IPA - The Style and How to Brew it From a Brewer's Perspective

These days few styles draw as much passionate debate as IPA.  Just five years ago the IPA was a somewhat straightforward style: bitter, clean, crystal clear, and a sturdy malt bill accentuated by crystal malt to add balancing sweetness to the bitterness which coated your tongue.  Of course, there were variations and interpretations of the style (east vs. west), but only recently has the IPA become a source of internet forum fights.  Regional interpretations of the style have traditionalists going crazy.  As an example, hazy juicy IPAs from the North East have emerged as a force to be reckoned with; albeit drawing plenty of controversy amongst brewers and craft beer geeks alike.  Personally, I think regionality is always a good thing - leaving guidelines behind to certain extent and brewing the IPA YOU want to drink.  Besides, what is an IPA really?  Most agree that an IPA should be hop forward and pale, beyond that there really is not much people agree on these days.  Again, a good thing.  After all, it's interpretation and curiosity that drives innovation and advancement.  

We chatted with four breweries who brew great interpretations of the style: Creature Comforts Brewing (Athens, GA), Beer'd Brewing (Stonington, CT), Burial Brewing (Asheville, NC), and Civil Society Brewing (Jupiter, FL), regarding their opinion on the style and how to brew it.  We hope you enjoy what our friends across the country had to say.

Adam Beauchamp - Creature Comforts Brewing Co.

Check out the video below to get insight on how Creature Comforts approaches the IPA and creates their fantastic Tropicalia IPA. 

Aaren Simoncini - Beer'd Brewing Co.

India Pale Ale can mean so many things to an individual.  It's been crazy to watch the developments in what consumers are really seeking out of the style.  Whether its the soft, hazy, full mouthfeel of the relatively new "New England IPA", the tongue scraping bitterness of the "West Coast IPA" or the old school balanced malt and floral hops of the "East Coast IPA."  With so many niche's now, the only thing you can really put your finger on is the celebration of hops as an ingredient.  The short answer of what it is to me though, is my favorite beverage!

The first thing that comes to mind when developing a new IPA recipe, is the hop bill.  Are we looking for something bitter that may only showcase one note or are we looking to create a blend that will stand out as unique and multi layered.  There are constantly new and interesting hops being released, so are we looking to showcase that one and "test" it's true profile?

Water profile is often the second thing that I consider when writing a recipe.  Luckily for us here in Stonington, our water is very soft, and provides a very nice foundation to build upon.  We use a good amount of Calcium Chloride to build our water, but we'll also use some Gypsum and Epsom Salt to dial in.

In regard to hop selection or schedule, it all really depends on what we're looking to put out.  Single hop beers are always fun, but can often become too one noted.  It's important to pick fresh pelletized hops that are high in the various desirable oil compounds to create the most aromatic flavorful IPA possible.  Hop schedules can vary as well.  We've become known for our IPA's that lean to the dry end of things and are generally low in bitterness.  Being that we conduct a whirlpool post flame out, we generally don't add much of a bittering charge, and reserve the majority of hops for our whirlpool and subsequent dry hop.  We still attain some bitterness from this method, but it lends it's self to our desired flavor profile.

I always say keep my malt bills simple!  I don't mean so simple that it's nothing but pilsner, but keep the crystal malts out of it.  If you absolutely must use crystal, keep it under 20L and use it sparingly or better yet, substitute a small amount of Munich.  A nice two row or pale malt should act as your base, some Vienna, CaraPils (or other Dextrine Malt), wheat or perhaps oats can add a nice touch.  Finally, if you're looking to brew a double, toss in some Dextrose.  This should serve to boost the ABV, restrain the malt character and dry the final product out.

You could ask fifty brewers about dry hopping and receive fifty unique answers!  We generally target at least 1.5 #'s/BBL in our dry hop bills, and we'll add that across two or three different charges.  The key here is to minimize Oxygen ingress, and use fresh pelletized hops.  Don't use bags that have sat open or warm, actively purge the headspace of oxygen with Co2 while adding hops from the top of the vessel.  It's also very important to make sure the beer is dry hopped warm.  We generally want the beer to sit on dry hops for about a week, but we'll extend that occasionally depending on the particular beer.  A few other things that I've heard out there are bubbling Co2 through the bottom of the vessel to rouse the hops, dry hopping before fermentation winds down, circulating the beer with a pump during the dry hopping period, and the list goes on...

The hazy versus clear IPA is probably the hottest topic in craft beer right now.  It's almost as polarizing as the ongoing presidential race.  I'd consider myself a moderate in this case.  Our beer is on the clearer side, but there is a noticeable hop haze, especially when very fresh.  I think that the haze contributes a great flavor and body that may be unattainable in a filtered or otherwise clear beer.  As far as the New England haze goes, there are those out there doing it very well, and those that are cheap knock offs...  It's pretty obvious who the cheap knock offs are...

With yeast it really depends on what you're looking to achieve.  Are you brewing an East Coast IPA, where a more traditional English yeast may be a good fit, or are you brewing a West Coast IPA where bitterness is key and you may want to select the Chico strain?  We personally like our beers to be very dry and not yeast focused.  We found the San Diego Super strain to be a great fit for our production environment and flavor profile.  It's a beast when it comes to attenuation, and versatility while remaining a backup singer to the hops that we're focusing on. 

You can't be afraid to experiment.  Through experimentation you find which hops play nicely together and then you can build upon that relationship.  There is certainly more out there than Citra and Mosaic to play with.  Try some of the experimental hops, change up your dry hopping regimen, keep the IPA focused on the hops, but don't let it become one dimensional.

Doug Reiser - Burial Beer Co.

