Mastering 3724 – Brewing with the Dupont Saison yeast round 4

I’m not afraid to admit that last Summer Wyeast’s 3724 Dupont Saison yeast got the better of me. A constant battle with stalled fermentations and bottles that refused to carbonate and condition, I came very close to swearing off the beast and its kindred strains for all-time. So it was with determined trepidation that I approached what I consider an extensive research project into any and all conditions that afford at least a fighting chance at smooth sailing with this yeast. To date what I’ve derived from innumerable sources, debates and forums has allowed me be much more successful. I’m just finishing up this year’s 2nd 5 gallon batch, and although I may describe each style-defying over-hopped recipe in greater detail in a later post,  the aim of this article is to attempt to explain why this summer’s results are such a stark improvement over last year’s attempts. So far I’ve decided at least through my own reasearch, reasoning and experimentation that the following three factors are in fact the key to mastering 3724.

Fresh healthy yeast – This seems like a no-brainer, right. But I do not mean fresh smackpacks or vials.  I have begun to collect, wash and repitch yeast from a starter or previous batch rather than work straight from a manufacturer’s sample. I feel this yields greater cell count reliability and viability, less stress on the yeast having had the chance to successfully reproduce healthy cells after shipment, and a level of craftsmanship not possible in a bulk lab. This is surprisingly simple and reusing yeast is both cost-effective and prone to reduce the chance of infection and underpitching. It’s a practice I’ve begun to use across all strains, but most relevant is that I was able to do this for both batches where I pitched the Saison yeast. In each case I had rapid airlock bubbling within 2-3 hours and reached a close to Final Gravity of 1.004 within 3 days. The bottles have all carbonated within 2-3 days with absolutely no off-flavors. If you have not had serious and regular infections in your beer I suspect your sanitizing skills are sufficient to try washing your yeast.

Low OG – Historically this yeast strain is known to stall around gravity 1.035. There are a lot of articles, blog posts and forums on why this happens and how to recover from it. Aside from proper wort temperature management, most brewers agree that the primary concern is a drop in pH caused by the sequestering of CO2 in the wort as the yeast consumes the bulk of fermentable sugars in a somewhat ravenous fashion. Many have resorted to disturbing the wort, releasing CO2 and often causing airlock overflow. I do not advocate this unless you are using a blowoff tube and really only as a last resort if your fermentation does get stuck. Instead, starting my two batches with wort gravities of 1.034 and 1.038 respectively removed this tripping point for at least two reasons. The move from 1.03x to 1.015ish happens rapidly, immediately, although more efficiently than if presenting the yeast with a wort closer to 1.060. This means the drop in pH is both less dramatic and slower, allowing natural conditions to assist in balancing and accommodating the change. This approach, however, of course begs the question of how to produce a higher ABV product? In my second batch I opted to double ferment the wort, raising the theoretical combined OG to 1.054. I consider this a fairly safe alternative to fighting with a stuck fermentation. I waited until the initial FG was under 1.010 insuring sufficient alcohol content to risk opening the fermenter. The wort I added to the beer was prepared following a standard brew day recipe.

Maintain wort temp between 90°-93° F and ramp up to 95°+ F to finish – I recently wrote a post on maintaining proper temperatures throughout the life of a batch of home brew. This is never more important than when working with the 3724 Saison yeast. This strain wants to be 90°+ all the time, rising a bit towards the finish. In practice this means understanding that wort temps start out at ambient temp, rise 4-12 degrees during the first few days of primary fermentation, then slowly drop back to ambient as primary completes. How did i manage all this? I pitched 85° ambient temp yeast into 87°+ wort. Over the course of a couple of hours, the yeasts very short lag time, the wort dropped a few degrees and then began to rise. Over the next 3 days wort temp was held around 93°-94° by the yeast. After that I applied insulation and ambient heat to keep the wort at 93°. Two days before bottling I raised the temp to 95°+ to consume any diacetyl that may have been present.

