A long time ago (12,000 years according to current opinions of archeological type people and their fancy scientific instruments which means that beer predated bread in terms of human consumption), people started making beer. It was part of the earliest documented secular government (Hamurabi’s code). Skilled workers building the pyramids were actually not slaves, they were paid in beer and bread. Monks brewed beer throughout the dark ages as that was one of the only ways to get drinkable liquid and stay hydrated. And America’s founding fathers often had breweries on the premises of their estates.
Among brewers, there is a general affinity for a beer of Belgian origin called Saison. This particular type of beer started out as the kind of thing that farmers would brew to give to workers at lunch time during the planting and harvesting seasons (Saison is the French word for season). The “style guide” (yes, there is a beer style guide, actually there are several) describes this beer as:
“… a pale, refreshing, highly-attenuated, moderately-bitter, moderate-strength Belgian ale with a very dry finish. Typically highly carbonated, and using non-barley cereal grains and optional spices for complexity, as complements the expressive yeast character that is fruity, spicy, and not overly phenolic. Less common variations include both lower-alcohol and higher-alcohol products, as well as darker versions with additional malt character.”
Which reflects the fact that that this beer was brewed by many, many different people with many, many different palates, opinions, traditions, and available ingredients. Essentially, this is a style with many options. For some reason, the general beer drinking public doesn’t seem to have taken to these beers even though they are incredibly easy drinking. This has led it to be known in brewing circles as “Stays On” because once you put it on tap, it stays there since nobody drinks it. My personal opinion is that this is a failure to educate on the part of brewers. Or, possibly, it’s a conspiracy to keep all of the good beer to themselves (that’s a more fitting explanation for these times).
If you have never made beer before, don’t sweat it. We’re starting off simple here. First of all, we’re going to be doing something called extract brewing which eliminated the annoying and potentially sticky presses of mashing (converting the starches in the grain into protein and sugars that the yeast can convert into alcohol (and carbon dioxide). I’m going to provide you with a link to a kit for making a Petite Saison which will give you all of the ingredients you need. You will also find below links to some specialized pieces of equipment you will need/want. I am also going to give you modified instructions that will obviate a couple of pieces of equipment they would rather you bought. You will end up with 5 gallons of very drinkable 4.5% alcohol by volume beer and about 2 or 3 cups of wet spent grain.
At this point (probably earlier, actually) you are probably asking yourself “Why in the hell am I looking at a beer recipe in a cooking blog?” The answer is actually simple. At the end of the brewing process, you end up with spent grain which is barley (or wheat, or rye, or any number of other grains). This spent grain has had the majority of the starch removed and as such it is high in protein and fiber. It can easily be turned into a “flour” which can then be used in baking. If you replace just 10% of your regular flour with spent grain, you can increase the amount of protein by 50% each. The grains in this particular recipe are pretty neutral and will add a little depth to any sourdough recipe not to mention a host of other options like bagels, pretzels, pizza dough, etc. (can you see where this is going?) And those grains can be used in other ways as well. They make amazing peanut butter dog treats (yes, I tried them). Moreover, when you start expanding your brewing repertoire into darker beers, the grain you get from those is even more flavorful (more flavorful beer used more flavorful grain). And when you get into all grain brewing, you end up with so much spent grain that you will be giving it away. I’m planning on putting together a little bread kit for family and friends this Christmas. Everyone will get a bottle of beer, and a kit to make a fresh loaf of bread using grain from beer. For perspective, this recipe uses a half pound of malted barley. The all grain version of the same recipe uses 9.5 lbs of malted grain.
The other advantage of using spent brewing grains for cooking is that it gives you an immediate, tangible result. Because this beer (and this is among the more speedy beers you can make without using Kveik yeast, which is a crazy type of farmhouse yeast from Scandinavia) takes a month before you get anything to drink.