IPA is the most important style to American brewers. It can be anything. It doesn’t have to be clear, bitter, hazy, juicy, light-colored, 6%, or 7%. It just has to be hop driven. An IPA should be an expression of hops, with a little support from their friends in the malt family. Hops can be accentuated by water chemistry, yeast, or heck, more hops. I don’t see a reason to define IPA as a historical category. It has evolved worldwide. Let it keep going.  

When going to the drawing board, I’m looking to the desired end product always. What do I want the drinker to taste? Am I going tropical and juicy, or citrus and smooth, or piney and sharp, or floral and fluffy? That determination is step one, and that turns me immediately to water and yeast. Once I set those in place I can pick my hops and malt. I cannot remember the last time that I said “Oh, I like these hops. I’m going to make a beer around them.” It is almost always the finished product experience that starts the ball rolling, and yeast is a huge first step once I have that in place. 

When it comes to water parameters we are all over the place - and I think that’s great. We read a lot of water reports from around the country. It all depends on the finished product experience. But we do everything from extremely soft (Asheville water is nearly devoid of salts) to moderately hard. Some IPA has higher sulfates and some has higher chlorides. We often balance Calcium and Magnesium as much as we can and use a bounty of Bicarbonate. If you aren’t messing with your water table each time, and designing to each beer, you are missing out on a valuable aspect of your beer. 

Like most brewers these days, we eschewed bitterness for smoothness. Even our West Coast-styled IPAs have come down quite a bit in exchange for more present water chemistry. We are strong believers in the whirlpool, perhaps far beyond what many these days are doing. The amount of ripe fruity flavors that can be extracted there should never be overlooked. We very seldom add hops before the whirlpool. Many would probably be surprised to know that we balance our whirlpool and dry hop additions pretty closely. We don’t significantly use a ton more dry hops, but we believe it helps balance the beer more. 

A good grain bill has base malts and flaked malts. We use about 8 different base malts at Burial and they are crucial, not just an afterthought. We also use a ton of local proteins. NC grows some killer Wrens Abruzzi Rye and Turkey Red Wheat. You will never see a crystal malt unless we do a Black IPA. On very limited occasions we might use 2-4% of a lightly modified sweet malt. 

Our dry hop process is beer dependent as well. Process is key to hitting specific taste profiles, so we may actively dry hop, hop off the yeast or multi-stage it. Regardless, we limit hop exposure time to just a few days to maintain freshness. I think it is crucial to avoiding the off-putting flavors of some of the huge AA% hops. 

I love hazy and clear IPAs. Again, this is just a different drinking experience. I will drink clear Altamont Beer Works IPAs all day and wake up and drown myself in hazy Other Half Brewing IPAs. We have our own approach in that we use a very strange and unique yeast to make IPA. It provides us with a robust yeast character that brings out different flavors from the hops than many would expect. 

Our house yeast sings in all of our “house-style" of IPA, and we often will blend it in different ratios with a cleaner yeast to reach a particular beer goal of attenuation or clean hop presence. Of course, we also still make some Chico yeast IPA, and it’s clear as day. Yeast is so vital to the success of our IPA.

It’s most important to be creative. Don’t copy what others are doing. When I first tasted our first foray with our house yeast I said: “I have never tasted this before.” And that blew me away so much that I was hooked. I just hope that others out there are doing the same. Never stop experimenting, ever.

Karl Volstad - Civil Society Brewing Co.

When I think of IPA, I think of something with moderate bitterness and juicy fruity character.  Hops are always the first thought and after that it's how we can make sure that they shine in the finished product.  When picking out which hops to use, it’s really just how I feel when I’m thinking of a recipe.

We treat our water to accentuate hop character and mouthfeel.  It’s important to know what water you’re working with.  We use RO water and build it back up from there.

A good malt bill is one that gets out of the way of the hops.  I just want to keep it basic.  I definitely think you can over think or get too cute when it comes to your malt selection. 

As far as dry hopping goes, I think the temperature that you dry hop at is important.  I prefer to dry hop between 65-72 degrees and making sure that the hops are in suspension to get as much contact time as possible. 

I don’t care whether an IPA is clear or hazy – good beer is good beer wither way.  Most of our beers lean towards hazy. 

Yeast in an IPA all depends on what you’re going for.  West coast IPA would generally lean towards a neutral clean fermenting yeast and for the east coast IPAs you’d be looking for a strain you can coax some fruity character out of. 

Most important to a great IPA are water and your dry hopping process.

Brewing Beer With a Sense of Place - Foraging Yeast for Beginners

This article is for those homebrewers who are interested in the wilder side of brewing.  Those who like to add a “sense of place” to their beers.  “Sense of place” is something I heard in an interview with Jeff Stuffings of Jester King Brewery in Austin, TX.  That really stuck out to me when I heard it.  Brewing beers to represent where you are located or where you call home.  To brew a “local” beer you could use local grown hops, locally kilned malts, or you can do something I’ve recently been very interested in, foraging yeast.  Now, I’m not expert by any means.  I’ve only recently started brewing with my foraged cultures.  What I’d like to do is give some guidelines for those who have thought about trying this out but haven’t due to thinking it was too complicated.  In actuality, this process can be very simple.  I’ve come up with seven steps to forage wild yeast.  All of these have come from talking with brewers who have done it or from reading Bootleg Biology’s website (http://bootlegbiology.com/diy/capturing-yeast/).  My process is a little more simplified than what Jeff Mello has on his in that I won’t be using any agar plates and I won’t be isolating any of the different microbes from the culture.  There isn’t anything wrong with those at all, but some of us may not have access or the time to use those.