When happy, healthy and properly used the 3724 Dupont Saison yeast makes incredibly tasty beer. Although it can be tricky to work with, frustratingly difficult to get moving once it fails, and not always easy to find, the rewards are really worth it. The remarkably clean, spicy, fruity characters present in both the aroma and flavor are light and refreshing. If this has gotten the better of you in the past, dial it all in and give it another shot!

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Starting 2014 with 3 unique homebrewed IPAs

nellymaster  With Spring and warmer weather slow to arrive, I’ve been taking full advantage of the opportunity to brew a few successive batches of unique IPAs. Two of these batches shared the same yeast as I took a long overdue swing at reusing a fresh yeast cake. As I’m writing this, two are refrigerated and taste fantastic. The third is due out in a week or two and may be the most unique recipe I’ve crafted. Each of these brews is based on a completely custom grain bill and hop schedule. Being lighter ales, that’s far from rocket science, but it’s again another step towards the perfect beer.

Batch #1 2014 – Nelly Green’s Bubble Galumbus: I enjoy naming a batch of home brew more than the average brewer. In this case the name is based almost solely on the hops I used to brew it, Columbus, Galaxy, Nelson Sauvin and Green Bullet. It’s a sessionable IPA at roughly 5.2% ABV and loaded with fruit and citrus flavors from the hops. The Nelson Sauvin in particular stands out in both the aroma and flavor, lending very unique and hard to describe notes of fruit and bubblegum. The spiciness of the Green Bullet balances this nicely. For the most part the Galaxy flavors are lost in the mix, contributing to the whole but indiscernible. (see pic above)

Batch #2 2014 – Double Galumbus: Last year I made what was then my favorite batch of home brew based loosely on a clone of Slumbrew’s Flagraiser IPA. Rather than a complete reboot of this recipe I decided to go bigger with the Galaxy hops, using them exclusively and in somewhat outrageous amounts at the 15 minute flavor addition. I was also able to get my hands on very fresh leaf Centennial rather than the pellets I used originally. After trying this beer, I am once again convinced that Galaxy, Columbus and Centennial are among my favorite hops to brew with. The aroma is packed with citrus, passionfruit and apricot. The flavor is similar with larger notes of grapefruit and tropical fruit. At 7.3% ABV, tasting the way it does, this is the best beer I’ve made and one of my favorite IPAs of all-time.

Batch #3 2014 – Magnum Tire: Is it a clone of Fat Tire? Is it an Imperial Amber? Is it absolutely delicious? Yes to all three. Feeling a bit experimental, for this batch I started with a rough reinterpretation of New Belgium’s Fat Tire and turned it into a much bigger Imperial Amber/IPA. This recipe has been ruminating in my mind since before I started brewing at home. In truth, being unable to buy New Belgium beer in MA is at least in part responsible for me starting to learn the craft of…  craft. With that in mind I am still a hophead and would not be satisfied with a mildly bitter table amber. I tripled the bitterness, doubled the ABV, doubled the Biscuit malt addition, quadrupled the Fuggles flavor hop addition and eliminated the Fuggles aroma addition. The result is a bready biscuity imperial bottle of hoppy joy. A beer I’ve waited years to make and longer to finally taste.

This years first three batches have each been a complete success. Although very different and often unique in flavor, each featured a big hoppy punch only fitting for a brewer who calls himself Mr Hops. For my next batch I’m torn between a hop-bursted Pale and a Chocolate Oatmeal Stout carbonated with bananas. With any luck, mother nature will stretch Spring out long enough for me to brew both!

My favorite hops for home brewing and how I use them

This isn’t a complete or exhaustive list, but it does cover a good portion of what I use at home and often seek out at the local bottle shop.