FYI, brewing beer is like anything else. There are some basic principles and processes that everyone agrees on but within that accepted knowledge there is a lot of “THAT’S NOT HOW I DO IT!!! YOU’RE WRONG!!!” So, if you do things differently, that’s cool. In the end, the important thing isn’t how you get beer, but that you get beer, and for the purposes of this here blog, the spent grain.
Last note: I am providing links to gear and a kit from Northern Brewer. They have consistently had the stuff I want, they usually have good specials so their email is worth not consigning to junk, and they have good kits that provide solid foundations if you want to try a new style, they offer both extract and all grain kits for specific recipes, and they have clone recipes that approximate popular beers. Most importantly, they have pretty excellent customer service. That being said, I do not get a cut or kickback from the sales of the stuff I’ve linked to, nor do I own any part of the company. Or to put it another way, I am endorsing this vendor without any reason other than that they have been a good source for me. You should absolutely use whatever vendor you want. Though, I’m not going to list out the ingredients of the kit. You can find the instruction sheet they provide and buy the parts yourself if you are so inclined.
That’s a lot of words. So, with that said, let’s get to it.
- A pot that will hold at least 5 gallons of liquid. You can use a stock pot but a better, safer option is a proper boil kettle with a spigot. At this point, you can buy the version without the thermometer. If you already have an extra big pot and you’re handy, you should feel free to buy a spigot assembly, drill a hole, and assemble your own.
- A fermenter – Essentially, a fermenter is just a vessel that your wort (the unfermented beer) will sit in while your yeast turns it into beer. Fermenters come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. You will need a 6.5 gallon fermenter.
- Option 1: A super cheap bucket (Be sure to get the spigot, grommeted lid, and the airlock as these are essential parts of the puzzle).
- Option 2: A glass fermenter (this is a wide mouth fermenter which costs a tiny bit more but is easier to clean, again, you will need the drilled stopper and an airlock).
- Option 3: If you are feeling flush with case and think this might be something you want to do a lot you could get a super fancy stainless steel conical fermenter which can set you back nearly $1000 if you get the full temperature control package.
- My recommendation: I prefer the wide mouth glass fermenter. It’s easy to clean, and reasonably affordable. There are many, many other options than the ones I have listed here. I stay away from plastic because the fermenter is one thing you want to be really clean and plastic has a habit of developing small scratches which are lovely places for bacteria to lie in wait and ruin a perfectly good batch of beer.
- Bottling bucket: This looks remarkably similar to our friend the plastic bucket fermenter! Thats because it’s the same thing just without the lid and airlock. Still need the spigot though. So, if you get the cheap bucket, you’ll end up with two. They do not stack because of the spigots. Keep that in mind.
- Racking cane: This is a curved metal tube that you put in the fermented beer to transfer it from your fermenter to your bottling bucket. You will also need a spring clamp from the hardware store to hold the cane in place just above the bottom of the fermenter.
- Food grade tubing: This comes in 6′ lengths and is easy enough to cut with a pair of scissors. You will probably need about 4 ‘ for your racking cane, 1.5-2′ for your boil kettle, and another 3′ for your bottling bucket so get two 6’ lengths. Once you have this stuff, you will find all sorts of weird and wonderful uses for it.
- A Spring Tip Bottle filler: This little doohickey is both the most useful invention in this collection, and the most annoying to keep clean. It’s a rigid plastic tube with a valve on the end. When you put the valve in an empty bottle and press down, the little valve opens and the bottle starts to fill with beer. When the beer reaches the top of the bottle, you lift up, the spring closes the valve, the liquid stops transferring, you remove the bottle tube from the bottle, and you have the perfect amount of headroom. It’s genius, really.
- Bottle capper: This is the most basic bottle capper you can get. All it does is push a little metal hat down over a bottle cap, crimping it to the bottle. Sealing the bottle well is a big deal since you will be employing the yeast in your beer to create carbon dioxide in the bottle so that you don’t have to learn how to maintain a draft beer system. This process is known as bottle conditioning. You can get more expensive/fancier cappers, even some that will both do bottle caps and corks, but this is all you need for now.