Here are my steps for foraging and culturing wild yeasts:

1.     Equipment and Preparation

2.     Capture

3.     Culture

4.     Sensory Test #1

5.     Propagate

6.     Brew

7.     Sensory Test #2



Before capturing wild yeast, you need to make sure you have the necessary equipment.  Some of the basic equipment needed includes: sanitary vials, sugar and DME (dry malt extract), water (I use distilled), a propagation vessel (something like a mason jar will work), and a hydrometer or refractometer.  There are a few other tools that can help make the process easier.  I like to use a stir plate and Erlenmeyer flask when propagating the cultures as it feeds it oxygen and keeps the yeast in suspension but you can use whatever you currently use for yeast starters.  If you use growlers, that will work too.  I advise picking up an alcohol lamp if possible just to make sure you aren’t getting anything from the air when transferring your culture to and from starters or other vessels.  I also like to use media bottles to keep my cultures in.  If needed, I can feed them in there and just helps keep everything organized.  I picked up the media bottles and alcohol lamb tips from Ed Coffey of the Ales of the Riverwards when he posted about re-pitching commercial yeast cultures for different brews (http://www.alesoftheriverwards.com/2016/01/harvesting-and-re-pitching-slurry.html).  A pH meter is another tool that would greatly benefit you in testing.  It isn’t required as you could check attenuation before sampling but I am more comfortable making sure the pH is safe before sampling for flavor.  We are working with wild yeast and bacteria instead of commercial available yeasts and lactic acid bacterias.  Much better to be safe than end up with botulism from picking up something nasty.  As a general rule, if it smells bad or looks moldy, dump it and start over.


Now you have your equipment and you are prepared.  How do you capture something?  Well you need to think about where you would like to attempt to capture your culture.  The great thing about yeast and bacteria is that it exists pretty much everywhere.   You can attempt to capture yeast from flowers, fruit, pieces of a wood, the air, or even bees!  It’s hard to determine what qualities wild yeast and bacteria culture will give a beer.  I’m not positive that using flowers will give you a floral character or that collecting from fruit will give you a fruity yeast strain or but that is something I’d like to test.

In my case, I decided to use clover flowers.  The morning I went looking for something to use, I noticed bees and other insects flying around the front yard going form clover flower to clover flower.  I thought for sure there would be something there.  I’ve read and seen where folks have used garden flowers, berries, and a there was a post in the Milk the Funk Facebook group where someone captured yeast from a bee.  When you are choosing what you subject for culturing, be sure to do you research.  There are plants and fruits all over that are poisonous to humans.  From what I’ve read, nothing poisonous should leech out during the process, but I’d remain cautious of using anything like that.  This is where your sanitized vials come in.  Place whatever material you’ve decided to use in the vials and return home for the next step.  Some folks may like carrying around a few of the sanitized vials with them at all times (I do.)  This is also useful for when you want to keep dregs form a bottle share or even at a bar/restaurant.

At this point you will prepare a starter with a gravity of somewhere in between 1.010 and 1.020.  Pour the starter into the vials and shake vigorously to aerate as well as macerate the material a bit.  Leave a little room in the vial for some off gassing.  When fermentation starts, there will definitely be CO2 given off.  The macerating was a tip I picked up while talking with Gerard Olson of Forest & Main Brewing Co. when I visited them earlier in the year.  Another tip he supplied was that while some folks always use DME in the first starter, it may be easier to jump start the culture by using a simple sugar solution.  I had run into problems getting no fermentation when attempting this a few other times with a wort from DME so I wanted to try the sugar solution.
After you have the material combined with the starter sugar or wort you will want to give it a few days to show signs of fermentation.  These signs can be: bubbling, cloudiness of the wort, or a small krausen forming on top.  I placed mine in the warm window sill but others (including the Bootleg Biology website) suggest placing it somewhere dark and at room temperature.  When you see signs of fermentation it’s time to move on to the culturing step.


Culturing is basically putting the yeast and bacteria into an environment that encourages growth.  You’ve got some active fermentation going on in the vials.  There has to be something good in there right?  Well, while it is likely wild yeast and bacteria growing in there you still need to build it up to something viable that you can do some sensory tests on.  After the initial fermentation in the vials, I like to move the entire contents of the vial (or vials) into a sanitized mason jar.  I leave everything in the jar including whatever material you’ve chosen to collect your culture from.  I do this for the first culture step as there may be some slower acting yeasts and bacteria that haven’t had a chance to start working.  Create another starter either with the sugar solution or this time you may go ahead and use a DME starter of the same gravity 1.020.  You are feeding the culture another step to cultivate anything you have captured.

After you see signs of fermentation again, it’s time to separate the matter from the solution.  I used a sanitize strainer covered with a hop bag (cheese cloth will work as well) to keep out as much of the vegetal matter as I could.  That way what makes it through is the yeast and bacteria and no bits of material you captured your yeast from.  This will help the culture be clean and prevent any mold from forming on floating bits and pieces.  You are now culturing your wild yeast and bacteria.


It may take a few days to see signs of activity but if you have captured something aggressive, it will show signs of fermentation quickly.  Remember the signs of fermentation are: bubbles, cloudiness, or a krausen on top of the wort.  After the signs of fermentation have stopped or slowed (could be 2 days, could be a week or longer) you will be able to do your first sensory test.
With the first test, I usually just stick to aroma.  What does it smell like?  Are there pleasant aromas or things you enjoy in your beers?  Or does it smell like a diaper or something terrible?  If it’s the latter, dump it and start over.  Nothing lost but some sugar, DME, water and time.  If it does smell nice (mine was tart with some earthiness and notes of honey sweetness) then you can probably proceed to the next step.  If you are able to take a pH of the starter, you could taste it at this point as well.  But I would make sure there was nothing spiking the pH with the possibility of bad bacteria growing in there.


