brew day: Saison sans Merci

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Time is utterly without mercy, fleeting by in blur until there’s just a midden heap of brew days, barbecues, and fishing trips that could have been. This is about closing down summer and the thirties, about getting back on the blog horse, grabbing what’s left of the daylight in the midst of transitions. A silent brew session in anticipatorily fall-like weather. Porter that isn’t quite ready to be porter, a saison turning dark for autumn.

Well, at least I’ll have some damn beer on tap.

Saison sans Merci
Target OG: 1.055



  • 152°F for 75′
  • 170°F for 10′


  • German Brewer’s Gold (pellet, 6.2% aa) at 60′ to 30 IBU


  • Chill to 85°F, O2 and pitch with Wyeast 3724 Belgian Saison – for that classic flavor
  • After ~48 hours, pitch Wyeast 3711 French Saison – for quicker attenuation, because time is without mercy


50 thoughts on “brew day: Saison sans Merci

  1. I feel you… ive been moving for months so i havent had time to brew. Soon though. Then I’ll have some damn beer on tap.

  2. My wife is getting me an all grain kit for Christmas. I’m extremely excited. I’ll finally be able to utilize some of the over 2,000 recipes I’ve acquired over 5 years of studying home brewing. I showed her the adventures in homebrewing kit upgrade #6. It has everything I want, and it’s all grain. I have a feeling that if I don’t go all grain straight out of the box, I’ll kick myself heavily later. Maybe next week or so, my first picking of hops will be ready, so I can add the small crop I got from their first year to my beer. While I won’t have any beer on tap for a while yet, I do plan on making a keezer in the future, and running the dispensing lines through the wall in my den, to my kitchen, to make my awesome home brew bar. Best part is, my wife is totally on board with this, as long as I brew her some white IPAs

  3. Love me some saison. Say, can you put this ‘myth’ to rest once and for all? Does or doesn’t a wyeast smack pack contain enough cells to ‘properly’ inoculate a 5 gallon batch of beer? I contend that it does, given that the package says so; the web site says so; Wyeast has a lab and presumably smart folks trained in the sciences who are qualified to make such delcarations; and from my own personal experience suggesting as much. Thanks.

    • Hey Matt,

      It’s my favorite kind of question: complicated.

      It really depends on a couple things: the beer/wort in question, and the freshness of the yeast. Maybe three things, if you count the brewer.

      Being a live culture, any liquid yeast, regardless of brand, is going to lose viability as it ages, so a 6 or 8 or 12 month old package isn’t equivalent to a 1 or 2 week old package. Apples to apples. (Anecdotally, I’ve successfully used liquid yeast from packs that were way more than 12 months old – but I always propagated them in a starter, even for a low-gravity ale fermented warm).

      Likewise, a 1.040 ale wort is a very different fermentation environment from a 1.070 ale wort, and both are as different from a 1.040 lager wort; plus there may be times when a non-spec pitch rate is desired for a specific effect (e.g., banana esters in a Weissbier). I think it’s pretty fair to say that 80-90% of US homebrews are ales somewhere in the range of 1.040-1.060 OG, so it kind of becomes a case of one-size-fits-most rather than one-size-fits-all.

      (I know you specifically asked about 5 gallon batch sizes, but batch sizes both larger and smaller than that are becoming more common, which adds another wrinkle).

      The third element, the brewer … I think of model railroaders. Some folks put a circular track on an unadorned sheet of plywood under the Christmas tree stand and are totally happy; some folks want more “reality” and construct elaborate permanent layouts, paint rust effects on HO rolling stock, and run epoxy creeks under scratchbuilt trestle bridges: different goals, different levels of commitment and expense and effort.

      Some of the 1,000,000+ homebrewers in America (maybe most of them?) are out to have a few pints over the boil kettle, toss in some yeast, and have it turn into beer while they get on with their lives. That’s a terrific, valid approach to homebrewing, and pretty much any pack of yeast you get at your store will get you there, off the shelf. Other folks are brewing with a clear, desired outcome in mind – winning gold medals, cloning or approximating a commercial beer, achieving some specific flavor or aroma – and/or just generally obsessing over the details of their process. That’s also a valid approach, but those desired outcomes and specific effects will probably require some customization.

      • I have a similar question regarding wyeast cider yeasts. I’m not sure if this is the right thread on your blog, but since your mr. Yeast… Here goes.
        I’ve been making hard cider for a number of years and have always used dry champagne yeast. The result have been great and this year I want to experiment with some different cider strains. I have wyeast cider yeast and sweet mead strains to try this year. I’ll probably get 20 gallons of juice and split it four ways two with the new yeasts, one with champagne and one with oak chips and champagne yeast. I’ll be using a blend one apple varietals and crabapples.
        I want to get the best flavours and results from the liquid yeasts so that I can decide whether or not to use them again. The cider strain is supposed to leave lots of apple flavours and aroma and the sweet mead should leave some residual sugars that the champagne yeast usually gobbles up.

