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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A three-headed Saison Part 2: Tasting the beers

redhotjuly4 Tis the Saison… or it was, has been? Hard to say really. It seems like July/August were years ago somehow as winter takes a firm hold on seemingly the entire US. Ah, but still the summer brew ages on… This is a follow-up to A three-headed Saison: July, August & Red Hot and Hoppy with Mirasol chiles and quite a bit past-due. As you may recall, I brewed an over-hopped Saison that I finished three different ways. Mother nature toyed with me, turning a hot August cool after only 14 days of primary fermentation. I’ve done everything short of building a warm water bath for these bottles and still they stubbornly trod towards completion, oblivious, following their own tedious pace. Along the way I have tried each several times and think now is as good a time as any to review them and give my two cents on the pros and cons of Belgian yeasts.

July: Bottle conditioned with only the original yeast – As I mentioned above, the late Summer temperatures fell far short of normal and I hadn’t arranged for any artificially controlled environment. My first tasting was just over 3 weeks into bottling. Very very green. The tastes and smells of green apples were dominant, indicative of unprocessed Acetaldehyde. This is a naturally occurring by-product of fermentation that is normally consumed as the beer ages and reaches maturity. This clearly was not going to be anytime soon. As weeks and months went by I began sampling this beer less frequently, in the hopes that I would have some left by the time it was really ready for tasting. To date it’s been over five months and still it’s not quite there. It does improve, however, so I’m confident it may just be a matter of patience.

Red Hot July: Bottle conditioned with only the original yeast. To each bottle I added one sliced and quartered Mirasol chile pepper – This beer is absolutely delicious. How? Why? Because the heat completely hides the lack of maturity of the brew. This pepper and the quantity added lends just enough heat and pepper flavor that in all honestly most of the beer flavors are lost. There are a fair number of commercial breweries putting out spicy beers, but often as was true early in the IPA IBU race, the Scoville scale score bragging rights outshine the point of making a drinkable and enjoyable brew. If you try this at home, keep in mind that heat fades over time and consider bottle conditioning with peppers to follow a similar time-table to dry-hopping and drinking an IPA. 3-5 days exposure to the peppers is minimal. In fact I prefer adding the peppers at bottling, although this gives you much less control over the level of heat imparted. In either case, if the beer initially seems too spicy let it age a couple of weeks and try it again.

August: Bottle conditioned with an additional strain of Belgian yeast known to be far more temperature tolerant – The best laid plans… This really should have improved/hastened the aging of an unfortunately off-season brew. It did not. In fact as I followed a regimen of tasting July and August together, I found this brew to follow the same painfully slow pace and in fact to be further tarnished by a very complex yeast flavoring. Bah…

As a lover of all things IPA it was unlikely that I’d be overly fond of these Belgian style home brews. Despite being known as lighter in both malt and hops, less bitter and characteristically flavored by the brewer’s choice of yeast(s), rather than take the summer off from brewing I decided to give these warm-weather yeasts a try. I must admit I have enjoyed the experiment more than the final products. I suspect next summer I will invest in a cooler of sorts, or perhaps build one from an old dorm fridge so that I might avoid specialty yeast strains altogether.

Detailed fermentation temps for Belgian Ale yeasts

Here’s a list of Belgian Ale yeasts that like to ferment above the standard Ale temperature range. If you’re currently experiencing Summer or just want to brew one of the styles listed, this will be a good reference point for what’s available. I prefer to use the Wyeast liquid yeast smackpacks, but I’ve also listed the White Labs equivalents when possible. It’s important to note, these are wort temperatures not ambient temperatures. In general, the listed maximum temperature is exactly as stated on the manufacturer’s website. In the case of Wyeast’s Belgian Ardennes, many brewers have reported luck and flavorful beer even when extending the upper temperature boundary to 85°F.

Saison Yeast Strains:
WLP568 Belgian Style Saison Ale Yeast Blend (70-80°F)
WLP565 Belgian Saison I Yeast (80-95°F)
Wyeast 3724 – Belgian Saison (70-95°F)
WLP566 Belgian Saison II Yeast (68-78°F)

Belgian Wit Yeasts:
WLP400 Belgian Wit Ale Yeast (67-74°F)
WLP410 Belgian Wit II Ale Yeast (67-74°F)
Wyeast 3942 – Belgian Wheat (64-74° F)
Wyeast 3944 – Belgian Witbier (62-75° F)
Wyeast 3463 – Forbidden Fruit (63-76°F)

Other Belgian Yeasts:
WLP550 Belgian Ale Yeast (68-78°F)
Wyeast 3522 – Belgian Ardennes (65-76° F) ***
WLP570 Belgian Golden Ale Yeast (68-75°F)
Wyeast 1388 – Belgian Strong Ale (64-80° F)
WLP575 Belgian Style Ale Yeast Blend (68-75°F)
Wyeast 1762 – Belgian Abbey Ale II (65-75° F)
Wyeast 3787 – Trappist High Gravity (64-78°F)

Brewing my first Belgian beers, a White IPA and a Saison

It’s summertime here in New England and ambient temps are far too warm for standard ale yeast which maxes out at around 70° F. As a homebrewer on a budget, I haven’t yet invested in or built a temperature controlled environment for my fermenter, nor have I tried cooling blankets, swamp coolers, etc. This left me with two options for the summer, forgo brewing or try out some of the Belgian yeast strains tested at higher temps. I chose the latter and have now tried two different strains with varying degrees of success.

The first type I tried was Wyeast’s 3522 Belgian Ardennes yeast. Here is the description from their website verbatim: “One of the great and versatile strains for the production of classic Belgian style ales. This strain produces a beautiful balance of delicate fruit esters and subtle spicy notes, with neither one dominating. Unlike many other Belgian style strains, this strain is highly flocculent and results in bright beers.” The upper end of the fermentation temperature range listed is 75° F, however, I found many brewers had success making flavorful beer as high as 85° F. I pitched the yeast at 70° F and over a couple of days let the wort temp rise to approximately 82° F. It took just about a week to reach final gravity, a very dry 1.003 achieved partially by keeping my mash/steep temperatures low. The Belgian White IPA I brewed with this is very light and crisp, with very little flavor influence from the yeast. All things considered, this strain performed perfectly. The complete lack of off flavors and aromas has convinced me to make this yeast one of my mainstays.

The second type I tried was Wyeast’s 3724 Saison yeast. This is the strain used in Saison Dupont. Known to stall at gravity 1.035, I was a bit nervous and added additional yeast nutrients to the late boil as recommended by my homebrew guru. Get this one hot! Pitched at around 70° F I quickly ramped the wort temp up to around 93° F Surprisingly, this dried up nicely in just over seven days to a final gravity of 1.010. Again, slightly lower than anticipated by the recipe due to lowering my grain steeping temps. At three weeks I bottled half the batch with corn sugar and no additional yeast or nutrients. The beer was VERY green and smelled strongly of both acetaldehyde and diacetyl, a good indication the yeast had not cleaned up the secondary and tertiary products of fermentation. The beer has been in bottles for about ten days and has produced little to no carbonation. I expect this will need to bottle condition for upwards of six weeks or more to allow the existing yeast to convert the additional sugar and clean up the by products. Today I am bottling the second half and am currently debating whether to add additional yeast of  the same strain or a less temperamental one, in an attempt to shorten the conditioning time and insure a nicely flavored beer. Additional details on both halves of the batch to follow…

Additional details on the Belgian White IPA…

Additional details on the Saison…

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