Propagation is the key to building up enough yeast to do a test batch of beer.  You need to make sure there are enough cells to ferment the beer.  At this point, my process is far from scientific.  I am using past experiences with commercial yeast starters instead of lab equipment.  It may takea few steps to get the yeast cake where you need it to be.  I like to start with a 1.030 600mL starter and work my way up from there.  If you are getting good reproduction and building a larger yeast cake, you may be able to do fewer steps.

This is also a time that you can check the gravity of the starter to see if you are getting good attenuation.  With a 600mL starter, you should have enough to check the final gravity with a hydrometer or refractometer.  My initial starter I saw attenuation of the 1.030 gravity wort down to 1.008FG.  There is definitely some yeast at work.  The step after that was 1.006 down from 1.040.  My clover flower culture seems to have some pretty attenuative yeast strains in there.
The alcohol lamp tip is used here.  Light it when you are transferring your culture from starter to starter.  This will keep out anything that may be in the air when you move from vessel to vessel.  Some may not care but I really wanted to keep what I had been growing free from any saccromyces or brettanomyces that may be floating around in the air of my kitchen.  I work with a ton of yeasts making lots of starters.  It’s highly possible there are things in the air.  Now you are ready to use your foraged culture!


We’ve made it to the fun part, brewing beer.  Now you can decided what type of beer you want to brew.  You could also keep it simple and brew a simple pale wort with minimal hopping to see what type of beer you will produce.  If you use little or no hops, the bacteria in your culture could be the dominant player.  If you are looking to see what the yeast itself will do, you may want to hop your beer to 10 IBUs or higher.  With my test batch, I’m going for 20 IBUs and hoping and can get something like a Saison or farmhouse beer out of it.  With the honey aroma an flavors I had in my starters, it may be something that will work nicely with a Bière de Meil or even a blond Bière de Garde.


After you have brewed your beer using your techniques and equipment you normally use, you can do the final sensory test.  Do you lie the beer that came from the culture?  Maybe you can change the malts or hops to suit the yeast a little better if that’s what it needs.  Either way, you can repeat these steps with other plants, fruits or anything really.  The world is your oyster, as they say, at this point.

I will have all of my foraging experiences up on my website for anyone to reference.  If you click the foraging tab, it will list all the posts about using my foraged culture.  I plan to use this technique regularly and maybe even do some different vintage and seasonal beers with it.  Either way, I’m going to have fun while doing it!

Good things!

Andrew “Gus” Addkison
The Farmhouse Obsession

Fruit Refermentation

Chad Yakobson - Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project

Selecting fruit is all bout getting the right fruit for the beer. We look at flavor, aroma, acidity, sugars and ripeness.

Selecting the right beer for the right fruit is very important. Overly sour beers with acidic fruit don't work well. You want a subtle acidity if the fruit is one that leaves a lot of acidity. You have to remember that the sugar ferments and you're left with acidity and flavor from fruit.

We like to work exclusively with whole fruit. We get it in fresh, from growers we know and then add it to the beer right away.  The majority of the time we start with "finished" beer so the acidity is already in there.  Therefore the yeast and bacteria culture is present already when we add the fruit.

Aging times and amounts can vary greatly. You might use 1-2 pounds per gallon of some fruits and 4+ for others. It really depends what you are looking for. People love to cram a ton of fruit into a beer. But that doesn't make it the best beer or the most balanced or complex beer. So showing grace in how you add fruit and how much is important.

Racking the beer off of fruit and using temperature to drop out the fruit is very important. This is what we use our large oak foeders for. We add large amounts of fruit back into our foeders and use them just like a wine maker would making wine. We then have a nice flat bottom to rack the fruit off.

Walt Dickinson - Wicked Weed Brewing

Wicked Weed is producing some of the most fruit forward and balanced beers in the country.  Watch and learn how they source fruit, process that fruit, and then use it to influence the refermentation of their beautiful sour and farmhouse beers.

Jeffrey Stuffings - Jester King Brewery

To start off, we only work with fresh fruit or fresh fruit that has been frozen. We don't use any extracts, concentrates, flavorings or anything of that sort. I think there's no substitute for the real thing. We look for fruit with a lot of aromatics and tartness -- the aromatics for obvious reasons and the tartness because it complements our beer. We sometimes take oak barrels of beer that have nice characteristics, but otherwise lack acidity, and referment them with highly acidic fruit. While we've used out of state fruit before, we also select fruit based on what's available locally. We're not trying to approximate flavors from elsewhere, but rather create something unique to our location. Local fruit helps toward this end. 

With regard to considerations prior to adding fruit, we start out by looking for barrel aged beer that's tasting pretty mature. The beer should be completely attenuated and shouldn't be exhibiting any off flavors like acetic acid. It's ok for this beer not to be the most stellar beer in our barrel program. Our favorite barrels end up getting blended and packaged without fruit refermentation. Since so much of the fermentable sugar is coming from the fruit with our fruit refermentations, and because we're using a high ratio of fruit to beer (2-4 pounds per gallon), the fruit character can overshadow some of the subtle fermentation characteristics. Therefore, we choose barrels that we're happy with, but otherwise have something holding them back from being our favorite. For instance, maybe they lack acidity or the aromatics aren't as vibrant and complex as we'd like. In our case, we're not reintroducing microorganisms when we referment with fruit. The yeast and bacteria in the old, barrel aged beer break down the sugars in the fruit. 

