Despite brewing for over 2 years, we have not experimented much with yeast. We’ve stuck pretty close to yeast that produces English and American style ales. Nottingham dry yeast has been a mainstay in our brewery, while occasionally using liquid yeast such as Wyeast American Ale and Wyeast Irish Ale.
We wanted to experiment with Wyeast 3711 French Saison yeast, so we decided to make a saison (a so-called farmhouse ale because many farmers in Belgium would brew this beer to quench the thirst of the people working on their land). But to better identify the differences between Wyeast French Saison yeast and Nottingham yeast, we made a 34 litre (9 gallon) batch of beer, and fermented half of it with the Wyeast French Saison, the other half with the Nottingham yeast. We expect dramatic differences. Saisons typically have spicy, peppery and citrus taste, which is caused by the yeast. On the other hand, Nottingham yeast ferments very clean, meaning you cannot really taste any flavours from the yeast; this allows the flavours from the malt and hops be more noticeable.
French Saison Yeast
Appearance: Quite clear. Very strong head. Carmely colour.
Aroma: Lemony and tart, with a little bit of pepper.
Taste: Has a tart flavour followed by a lot of citrus and herby favour. Hints of oak and heavy biscuit body. Light hints of carmel and honey sweetness.
Overall: Very good beer. Has a nice tart flavour that makes it refreshing for spring. Since this was our first saison, we were most likely overcome by how different this beer is. Thus we probably did not notice all the smaller flaws. However, we did drink a Driftwood Farmhand Saison to compare with our saison. Our saison was most was considerably more flavourful, with flavours of lemon, oak, pepper, honey. Diftwood’s saison was mainly just peppery and bitter. Likely this is due to using different type of saison yeast. Our saison isn’t necessarily better, it just has more flavours. That being said, we really like this beer.
(Nottingham ale on the left, Saison on the right)
Nottingham Ale Yeast
Appearance: Slightly more hazy than the saison. Oaky colour. Very strong head as well.
Aroma: Slightly hoppier than the saison, with an earthy aroma. Yet also very malty
Taste: Initially quite a bland flavour, yet when swallowed more of the hop and malt flavour comes through. It is almost like a dark beer, with a light colour. It is very heavy and rich with a strong sweet flavour.
Overall: A heavier beer than the saison, as the Nottingham yeast did not eat nearly as much sugar as the saison yeast. It is an ok beer, but it seems very boring next to the saison. The flavours are limited to malty, sweet and light hops. It an interesting comparison to the French Saison yeast, because it shows much of a difference yeast makes in a beer. Furthermore, the French Saison yeast produced a beer that seems best for spring and summer because of its refreshing qualities, while the Nottingham yeast produced a heavier beer that is best suited for fall and winter because of its heavy, malty qualities.
Specifics: 34 litre batch, 87% extraction efficiency, French Saison Yeast ABV 6.6% Nottingham Ale Yeast ABV 6%, O.G. 1.054, IBU 25, single infusion mash at 66 Celsius for 60 minutes
We had really no idea what to put in a saison, as we had never made one (to please feel free to leave comments about what grains you like to put in your saison). However, we did want to avoid carmel malts. Our reason was we didn’t want toffee and carmel flavours in our saison; we wanted to yeast to shine. Perhaps this wasn’t the best choice, but we wanted to start fairly basic with our saison.
Gambrinus Pale Malt: 10.5 lb (We have no Pilsen malt, as that seemed to be the suggested base malt for saisons)
Gambrinus Munich Light: 2.25 lb (This only made up 14% of grain bill, as we wanted a little malty characteristic balance the beer. We’ve generally found the beers without a little Munich Light boring)
Gambrinus Wheat Malt: 1.5 lb (It seemed most saison recipes had some wheat in them, so we threw some in just for good measure)
Flaked Barley: 12 oz (We added flaked barley to everything to increase body and head. Saison’s apparently are supposed to be quite light in body, but that didn’t stop us!)
Belgian Biscuit: 12 oz (We’ve never used it before. Plus there was ‘Belgian’ right in the title. We had to use it)
Gambrinus Honey Malt: 6 oz (Honey malt is pure love. It must be added to everything)
(Robert and our brewing compadre, Oliver, grinding grain. When the grain bill gets too large, the drill comes out, because our arms are too weak to grind the grain by hand.)
Our incredibly brief and remarkably un-thorough internet research told us that English hops and Saaz were the preferred hops for a saison.
60 minutes: 1.8 oz Willamette (Our Willamette has an AA% of 7.8%, so they worked as bitter hops. Willamette hops are not really English hops, but they were the closest thing we had)
15 minutes: 0.75 oz Saaz (We wanted a little flavour from the Saaz, though 15 minutes is arguably too long to boil Saaz)
2 minutes: 0.75 oz Saaz (We wanted a little spicy/floral Saaz aroma)
We put 17 litres of the wort into each fermenter. In one the fermenter, we pitched the Nottingham Ale Yeast. In the other fermenter, we pitched Wyeast French Saison Yeast. We did not ferment them at the same temperature (as the saison yeast likes it hot, between 18-25 Celsius).
Primary fermentation: 16 days.
Fermented at 17 Celcius
French Saison Batch
Primary fermentation: 15 days.
Fermented at 20 Celcius (apparently this is a bit cold for the yeast, but it was as warm as we could get the house in the winter without spending tonnes of money on a heating bill)
(Just before bottling: Saison batch on the left, Nottingham batch on the right. The saison batch is actually slightly clearer)