- Bottle caps: A bottle capper wouldn’t be much good without caps. There are more colorful versions, as long as you get the right size for the bottles you are using, you do you.
- Bottles: BAM! I bet you didn’t see that one coming! You will need a total of two cases for a total of twenty four 22oz bottles. You could go with 12 oz bottles, you’ll need 48 of those, but that makes bottling a pain in the ass. You can also use champagne bottles with larger bottle caps but these bombers (that’s what a 22 oz bottle is called) are kind of the entry point bottle. You almost always cannot use wine bottles because they have no way of containing the pressure of the beer carbonation. You can reuse beer bottles from beer you buy in the store. You are going to need to sanitize your bottles before you fill them anyway so harvesting bottles can be a good way to go. you just need to remember to rinse them out and put them in a drying rack when you are done drinking the beer. The same applies to the bottles you put your beer in, since, dry, sanitize, reuse.
- Big ass funnel: For transferring the wort from the big ass pot into the fermenter.
- Sanitizer: This is one of those topics that puts some people over the edge. I will tell you what I use and then you can talk to your buddy who brews beer and he can tell you I am an idiot. Let’s just say, I’m about to brew my 300th gallon of beer and the only batch I’ve ever had that’s gone bad was when I got lazy and tried to bottle a batch of patersbier right after I bottled a batch of lambic without properly sanitizing the bottling tubing. Anyway, I sanitize with StarSan (cue the internet freak out). I run 3 primary fermenters and 5 secondary fermenters and every 9 batches (so 3 batches per primary fermenter) I mix up a batch of Powdered Brewery Wash and give every piece of brewing equipment I own a good, minimum 6 hour soak. It takes a day or two, but again, 300 gallons of beer, one bad batch.
- Big ass spoon: Really, you can use any big ass spoon. I have one I only use for beer because you never know what other people are going to do and better to keep it safe and (more importantly) clean.
- Scale: This is just for weighing hops and priming sugar. If you ever transition to all grain brewing, you’ll want something beefier.
- Refractometer: This will tell you how much sugar is in your wort and in your final beer. When you know these two numbers, you can calculate how much alcohol is in the beer.
- Latex gloves: I only really use these when I’m sanitizing bottles.
- Thermometer: Any thermometer will do. This one is fast and accurate. I’ve used BBQ thermometers, fancy laser sighted infrared thermometers, … . As long as it can read between 120 and 250ºF, go for it.
- Towels: I have three crappy, old beach towels. Putting them under the fermenter when you are transferring, laying one down when you are bottling, etc. will keep you from having to clean up a sticky mess later on. It’s worth while to think about the stuff you are making as sticky, gooey, loose caramel. There are two relevant brewing sayings here:
- Brewers make wort (sugar water), yeast makes beer.
- 90% of making beer is cleaning up. (I may have that percentage wrong, but it sure feels that way sometimes).
- Bottle drying rack: This just makes bottling day go a lot smoother. Also, it’s handy to keep around if you are going to reuse bottles from beers you’ve bought. Get the two racks and the base tray. Otherwise you’re just making a mess.
- Timer: If you have a smartphone, you’re all set.
- A large ziplock bag: This one is a little bit of an explainer, but bear with me: You know all those stupid little packets of “sand” that come in electronics, shoes, clothes, etc. that say “DESICCANT!! DO NOT EAT!!!” Those are full of chemicals that absorb moisture. If you keep a 1 gallon or larger ziplock bag around, you can stick those in the bag and then when you have annoying things that are hard to get dry (tubes, bottle fillers, airlocks, cell phones, etc.) you can pop them in the bag and walk away. Come back later and they are miraculously dry. Want to recharge the bag? No problem, lay it on a dark colored surface in the sun with the bag open and much of the absorbed moisture will evaporate. Close up the bag, and you are good to go.
