In 2013 one of my favorite beers that I brewed was Sprøøs Jøøs, an English old ale with spruce tips that I harvested from blue spruce trees all around Annapolis. I enjoyed brewing and drinking this beer so much that I decided to go further with the use of local ingredients in 2014. It’s fitting that this post is published on New Year’s Eve, because creating this beer took almost the entire year. For Four Saisons in Annapolis my approach was pretty simple. Saison is a Belgian farmhouse style of beer that gets its name from the French word for season. So I decided to brew a saison with one ingredient for each of the seasons, and each of the four ingredients had to be gathered or grown in Naptown. The first ingredient came from winter and was water made from the record amount of snow that fell on Annapolis in 2014. My buddy Joe and I set out buckets and ice chests all winter and collected over 20 gallons of snow melt. I then filtered and boiled the water and stored it for the rest of the year. In the spring I gathered spruce tips from trees around Annapolis. Throughout the summer I harvested and dried tips from heather plants that we have growing in our front yard. In the fall I harvested and dried a few pounds of Centennial and Cascade hops from my hop garden and from the hop plants that grow along our front fence. By the fall of 2014 it was time to start working on a recipe. My plan was for something that’s light, dry, citrusy, and fruity. Most saisons tend to be on the dry side, and you can use a wide variety of ingredients and the beer is still considered a saison.
My experience with spruce is that it tastes like citrus, and can have hints of banana or other fruits. Spruce can also have a hint of pine if harvested later in the spring. These tips were harvested early so I expect more citrus than anything else.
I don’t have any experience brewing with heather, but these tips have a floral and herbal quality to them that I expect will offer some herbal bitterness. I think a 1oz mix of both fresh and dry heather is a good start, and I scaled back the bittering hops in case the heather imparts too much bitter flavor.
I also decided to include a bit of orange zest and coriander to add a little more complexity and to help tie all of these various flavors together.
Finally, I chose to make an extract beer since the snow melt water wouldn’t likely contain the salts and other minerals that tend to make great water for beer. For my grain bill I chose something based on my saison recipe that won Best in Show at the 2012 Anne Arundel County Fair Homebrew Competition. The following is the recipe for a 10 gallon batch.
THE GRAIN BILL
– 14 lbs Pilsen Light Liqued Malt Extract
– 2 lbs White Wheat Malt
– 2 lbs Munich Malt 10L
– 0.5 lbs Dark Belgian Candi Sugar
Place grains in grain sack and begin steeping when water reaches 120F. Remove grains when water hits 170F. Make sure the temperature rise takes at least 30-45 minutes. Dissolve extract in the water before bringing to a boil.
– 6 oz spruce tips
– .75 oz Columbus pellet hops (17.1% AA)
– .5 oz Homegrown whole leaf Cascade hops (est 7.0% AA)
– The zest from one medium sized orange
– 14 g Coriander seeds (crushed) 5 Minutes
– 1 oz Dried Heather tips
– 1 oz Homegrown whole leaf Centennial hops (est 10.5% AA)
– 0.5 oz Homegrown whole leaf Cascade hops (est 7.0% AA)
East Coast Yeast ECY-08 Saison Brasserie Blend
I split this into two five gallon carboys. I pitched brettanomyces into the second carboy when I moved it to secondary. Brett is a special variety of yeast that will introduce dry acidic flavors into the second batch of beer, and layers and complexity of flavors from the brett will develop and evolve over several months. As of now the first five gallons is kegged, and the second carboy is forming a nice pellicle. Tasting notes will follow soon.