Our process: We make a base beer that we age in neutral oak barrels for 8-14 months. The base beer has an original gravity around 1.038 and has a grist of malted barley, raw wheat, and oats. We boil the wort with a blend of fresh hops and aged hops aiming for about 10-15 IBU in the finished beer. We initially ferment in either a foudre or stainless steel tank, prior to transferring to neutral oak barrels for long term maturation. We then select barrels, rack to a stainless steel tank or foudre filled with fruit, and allow refermentation to occur naturally. We conduct "punch downs" on the fruit to get good flavor and color extraction and to prevent the fruit cap from drying out, which can lead to the growth of acetic acid. After about 4-6 weeks of fruit refermentation, we rack the beer off of the fruit and package it. We sometimes do a second refermentation of the fruit. That is, we referment the fruit with mature, barrel aged beer, rack the beer off of the fruit for packaging, then rack another beer onto the "spent" fruit for another refermentation and/or extraction of fruit flavor and aroma. This yield a beer that's more subtle in terms of fruit flavor and aroma, and allows more of the characteristics of the base beer to shine through. 

Saison - The Style and How to Brew it From a Brewers Perspective

Saison.  A beer "style" born out of necessity has transformed into one of craft beer's most complex and interpreted offerings.  The beauty of saison is its ability to demonstrate the brewer's fingerprint and the brewery's sense of place.  At the outset, saison was brewed in farmhouses in order to serve field workers in the summer months.  Seasonal workers, or saisonniers, would be the recipients of these pale, low alcohol, and simple beers.  They served their purpose.  Today, brewers are taking the concept and characteristics of what the style was likely to have been in those simpler times and creating their own versions.  These days, Americans are lucky to be the "saisonniers" without all the hard work.  

One thing is certain about saison these days.  That is, the definition or interpretation will never be the same from brewer to brewer.  As we thought about the style and what we could write about its history, the characteristics, and what considerations to make when brewing your own, we ran into a dilemma - putting all the research, advice, and opinions in one neat column.  Instead, we thought we'd let the brewers responsible for some of the best saisons we've been fortunate enough to try tell you in their own words what the style means to them and what they think you should do when brewing your own at home.  Thanks to our contributors: Bob Sylvester (Saint Somewhere Brewing Co.); Matt Manthe (Odd Breed Wild Ales); Moh Saade (The Tank Brewing Co.); Jeffrey Stuffings (Jester King Brewing Co.); Brandon Jones (Embrace the Funk); Jesse Friedman (Almanac Beer Company).

Bob Sylvester - Saint Somewhere Brewing Co.

I’ve never really though of “saison” as a style per say, but more of a school of brewing within the Belgian school. Regardless of their make-up, they should be aromatic, predominately from the yeast as opposed to hops or malt. They should be dry and thirst quenching with a nice assertive hop presence at the end. Brett, a little light strike and that elusive cellar or musty like quality should be present in the best of them.

Brewing. Golden rules for saison. Mash low. Ferment high. Use the proper yeast!!! The US brewing industry seems to have fallen on the crutch of the French Saison yeast. I can tell you, with great certainty, that the French saison brewers don’t like that yeast. I prefer any of the Dupont variants. There are a few “Farmhouse Blends” available  that I haven’t tried but look promising. Saison is a product of the yeast much more than any other element. A little stress on the yeast results in the nice esters you get from a well made saison. I usually under-pitch and over oxygenate. Start ferm temps low and let rise on their own. I used to preach letting things go as high as 90F  but have seen the light on a more restrained fermentation temperature. As far as malt, Pilsen is a must. Belgian Pilsener… even better. Build from there. Keep things light. Light in color and mouthfeel. My yeast is an attenuating beast that takes the wort down to an S.G. of 1.000, so I like to add a portion of malted wheat and flaked rye to add to the body and head retention. A little Munich or aromatic malt if you like, but that’s about it.  Hops. Noble! Or, at least something fairly neutral, grassy, floral. As many additions as you see fit. Dry hopping is also acceptable!  Natural carbonation is a must. You just can’t force carb a Saison and get good results. They require a second fermentation to round them out and get that desired dryness.

 That’s about it!  #greenbottle!

Matt Manthe - Odd Breed Wild Ales

Saison and Lambic are my two favorite styles, and to me they are more closely related than most people realize.  Most beers labeled ‘Saison’ today are not Saison, they are cleverly marketed beers relying on the recent trend of Saisons being hip or cool.  It’s true that Saison can be a style of beer that shows a lot of variation, but it is not an anything goes type of beer.  

Saison should evoke the nature of the place where it was produced.  That is to say, that a Saison produced at my brewery should not be reproducible outside of my brewery.  This approach and mindset is more akin to that found in wineries or Lambic breweries than beer factories making pale lagers.  Most recipes for Saison are very simple.  What makes a Brewers Saison unique, undefinable, and inexplicably complex is what makes his/her brewery unique: the equipment used and the processes used to produce the beer with that equipment; ingredients used to produce the beer, which of course includes the local water used, but also the type of yeast and bacteria as well as local microflora in the air and in the building; and of course, it is important to consider the style of the brewer and his/her approach to beer and brewing, along with his/her personal preferences.  

The Saisons of old were brewed for the farmhands and family producing the beer.  This was a beer made for personal tastes, not something mass marketed to large groups of people.  This aspect of Saison has in my opinion, allowed such a varied approach to producing Saison, while also positioning Saison as a beer style that is perhaps the ultimate canvas for the brewer as an artist. Saisons of old were all produced with a mixed culture of wild yeast and bacteria that was reused from batch to batch, and many producers aged their Saison in wooden barrels, where they undoubtedly underwent an additional fermentation with Brettanomyces and souring bacteria.  Saison producers understood that they could add a large amount of hops to inhibit souring bacteria, and as a result, Saisons were either bracingly bitter or were relatively sour.  Farmhouse brewers were some of the last brewers to adopt the pure culture technique of utilizing only a single strain of yeast in fermentation.  Those that did, found that their beer lost many of the qualities that made it their beer.  

