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!

A three-headed Saison: July, August & Red Hot and Hoppy with Mirasol chiles

I love to create side batches of home brew and this summer’s attempt at brewing my first Saison was no exception. Easy to do during secondary fermentation or bottling, it’s a great way to experiment without risking 5 or 10 gallons of beer. I split the batch in half to test out two different approaches to finishing and conditioning the beer. From one of these I also spun off a few bottles for a late chile pepper addition.

Let me give you some background on the beer. I started with a Saison kit with a fairly basic grain bill supplemented with red and white wheat. The hops were added in the standard 90/15/1 schedule and were all strains of the Hallertau family. The target ABV was ~4.5% and the expected bitterness was in the neighborhood of 30 IBUs. I also decided to dry hop fairly aggressively, despite that being out of character for the style. I used Wyeast’s 3724 Saison yeast. Pitched at 72° F, I gradually raised the wort temperature to ~90-92° F and held it there for the duration of primary fermentation. I bolstered the yeast with energizer powder added to the boil.

This beer reached final gravity relatively quickly, drying out to 1.010 in just under 7 days. Typical for an average yeast, this particular strain is known to occasionally stick at around 1.035. After another twelve days passed I decided to bottle half the batch. The beer was very green and I noted this as I scheduled when I would first refrigerate and taste this bottling. To 4 of the bottles I added a third of a large Mirasol chile pepper. I plan to let these sit in warm temps for upwards of six weeks before I try either one.

The second half, still in secondary, I approached a bit differently. To this I added an additional portion of yeast of a different strain. Mother nature had conspired to lower the regional ambient temperatures giving me many options to choose from without requiring externally manipulating the wort temperature. This is now also in bottles and conditioning noticeably faster than either of the previous bottlings. I expect to try this one after only 3 to 4 weeks of conditioning and plan to give it extra time in the fridge before opening due to the larger volume of residual yeast suspended in the beer.

In roughly 90 days I’ll have all three versions to try and report back on…

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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