- One Northern Brewer Petite Saison d’Éte Extract Beer Kit, Choose the Wyeast 3711 French Saison option and choose the 5oz bag of priming sugar. Choose “None” for Fast Pitch Canned Wort
- Priming sugar: You could get away with 5 oz of priming sugar, but if you want this beer to have the proper amount of carbonation, you are going to want to use about 6.4 oz (by weight). As with most of the math you will need to do for brewing, there is a handy dandy priming sugar calculator on line. If you want to get fancy, you can choose from a vast pantheon of sugar possibilities. Fair warning: Not all priming sugar options are created equal. If you choose something other than the standard corn dextrose, the time to proper carbonation will not be right. For instance, because honey has far more complex sugars that take more steps for the yeast to break down, proper carbonation takes 2-2.5x longer than using a simple sugar like dextrose. For this beer in particular, that means the beer would take more than twice as long to carbonate as it took to ferment.
- 7lb bag of ice: Buy this the day of brewing, for obvious reasons.
- Water. Depending on where you live, it is likely better to use straight tap water and not filtered water. Breweries spend a lot of money to get reverse osmosis filtered water which they then doctor that water with minerals in an effort to replicate the water from a locality where the style of brewing originated. You don’t have to go to that extreme, but many of the minerals in “hard” water are actually really good for yeast and result in much better beers. There is literally a book written just on water for brewing.
- When your kit is delivered, put the yeast in the refrigerator unless you are going to brew right away. The yeast will remain viable for about 5 days unrefrigerated and much longer if you stick it in the fridge. I put mine in the meat drawer. I once accidentally broke a fermenter while sanitizing it (that was fun … I still find shards of glass on the back porch to this day), and had to wait three weeks before I could brew the beer I had planned on brewing. Everything was fine. Well, except the broken fermenter, that was toast.
- On the day you decide to brew: Get out the instructions that came with the kit and throw them away. That’s one way to make this beer. I’m going to explain another. A lot of this is the same, I’ve just added some suggestions that make things more efficient/easier.
- Place the yeast packet flat on the counter. Now feel for the little bubble pack inside. This is the yeast nutrients that will activate your yeast. Move it into a corner of the packet and give the packet a good smack to break the little bubble packet of yeast inside. Now shake it up and set it aside. If you go back to it in a few seconds and put your ear next to it, it should sound like pop rocks. That’s the yeast waking up.
- Place your pot on the biggest burner on your stove. If you have a valve in your pot, MAKE SURE THE VALVE IS CLOSED!!!
- Put the steeping grains in the little sock (steeping bag) and tie a knot in the top. I find it’s best to do this over the pot as it makes sure any dust will go in the pot and not all over the kitchen. Put the sock in your pot.
- Pour in 3 gallons of water and turn on the heat as high as you can get it on the biggest burner on your stove.
- While the water is heating up, open the Saaz and Styrian Golding hop envelopes. If you have a scale, put 1/4oz of each in one bowl, and 3/4 oz of each in a separate bowl. If you don’t have a scale, you can count the little pellets or you can just eyeball it.
- When the water hits about 170º, take out the steeping grains with a pair of tongs and use your big ass spoon to squeeze it against the side of the pot to get as much liquid out as possible. DO NOT TROW OUT THE STEEPING GRAINS!!! They are the whole reason I get to sneak making beer into a cooking blog. You can refrigerate them if you are going to use them for dog treats (recipe to follow), but if you are going to be making spent grain flour for baking right now, then put them in a bowl and you can get that started.
- When the water is boiling, Stir in the Wheat dry malt extract, then the Pilsen dry malt extract, and finally the Pilsen malt syrup. The last one will take some time and you will never get all of it out of the bottle. Make sure everything is stirred in and then let the water come to a boil again.