Today, most beers with the word ‘Saison’ on the label, including those in Belgium, are produced with techniques more similar to those used to make Pilsener than Lambic.  That marks a huge departure from the roots of Saison, and I think that is unfortunate. I think it is reassuring that some American producers are making what I believe are beautiful Saisons.  For me, Jolly Pumpkin’s Bam Biere is a classic example of the style and what I believe the style should be-- not a single culture Saccharomyces Belgian Blonde Ale.      

At Odd Breed Wild Ales we make what I consider to be a relatively traditional interpretation of Saison.  Our Saison is brewed with Pilsener, Spelt, Flaked Oats, and Rye malt.  We use a combination of Czech Saaz and Cascade hops and bitter to 20 IBU, which is relatively high for such a dry beer that has an original gravity of just 9.3 Plato.  The beer is pitched with our mixed culture of wild yeast and bacteria, and after 7-10 days of primary fermentation it ages in French Oak barrels until the gravity is stable and then it is ready for bottling.  By the time this beer is ready to bottle, the final gravity is right at about 0 Plato, and the pH is down to around 3.5.  While the flavor is nice, the beer really isn’t ready until after bottle conditioning and further maturation are complete, which is about 10 weeks later.    

When brewing a Saison, I think the mistake most people make is they produce a beer too high in alcohol.  Saison was brewed to be refreshing and nourishing.  A 7% beer is not a Saison.  It may be a ‘farmhouse ale’ but not all farmhouse ales are Saison.  There should be no such thing as an ‘Imperial Saison’—an imperial Saison is just a strong farmhouse ale.

Making a Saison too sweet is another very common flaw.  Saison is not a smooth beer.  It should be very dry to accentuate the refreshing and drinkable nature of the beer, but it shouldn’t go down like water.  If it is not bitter it should have some acidity on the palate, and Saison is typically high to very high in carbonation.  Some carbonic acid bite is necessary to bring out the multitude of aromas in the beer, while also preventing such a low alcohol and light bodied beer from being lifeless.  Non barley malts and even unmalted grains like wheat, spelt, oats, and rye were used because they were available on the farm, but they also contribute to the mouthfeel of the beer while adding some unique character.   

Bottle Conditioning is a must.  Saisons on draft can be enjoyable, but there is a certain aspect of the beer that is missing when a Saison is force carbonated.  Multiple yeast strains should be used, and Brettanomyces and souring bacteria should have a role in the development of the beer.  Saisons are a product of their microflora, and microflora is the most defining of the ingredients used in the production of Saison-- it is the Brewers fingerprint.

Jeffrey Stuffings - Jester King Brewing Co.

For me, a Saison is a beer that's tied to a place, time, and people. In this modern age of brewing, it's possible to create a beer virtually anywhere on earth and have it taste more or less the same. In my experience, most brewers are getting malt and hops from the same suppliers, pure culture yeast from the same labs, and altering their water to mimic the profile of what exists thousands of miles away. There's nothing wrong with this, and this uniformity and predictability has lead to remarkably consistent and tasty beer virtually everywhere. But I believe what has been lost is a uniqueness in beer that can only exist when it's a direct product of a place, time, and people. Saison for me is inextricably tied to a place through the land, water, air, raw ingredients, and microflora, a time through seasonal variation in temperature, ingredient availability, and concentrations of different types of microflora in the environment, and a people through the uniqueness of the process and equipment they choose to adopt. At its heart, Saison is a rustic ale brewed with what surrounds the brewery and fermented with native microflora. A pure culture fermentation with highly modified ingredients from all over the country or world, with a picture of a barn, tractor, or guy in a straw hat on the label, doesn't suffice for me. 

I believe brewing Saison should be simple. Achieving complexity through simple processes is something I believe to be true to the spirit of the style. I'll speak to our process at Jester King, which covers some considerations I think should be taken into account. We brew with raw, unfiltered, untreated well water. Our aim is to impart the character of what's directly below our feet into the beer, through the minerality of the water and the effect the minerals have on the fermentation. We use as many locally grown and malted grains as possible (from Blacklands Malt), including a significant amount of raw grains in the mash. We use both fresh hops and hops aged in our barn, and are working (both ourselves and with others in our area) to grow a portion of our own hops. Most importantly, we're incorporating native microflora into our fermentations by harvesting yeast and bacteria from both the land and air. We then allow our mixed culture of native microflora to adapt to its surroundings and change over time. We pick adjunct ingredients such as fruits, vegetables, herbs, and spices either from our ranch or the surrounding farms. I believe Saison should be dependent on local agriculture, which again leads back to it being a product of a place, time, and people. 

Brandon Jones - Embrace the Funk

Saison to me is openly complex but many times simple. I don't particularly love making a definition on Saison. The innovation many brewers use can be so exciting ad different, just like the farms this style grew from. This is why I like to try as many examples as I can plus brew my own.

 For my own Saison brewing I lean to the simple layered side. I like to use mostly a nice Pilsen malt along with some spelt, oats or rye. Microbes and spices can really help add some complex layers that shine at different temperatures/carbonation levels. Using a combo of Saison/Farmhouse tagged yeast strains can certainly help with attenuation and fermentation time while adding different characters. Lately I've enjoyed using more citrus driven hops like Amarillo over using spices like orange peel. I do like to play off the microbes by accentuating them with specific American hops and spices like Grains of Paradise or Citrus peel. I think the key is to play off and not make these secondary supporting ingredients the main show. That keeps the beer light, crisp and complex while still being able to enjoy more than a glass or 2.

