One of my favourite styles of beer is Saison – particularly those with funky Belgian tendencies. I had only brewed one Saison prior to this event: a gluten-free Saison-like beverage for a GF competition. I elected to use Wyeast 3724 Belgian Saison for that brew, and the fermentation went along very successfully. So, when it came to making a REAL Saison (does this mean I’m suggesting gluten-free alcoholic beverages are not beer? Probably), I went for that yeast once again. Actually, this was a 12 gallon batch, which was split into two carboys, one fermented with the notorious (overly-used?) Wyeast 3711, while the other was fermented with my preference, 3724.
The yeast was pitched into wort at 68F, and I slowly ramped up the temperature towards 80F, stepping up two degrees each day. The 3711 batch fermented down from 1.054 to 1.004 in one week, as was expected with that monster strain. That version was done, racked, carbonated, and getting consumed right away…I am just not a huge fan of the flavour profile of that yeast.
The 3724 was a different story. It was definitely taking its time, pulling its infamous stalling move in the high 1.020s, stuck there four weeks in. Was a pain. I wound up getting the temperature up to 90F (you have to love temp controllers and heat wraps!) and, as the yeast still appeared to be active, albeit a little sluggish, I just kept the beer on the yeast, occasionally rousing it.
Time passed. In my paranoia, I kept checking the gravity every week, just to find that it was slowly ambling towards the finish line. Understandably, I was quite anxious about off-flavours from the extended fermentation period, leaving the beer on the yeast bed for this amount of time, all while keeping the temperature at an obnoxious 90F. After an unbearably long 8.5 weeks, the stupid beer landed at 1.007, which was more than good enough for me. No more screwing around. I racked, chilled, carbonated, and nervously took a sip.
It was just fine! It had all the flavours I would expect from 3724…with no off-flavours from any of the conditions that would have caused disasters in beers brewed with a different yeast strain. Whew! This was a great learning experience. The main thing I take away from this is some of the things I discovered from others who have experienced more timely success with this yeast, namely pitching at around 90F and leaving it there. Many people suggest that pitching at the lower temp and ramping up creates a lazy yeast army…the hot pitch will be my move next time I use this yeast…if I use it again. All said and done, I’m just impressed by the fact that a beer won’t necessarily develop off-flavours from issues such as yeast autolysis, even after such an extended primary fermentation period, as long as the yeast is still active and in solution. Killer.
On a related note, I have since brewed other Saisons, this time using Wyeast 3726-PC Farmhouse Ale. I pitched at 80F, let it sit for two days, and then began ramping up the temperature to 90F, where it remained through the rest of fermentation. After five days, the gravity had gone from 1.053 to 1.012, and the yeast was still active. A taste test of the hydrometer sample revealed flavours more along the lines of 3724 – definitely not the citrusy domination you find with 3711. I waited another week, until after all signs of fermentation died off, then tested it again. It matched the Forced Attenuation Test terminal gravity of 1.007 – definitely a dry and appropriate FG for a Saison.
The finished product was everything I love about a Saison…dry, flavorful – the flavor is reasonably similar to WY3724, actually…lots of great Belgian character. This is, in my opinion, a far more reliable yeast, with no tendency to crap out for long periods of time – I’ll take a forgiving yeast any time! That, coupled with a great Belgian Saison profile, makes for an outstanding choice. This is now my go-to Saison yeast strain. Sorry, 3724. I will always love you, but there’s another woman in my life. Hit the road.