Sombrero Saison One Gallon Recipe

Batch Size: 1 gallon
Est. ABV: 4.8%
Est. IBU: 35
Est. OG: 1.047
Est. FG: 1.010
Est. SRM: 3
Expected Efficiency: 72%
Grain BillPoundsOuncesSRMPct. Grist
Pils malt10257.10%
White wheat malt4214.30%
Unmalted wheat8128.60%
Water Profileppm
Bru'n Water Yellow Bitter
PH: 5.4
Water AdditionsMashSparge
Epsom Salt0.2g00.4g
Canning Salt
Baking Soda
Calcium Chloride0.2g0.3g
Pickling Lime
Lactic Acid0.1mL
Mash ScheduleStep Temp.Step Time
Single infusion mash
Mash volume: 2.19 qt
Sparge volume: 0.93 gal
Infuse 2.19 quarts at 167F15075
Sparge 0.93 gal at 190F
Boil ScheduleVolumeUnitTimeIBU
60 minute boil
Aurora [8.1%]0.22oz6034.9
Lavender leaves0.6g600
Cascade [5.5%]0.25ozWhirl?
Fresh grapefruit peel4gWhirl
Fresh pink navel orange peel3gWhirl
Fermentation Schedule# DaysTemp.
Yeast: Saison AF
Pitch 40ml yeast slurry
Pitch at 65F12065
Add 1.3 lb prickly pear 30Ambient

Brewday & Fermentation Notes

Brewed 11.2.17

First runnings: 1.063
Preboil gravity: 1.030
Preboil volume: 1.4 gal
Mash efficiency: 65%
Postboil gravity: 1.042
Postboil volume: 1 gallon

Pre-fermentation flavor is herbal, slight citrus, bready. May consider adding a second equal addition of fruit peels with the prickly pear. Not as citrusy as desired.

This is one green beer.

Bottled 4.7.18

Bottled with 1 oz table sugar to approximately 3.0 volumes.

At five months this is a little early for this beer because the mixed culture holds on to its weird sweet barnyard flavor for a lot longer; however, I needed to bottle beer ahead of the move and it can continue its slumber in bottles.

The beer is a shade darker than magenta, promising to stain anything it touches. You can see from this classically awful photo that it has a color a little lighter than a pinot noir but in smaller quantities it is a brighter, pinker beer. You can see the green color I discussed before is gone although I'm not sure if it would still be green if not for the overpowering color of prickly pear.

This is one weird beer--even for me. At this pre-carbonation, under-aged status it is just really weird. The aroma is a mix of that sweet barnyard that my culture throws early that will hopefully go away plus parsley, blueberry, orange, honeydew melon and a subtle floral and cinnamon. Kind of like a cheap berry juice drink for kids left out on the counter for too long.

That pretty well describes the flavor except it tastes more floral and vegetal. I know some of that is just the flavor of prickly pear but I can't help but feel the lavender is also flexing its muscles. The more I drink the more herbal-lavender it gets.

I opted not to add tequila as planned. I added some of the oak-soaked tequila to a sample but the tequila flavor was lost even at a fairly high ratio. It started feeling boozy but not much flavor. If anything, it made the herbal-floral flavor stand out even more. I did try adding a little lime juice to a sample which seemed to help round out the herbalness a little. After drinking four ounces the herbal flavor started to feel heavy. Also, my tongue is a little numb.

I'll leave these in bottles through the summer at which time they will be closer to ten months old which is about the time the sweet barnyard flavor cuts out completely. I'm interested to see where this beer goes but honestly it is probably not one I will brew again. An interesting experiment for sure.

Tasting Notes and Review

Review from bottle opened on 10.28.18.

Appearance: The body of the beer is a consistent magenta. It's hazy, almost cloudy with small bits of floating fruit that made its way into the beer. The head appears in a pink-tinted white that arrives and disappears quickly, leaving no lacing. 

Aroma: The aroma is dominated by the prickly pear with its bubble gum-like character, watermelon, soft herbalness and light barnyard-y brett character. The prickly pear hides a lot of the normal character of the mixed culture.

Flavor: Predictably, the prickly pear arrives first with the same bubble gum and watermelon flavor. There is a soft herbalness that acts as a smooth transition to the yeast character. In comes barnyard, hay, subtle blueberry and cinnamon. A hint of sour orange appears in the finish.The grain character is lost among the prickly pear. No detectable hop flavor. 

Mouthfeel: The beer is a little heavy for the style with a dense feeling slightly reminiscent of a hazy IPA. It doesn't have the grittiness of some of those beers but feels heavier than normal for a saison. 

Overall: I'm reasonably happy with this beer. The flavor combination is interesting although the prickly pear is somewhat oppressive in the beer. I like the ingredients together but would use considerably less prickly pear if I chose to brew it again. This isn't a beer I would drink all night or crave every weekend but it's a solid effort for what it is. It's going to be one of the beers I hang on to and drink once or twice a year until the bottles run out. 

This beer was a definite success in working with this saison mixed culture. The prior batch had a pale malt base which left the beer too sweet for the flavor combination of this culture. I feel confident that this mixed culture needs a pils malt base (with or without adjuncts) and anything darker doesn't work.