Jesse Friedman - Almanac Beer Co.

Saison is a fantastic beer style. Open to a huge spectrum of variety and interpretation, it’s a great example of how the exact same ingredients in can make wildly different beers because of brewer process. Pale Malt, Wheat, Yeast and some hops can create beers ranging from sweet to bone dry, hoppy to…not hoppy. And tart and wild to clean and precise. Personally, I like my saisons fermented very, very warm. Ideally in the 80s-90s with yeasts that are tolerant of the heat, and even reward going out on the bleeding edge. The result can be aromas of pineapple and pear, cracked white pepper and saltine cracker. I like my saisons lightly dry hopped for additional aroma and brightness.

For home brewers my number one piece of advice would be to get a heating blanket and wrap it around your fermenter. The resulting hot fermentation both dries the beer out as much as possible, and create delicious fruity flavors and yeast character. A nice cheap one that won’t turn off, set it to medium-high and let the yeast run wild, eating every bit of fermentable and creating delicious phenolics and flavors. Nothing wrong with finishing with a bit of brett too, adding more fruit flavor and complexity to a delicious style.

Moh Saade - The Tank Brewing Co.

Since its emergence from the Medieval farmhouses of Wallonia, to its evolution into the innovative craft brews of today, the storied tradition of Saison is one of striking change. A rustic ale of humble origin, Saison was a beer born out of necessity. Prior to the Industrial revolution, potable water was largely inaccessible, and the lack of refrigeration relegated brewing to the cooler months when staling microorganisms were less prolific. Saison was a refreshing source of water and nutrients; free of pathogens (due to the long boil), that could be imbibed by farmers while they worked the hot summer fields. 

 Early farmhouse Saisons were a product of the resourceful farmers who brewed them. They would have regularly improvised with almost any combination of ingredients at their disposal. Malted and unmalted grain; especially: barley, wheat, spelt, rye, oats, and buckwheat would have made up the base of the beer. Early Saisons would have been considered “pale” beers in their day, which is comparatively darker than what we would recognize as such now. Limitations in malting knowledge and equipment produced malt that was darker and undermodified by our standards. Caramel/crystal malts and pilsner malts would never have been used because they simply did not exist. All fermentations consisted of a variety of different microorganisms. Long, slow fermentations by bacteria and yeast would have led to exceptionally high degrees of attenuation. Hops were used primarily because of their bacteriostatic properties and in order to delay staling and souring by bacteria. Other spices would have been used at the discretion of the brewer for flavor, especially at times when hops were scarce. 

 Modern Saisons, many examples of which are still brewed by farmhouse breweries in Belgium, are a very different beer. Many regardSaison Vieille Provision: Brasserie Dupont, as the quintessential representation of the modern style; but there are still many other unique and no less valid interpretations to be found. Many Saisons are now modern industrial products, no longer confined to farmhouses or constrained by technological limitations. Some are brewed in relatively large breweries, using pure single strain cultures of yeast. 

 Saison has spread during the Craft beer renaissance, with brewers around the world creating unique interpretations inspired by both modern industrial Saison and the farmhouse Saisons of old. Many are creating beers that resemble archetypes of neither. 

 Some purists would argue that the modernization of Saison brewing has adulterated and overly-simplified the complex character and rustic nature of the original farmhouse Saisons of old. Others argue that the Saisons of old are now extinct, ingredients and techniques have changed; and although assumptions can be made, nobody alive can truly claim to know what a 17th century Saison tasted like.What virtually every brewer agrees on is that Saison should be exceptionally dry and refreshing, and that the majority of its character should be derived from fermentation with expressive yeast strains. 

 When thinking about Saison, I like to imagine what it was like to be a Saisonnier in 19th century Wallonia. I imagine my day beginning at the break of dawn. The first moments are spent digging a shallow hole under a tree beside the field where I would be working. Inside, I place my earthenware jug of saison to keep it cool. All morning, I’d look forward to digging it up to quench my thirst, while lying in the shade and sharing a meal with friends; the time and effort spent brewing it months earlier finally paying its due. If I were lucky, I may even have gotten the chance to squeeze in a little shut-eye during the hottest hour of the day, before I returned to my arduous labor.

 For the Saisonnier, the pleasure in drinking these beers didn’t stem from thinking about which grain or hop was used to make them; or questioning whether the pervasion of strange aromas surrounding his head was from Brettanomyces in the beer, or the wet hay on which he happened to be resting. It most certainly wasn’t from relishing the chance to trade it for a rare bottle of lambic from Brussels. Drinking Saison was a moment of respite and comfort in a life filled with burden.

 I believe that the true essence of Saison doesn’t reside within a specific set of ingredients and parameters, but rather: in a sense of purpose, tradition, and history.  In many ways, the word “Saison” may be more useful in describing a family of farmhouse ales rather than a specific style; each beer the embodiment of a particular brewer’s inventiveness at a particular moment in time.
 Although the saisons of today probably refresh more bankers, graphic designers and nurses than they do farmers, I like to think that the true essence of Saison: a simple luxury for the average person, still remains. 

