Beer Break Vol. 1, No. 33
Another way to build a great beer
April 19, 2001
Two weeks ago we looked at Christian Ettinger's minimalist approach to
building a barley wine. This week, Tomme Arthur of Pizza Port in Solano
Beach, Calif., offers some "out of the box" ideas he used in brewing a
It is an interesting contrast because there are many more layers to Arthur's
Saison than Ettinger's barley wine. Still, you should remember they are
starting at the same point: They identify the flavors they want in a beer and
figure out a way to get those. They also know that each style has its own
guidelines for color, gravity, bitterness, etc., that beer drinkers expect
them to meet.
Arthur has two friends he regularly tastes new and favorite beers with. Last
fall they were drinking a Fantome Saison from the Belgian province of
Luxenbourg when this recipe began to take shape. It's not unusual for a new
recipe at Pizza Port to be months in the making -- recipe formulation is
obviously a part of the job Arthur relishes.
Most of the beers he brews are regulars, but a handful of times each year
he's able to create something new. Last year one of his experimental beers,
Cuvee de Tomme, won a silver medal at the Great American Beer Festival. The
beer was taken from a batch of Pizza Port's Belgian Quadruppel and allowed to
age in an American oak barrel, where a healthy dose of sour cherries and
three strains of Brettanomyces were added.
That beer, which finished at 11% alcohol by volume, was brewed with eight
different malts, four adjuncts, four varieties of hops and four yeast
Fantome produces vintage-dated Saisons, differing each year, with variations
for each of the seasons. "The beer is so dark, but has such a light body,"
Arthur said. Soon he and his friends were talking about how to make a beer
look as dark without using dark beer components. "We started to talk about
different ways to darken the beer without using dark malts."
Part of the answer was to extend the time the wort (grain sugars strained
from the mash) boils to four hours, more than twice the length of an average
boil. Another part was to add 30 pounds of blackened raisins to the seven
barrel (217 gallons) kettle late in the boil.
"We did it for the color and flavor -- to get the sugar and character from
the fruit," Arthur said.
Arthur used five malts in the beer. "We thought about the different aspects
of texture -- we wanted a wheaty texture," he said. In "The Brewer's
Companion" Randy Mosher advocates making beers that receive a good portion of
their color from a malt that is not the darkest one in the brew. For
instance, a bock should not be brewed with mostly lighter malts, then derive
the bulk of its color from an addition of chocolate malt.
Arthur agrees with that approach. "We build a lot of color from the bottom
up," he said. In the Saison, the malts are pilsner, caramel wheat, roasted
wheat, meladnoiden (reddish and often used in bock beers), Belgian Special B
and debittered black.
The hops are Amarillo ("The only hops I know that give you that apricot, or
peach, note in the aroma."), First Gold ("I really like them in brown and
black beer.") and Tettnanger in the whirlpool ("It gives that traditional-noble
character. Spiciness is a word people use to describe it."). The hops have to
be substantial enough to balance the hefty (8% abv) beer and to help support
Arthur also used a little buckwheat honey in the beer, fresh rosemary
("Picked the day of the brew.") and some sweet orange peal ("But you can't
really taste that.")
The yeast was White Labs Saison strain.
Making a recipe work, of course, is just as challenging as creating a good
one. That's why great beers may be produced with a single malt and a single
hop or have a long list of ingredients.
"There is no right way or wrong way to do this," Arthur said.
CUVEE DE TOMME
Brewed at Pizza Port in Solana Beach, Calif.
Cuvee de Tomme won a silver medal at the Great American Beer Festival in
2000. Michael Jackson's tasting notes:
A Burgundy-colored brew with a hint of burlap or oak in the aroma; a palate
developing from cherryish sweetness to woody stalkiness, pepperiness and
winey, tart dryness. Very good interplay and balance In the flavors,
especially the restrained, tannic, acidity in the finish.
Brewed by the Dupont farmhouse brewery in Belgium
Saison Dupont is one of the most readily available beers of the style.
Stephen Beaumont's tasting notes:
A simultaneously refreshing and satisfying brew, the Saison Dupont combines a
distinct hoppiness with a mild but complex fruitiness and hint of peppery