My favorites:

Galaxy – Hands down the single best hop I’ve come across. Its high alpha acid makes it great for bittering. Added later in the boil, it lends unexpectedly soft fruity flavors. The big bonus of this hop, however, is its aroma. Added at the end of the boil or in dry hop, this is very unique and gives strong notes of citrus and passionfruit. The early batches of Slumbrew’s Flagraiser made great use of this hop late in the boil and in dry hop. So much so that I cloned it and still think it’s the best beer that I’ve made.

Simcoe – Another dual purpose hop with a variety of character. Great for bittering, the flavors and aromas of this strain include mild fruitiness dominated by fresh green pine. This is great for single hop brewing. Weyerbacher’s Double Simcoe is a delicious example.

Columbus – This is a mainstay in a lot of my brews. It packs a big bitter punch, but also has a surprisingly pleasant spicy earthy flavor and herbal aroma. Nugget is very similar, although a bit more intense on all fronts. I’ll sometimes use them interchangeably.

More hops I like:

Citra – A relatively new strain, this one’s fairly bionic in bittering, flavors and aromas. Very very fruity with notes of mango, papaya, grapefruit and peach among others. This features big in Sierra Nevada’s Torpedo Extra IPA

Cascade – The hop most responsible for the growth of craft beer, this is a gem. Although relatively low in alpha acids, it can be used in any part of the hop schedule. The flavors and aromas are big spicy citrus, grapefruit and just a touch flowery. This hop is a significant part of what makes Sierra Nevada’s Celebration Ale and The Lost Abbey’s Mongo taste and smell so amazing.

Centennial – One of the kings of aroma hops, it lends powerful notes of very flowery citrus and can also be used for bittering. This hop is featured in a number of brews by Founders Brewing Company.

Apollo – Think resiny orange. A great bittering hop with citrus flavors and aromas that tend towards orange and not the typical grapefruit or lemon. This is a fantastic single hop for White IPAs and various wheat beer styles.

Northern Brewer – Primarily used for bittering and flavor, this lends strong notes of woody evergreen and pine with a touch of mint. I use this for bittering in all my non-citrus flavored ales.

Willamette – This is a fantastic finishing hop. Its aromas include spicy, peppery, earthy, fruity and flowery. An all-star for dry hopping, this will showcase and compliment earlier hop additions, but can also be used to add moderate flavors similar to above.

Hops I always try to substitute or avoid altogether:

Chinook – This is a hop I always try to find an alternative for. Although many commercial brewers have used this to great success, I find in my own beer it’s far too harsh. Instead I prefer a very similar strain from New Zealand called Sticklebracht. Similar flavors and aromas without so much of the chalky brutality.

Warrior – Sadly it seems, I dislike Warrior hops pretty much across all gamuts. I can sometimes tolerate its use as a bittering hop if different strains are added to the flavor and aroma additions. This has made it very hard to like anything by Dogfish Head Brewing. If you consider yourself a hophead and have had a similar experience, this may be why. Try Pacific Jade instead in any recipe calling for Warrior.

(Update) Falconer’s Flight/Sorachi Ace – I’m adding these two hop strains as dislikes. Falconer’s Flight is a proprietary blend of several enjoyable NW hops that also contains both Sorachi Ace and Chinook(see above). Sorachi Ace by itself is an unpleasant pithy lemonish hop originating in Japan. Mosaic is a much more enjoyable blended hop. If lemon is your goal try Motueka, but be sure to use in moderation.

(Update) Summit – A new favorite and instant classic. Not sure how I missed this until now, but wow does this add some potent pink grapefruit flavors when added at 15 mins left to the boil. I’m now planning a Summit/Summit/Cascade IPA for early fall once the ambient temp drops back into American Ale yeast range.

(Update) Styrian Savinjski – Formerly known as Styrian Goldings. This is primarily a late addition hop originating in Slovenia. It  adds a ton of earthy herbal aroma with a touch of spice. I’m thinking this would work really nicely with a Columbus based DIPA, or really any beer using Columbus or Nugget for bittering.

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