Approach to brewing Saison

Grain / Mash Virtually any combination of grain, malted or unmalted, is acceptable to use when brewing Saison. I imagine that farmers would have been quick to utilize unmalted grains, as they would have been much less labor intensive to produce. Many modern Saisons use light pilsner malts as a base. Darker base malts such as Munich malt can also be employed if one wants to incorporate more complex malt flavors, or to attempt to brew a beer that more closely resembles a pre-industrial farmhouse Saison. Crystal/caramel malts add unfermentable dextrins, and in many cases caramel-like flavors that I personally feel take away from the subtle, simplistic, and refreshing profile of these beers

 The goal of the mash should be to produce highly fermentable wort, although the method of doing so will vary depending on your equipment, grain selection, and choice of fermentative microorganisms. A single or multi step infusion mash is typical and traditional. Dupont performs an interesting variation where they mash in at 113F and continuosly raise the temperature by ½ a degree per minute until they reach 162F. Some brewers will intentionally produce relatively dextrinous wort to supply a large quantity of nutrients for slow fermenting Pediococcus and Brettanomyces. No matter the method, the goal should be to produce a finished beer with high attenuation. I feel a Saison should finish at 1.008 (2 Plato) at the highest, but personally, I’d prefer to see 1.005 (1.29 Plato) or less.  

 Classical Saison would have been a low alcohol beer by today’s standards. Although some Saisons are brewed in the 7%-8% range, I feel that this can have a negative impact on the dry refreshing character of a properly brewed Saison. 

Hops (and other spices)

 Flavor/aroma hops are often used, but not a necessity. Classic hop selection for a Saison is typically of the noble variety. Modern and New world varieties of hops may also be employed as long as they do not clash with the ester and phenolic profile of the yeast. Hops should support the Yeast character, but never overpower it. Citrus-y, earthy, woody, and spicy characters are all welcome. I would stay away from intensely resinous and pine-like hops such as Colombus, Chinook, and Simcoe.  Medium low to moderate hop bitterness is typical for most Saisons brewed with Saccharomyces and/or Brettanomyces. However, if souring bacteria is employed, bitterness should be low. I’m sure someone out there will disagree, but I find the pairing of high amounts of bitter and sour flavors to be atrocious.

 Spices other than hops are optional, and their philosphy of use should be similar to that of flavor and aroma hops: any spice character should be a subtle background note that blends seamlessly with the other characteristics of the beer. I prefer my Saisons spiced very lighty, or not at all. Some of the spices historically used in Saison were star anise, coriander, sage, green peppercorns, cumin, orange peel, and ginger.


 The farmers that brewed Saison had a very limited knowledge of water chemistry, and were limited to brewing with whatever water was available in their region. Saison can be brewed with both soft and hard water. Some parts of Wallonia have water that is moderately high in bicarbonates and sulfates and I find that elevated Sulfates reinforce the desired dry finish. Targeting a sulfate range somewhere between 50-150 ppm is appropriate.  I would keep Chloride below 50 ppm. It is important to modify the water (or the grist) to ensure that the mash is within the desired pH range of 5.40-5.60 (room temperature reading), for optimal fermentability. 

Fermentation, The Soul of Saison

 The most important factor in brewing Saison is fermentation and the microorganisms employed. It is safe to say that Saison has always derived the majority of its personality from fermentation with microrganisms that display expressive flavor profiles.

 Early Saison fermentations consisted of mixed cultures*. Then again, this was true of all beers until the 1800s when isolating pure cultures of yeast became possible. Some of my favorite beers in the Saison tradition are fermented exclusively with Saccharomyces, but the incredibly diverse (and delicious) spectrum of flavors achieved from mixed fermentation is impossible to imitate. I feel there is legitimacy to either approach, and I would encourage brewers to attempt both if they so desire. The question that should be asked is “What is your goal and your inspiration for the Saison you are brewing?” Is it a modern Saison inspired by the likes of Dupont? Or are you brewing a rustic throwback to a classical farmhouse ale?

 The best Saisons are made with expressive yeast strains that display estery and phenolic characteristics. The benchmark character most people associate with modern Saison is the rustic, fruity/citrus-y and spicy/peppery character of the yeast strain rumored to have originally been cultured from Brasserie Dupont.** Many brewers feel that beers that do not employ this strain of Saccharomyces (or one of similar character) are not “true Saisons”; and although I myself utilize what most would consider a classic Saison yeast strain, I must respectfully disagree with this notion. To define a tradition of beer spanning centuries based on a single strain of yeast, from a beer that only came into existence in the last century, is in my opinion a mistake. Countless strains of yeast and bacteria of mostly unknown characteristics have fermented Saison throughout its history. Overly specific constraints on yeast choice is contrary to the spirit of Saison, and fermentation with yeast of a particular character is not the sole denominator in successfully brewing one.

 Although many incredible beers utilize it, brewers should be wary of falling into the trap of automatically using the ubiquitous “Dupont” yeast strain; soley for the reason that their favorite beer happens to employ it. Brewers should be open to “treading their own path” via experimentation and the creation of their own unique interpretations of Saison. 

Final Thoughts

 Saison is a loose family of beers open to many different interpretations. However, I often find that brewers take an approach that is overly radical, and does not reflect the Saison tradition. The best Saisons have a rich complexity of character that belies their surprisingly simple method of production. Saison is more than just a beer brewed with “Saison yeast”. Too many brewers have
run Saison through a literal gauntlet of strange ingredients, processes, and misguided interpretations without ever pausing to reflect on whether they actually should. Saison is a beer too heavily steeped in tradition and history to just be appropriated and adulterated on a whim.

 Saison aged in wine barrels with Brettanomyces? Excellent!

 Bacon Saison? Not so much...***

*For the purposes of this article, ‘mixed fermentations’ will be defined as those consisting of microroganisms other than brewer’s yeast.

**. For more information on brewing with this yeast (and everything else “Saison”), Phil Markowski’s book, ‘Farmhouse Ales: Culture and Craftsmanship in the Belgian Tradition’ is an excellent primer.

*** Actually, from this point forward: could we please just agree that anything found in your local butcher’s case should never under any circumstance find its way into beer? Thank you.