- When the water starts boiling again, this begins your countdown. Add the entire envelope of UK Kent Goldings hops, stir and set a timer for 50 minutes.
- When that is done, add the 1/4 oz Styrian Golding and 1/4 oz Saaz, stir, then set a timer for 8 minutes.
- When that is done, add the rest of the hops, stir, then set a timer for 2 minutes.
- When the last 2 minutes are up, turn off the heat.
- Put your fermenter on a towel on the floor near your boil kettle and put the big ass funnel in the fermenter.
- Fill the funnel with ice.
- Two possibilities at this point:
- If you have a kettle with a valve – Stick one end of a piece of vinyl tube on your kettle valve if you have one and put the other end in the funnel. I use spring clamps to hold the tube in place but if you have an alternate method, go for it. Just do not try to hold it with your hand because it’s got boiling, sticky liquid going through it and if you are holding the tube, bad things will happen. Open the valve and as the ice melts, add more taking great care to not splash boiling sugar water all over yourself/the floor. It is painful/a bitch to clean up.
- If you do not have a kettle with a spigot – Be really careful going forward. Wait about 20 minutes. Then CAREFULLY pour the boiling sticky wort very slowly into the funnel. As the ice melts, put the pot somewhere safe (logic would suggest back on the stove …), and replenish the ice in the funnel before going back to CAREFULLY pouring the boiling sticky wort very slowly into the funnel. Try to leave the sludgy hop goo (the stuff that looks like overcooked spinach) in the pot. If you pour it into the fermenter, it won’t negatively impact the beer, it will just make cleaning the fermenter slightly more annoying because, like everything in the process at this point, the rehydrated hops are sticky and disgusting.
- Once you have all the wort in the fermenter, fill the funnel full of ice (if you have any left), and pour cold water over the ice to fill the fermenter up to five gallons.
- Taking care not to squeeze the contents all over the place, cut the top corner of the yeast envelope off to make a hole about a half inch wide.
- Gently shake the fermenter to mix the water and the wort. you don’t have to do this more than a minute or so.
- If you are going to use the refractometer to take an original gravity (OG) reading, do so now.
- Carefully pour the yeast into the fermenter.
- Gently shake the fermenter to mix the yeast in.
- Put the lid on your fermenter (if it has a lid).
- Fill the airlock with water to the Line that says “FULL”. This is about half way up the big bulbs.
- Put the airlock in the stopper and put the stopper in the lid of the fermenter.
- Now you need to move the fermenter somewhere darkish where it won’t be in the way. I have a spot in the basement where they live.
- It will stay there for 3 weeks. Depending on the temperature, you will see a layer of bubbles starting to form on top of the wort and bubbles will start coming out of the airlock in 12-36 hours. This is the yeast converting the sugars in the wort into alcohol and carbon dioxide. The alcohol stays in the beer, the carbon dioxide goes into the air. If it wasn’t important to keep the beer in a darker area, it would be great to have beer and plants in the same room. If you have a lot of houseplants, you could cover the beer with a blanket and keep the fermenter near your plants. UV light does bad things to beer.
- After 3 weeks, fermentation should have stopped. By stopped I mean you shouldn’t be getting a bubble leaving the airlock more than once an hour if at all. Now we start the bottling process.
- Make sure the spigot on your bottling bucket is closed.
- Measure out 1 oz of the Star San in the handy little measuring doohickey built into the bottle and pour it into your bottling bucket.
- Add water to give you 5 gallons of sanitizer and mix. I use warm water but I don’t think it really matters.
- Take a small bowl and scoop out enough sanitizer to fill it half way.
- Put 26 bottle caps in the small bowl of sanitizer and set it aside.
- Now submerge the bottles in the sanitizer and leave them there for 5 minutes then take them out, rinse them off with water, and leave them to dry. I usually fit 8 bottles in the bucket so you will have to do 3 or 4 batches. It takes about an hour unless you are also peeling labels off of bottles and then that’s a whole other ball of wax.
