Jun 24, 2018

Beer Break

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 Saison.

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 strains.

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 aging.

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.

Tasting notes

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 spice.

Find whatever in the beer world you are looking for. Enter a search word or phrase, then click GO.