- Once the first batch of bottles is in the bucket, put a small pot on the stove with 1 cup of water in it. Measure out either 6.5 ounces of priming sugar, or whatever the handy dandy priming sugar calculator says. Or, if you don’t feel like measuring, just dump one 5oz package of sugar into the water and turn the stove on it’s lowest heat. Give it a stir. As the bottles are sanitizing, check back on the pot, stirring occasionally. When it looks clear again, turn off the heat.
- Once all of your bottles are drying, pour out the sanitizer and rinse the bottling bucket with water. If you have another 5 gallon bucket, you can save the sanitizer and soak your bottling equipment in it for a few hours and then pour it into the cleaned fermenter to soak over night. Or you can fill up a spray bottle to use while cleaning your gear later. In any case, now your bottling bucket is sanitized!
- Put the fermenter on the counter (I usually put a towel underneath) and take the lid off.
- If you are going to use the refractometer to take a final gravity (FG) reading, do so now.
- and put the bottling bucket on the floor. If the spigot is pointing downwards and hitting the floor, you should be able to rotate it 90º and fix that problem. It took me a year to figure that one out.
- Pour the sugar water mixture into the bottom of the bottling bucket.
- Attack a piece of the vinyl tubing to the short end of the racking cane then put the long end of the racking cane into the fermenter so that it is just barely touching the layer of silt at the bottom of the fermenter then clamp it in place.
- This is the tricky part. Actually, it’s not tricky, it’s just a challenge to describe it. You are now going to siphon the beer from the fermenter into the bottling bucket. What I do is this: lift the piece of hose closest to the short end of the racking cane up above the opening. Take the loose end of the vinyl tube and start sucking in short bursts to bring the liquid up the racking cane and into the tube. as the liquid gets close to the hand near the short end of the racking rube, move your had away slowly so that you are filling the tube with liquid. When it gets almost to your mouth, either pinch off the end of the tube or just stick your thumb over the opening and put the tube into the bottling bucket. Now remove your thumb or stop pinching and the beer will flow into the bucket. This may require a video at some point …
- Once the beer is out of the fermenter, you will have a tan sludge at the bottom and a small amount of beer. Move the fermenter off the counter and replace it with the full bottling bucket. line up your bottles on the floor where the bottling bucket just was.
- Attach one end of a piece of vinyl tubing to your bottle filler and the other end to the spigot on the bucket. When you are sure they are properly attached, open the valve on the spigot. The tube won’t fill right away, now put the bottle filler in one of the bottles and press down. Suddenly, the beer will start flowing and the bottle will fill.
- The bottle filler will fill more slowly if you raise it up a little so as the bottle fills, raise the filler. Take your time, there’s no prize for going fast and you want to get as much of the beer in the bottles. Remember that if you get it all in the bottles, you don’t have to clean up a sticky mess on the floor.
- Fill the bottles until all of your beer is gone, or all of your bottles are full
- Get the bowl of now very sanitized bottle caps and your bottle capper.
- Put a cap on the top of a bottle, place the bottle capper on top of the cap, and press the handles gently down and out. You will feel a small click as the capper does its job. It may take a few tries to get the hang of it, but once you do, it’s a piece of cake.
- When you have all of your bottles capped, set them in a cool, dark place to bottle condition for two weeks. Don’t put them in the fridge, that’s cold, not cool. What’s happening now is that the residual yeast in the beer is eating up that little bit of sugar you added in the bottling bucket and just like when it was in the fermenter, it’s producing a tiny bit of alcohol and some carbon dioxide. The difference is that now, there’s no airlock for the CO2 to pop out of so it’s being absorbed into the beer which gives us the lovely, bubbly product we all know and love.
- After two weeks, pop one in the fridge and get it cold then pour it into a glass and see what you and yeast have made. This usually comes out in the 4.5% ABV range.
Man, I need a beer. Cheers!