        So do I make a starter for these yeasts? If so, what should I use? Apple juice and yeast nutrient, DME like I use for beer starters, or something else?


        • Good question, Nicholas.

          First, since (if I understand correctly) part of the purpose is comparison, you should aim for parity in pitch rates between the different strains so you’re comparing apples to apples (see what I did there?).

          Second, starter/no starter – depends. Inoculation rates for cider & wine musts are different than those required for beer wort, so a starter isn’t always the requisite it can be for beer. Assuming a fresh pack, 5 gallons of juice, and reasonable OG, a starter may not be needed; given a high OG, older yeast, or low pH (crabapples?) a starter might be a good idea. For a starter media, I’d try to use a fruit juice that will have a similar sugar composition and pH to the juice in the main fermentation.

          Hope that helps – good luck!

          • Thanks for your suggestions and ideas. I ended up with 328lbs of Gravenstein apples from one of my trees last week and I mixed some of it with crab apple juice. I now have about 25 gallons of cider bubbling away. The OG was 1.048 so I didn’t do a starter, I just added a bit of yeast nutrient. Most is fermenting with champagne yeast, as I have done in previous years, and I have a carboy each with the sweet mead and cider yeasts. You can hear the bubbles rising through the fermentor from across the room. Those are lively yeasts. I’m so excited!

  4. MD…great blog, thanks for doing what you do. Can you speak to the different flavor profiles of 3724 & 3711…and the combo of both?


    • Cheers, Patrick!

      To me, 3724 is much earthier and spicier, woodsy and even a bit musty; it can be a slow attenuator. 3711 is much fruitier, with tropical/citrus overtones, and it’s a fast fermenter. What I’m aiming for is a predominantly earthy/spicy farmhouse character (hence the head start for 3724) paired with the softened, non-acrid roast quality of Perla Negra, on a 3711 schedule.

  5. Hey, MD:

    Pitching at 85 and holding, rising or letting nature take its course? I have heard some of the Saisons done at 90 and held there are pretty good stuff…just wondering your thoughts. I have a Blackberry Brett-added Saison going at room temp with a pellicle mixed with floating fruit – to be racked out this weekend. That one was done at 90 and I then let it slide down into the 70’s after the Sacc was all done and dropped out (that’s when I added the Brett and the crushed BB’s). Can’t wait to try this tart bomb…and then brew another Saison.

    Cheers to more brew on tap!

    • Pitched at 85 and let it free rise … I do that specifically for 3724, which in my experience helps prevent the dreaded stall and promote the earthy/spicy. Most other saison or saison-y strains (3711, 3725, 3726, etc) I don’t run quite that hot – still free-rise, but starting from a cooler pitch temp.

      • Yea, I started this one at low 60’s for a few days and then let it free rise through to about 90. I added the Brett at that point and about six pounds of crushed Blackberries – now a month later it is racked and kegged – it is not as tart as I was hoping for, but an excellent fruit beer nonetheless.

  6. Dawson, I feel your pain. We just had a rather large party at my place for my wife’s 30th and 4 kegs were emptied. I’m now in a mad rush to get them refilled. I’ve been looking into fast grain to glass recipes, do you have anything you can suggest?

      • Cheers, I’ll have a crack at the boat bitter on the weekend! I’m not sure where I can get my hands on first gold here (Australia) do you think E.K.G. would be an acceptable substitute?

        • For sure – I heard from a couple readers who subbed EKG. I think the recipe would do fine using any standalone-capable UK variety: EKG, Fuggle, Boadicea, Northdown, Challenger …

  7. Hey MD… 60 or 90′ boil? Read a lot about boiling Pils for 90′ vs 60 and just was curious on your process…. Thanks! Great blog as usual.

    • Many folks whose opinions I value say 90′ boil for any formulation with all or mostly Pils malt – I do 60′. With my own particular setup (uncovered wide & shallow boiler, among other things) and malts I’ve been using (mostly Best & Weyermann for the past several years) and for my purposes (consumption at home), I have not noticed a significant enough difference in SMM/DMS in the finished beers to justify the extra time & propane. As always, YMMV. Cheers!

      • Thanks again MD! I too have a wide’r and shallow’r boiler than most and the 90 min. boil is no bueno with my pre-boil volume… 8 gallon pot… 5 gallon batch… lots of boil off yada yada yada.

        I’ll go with 60′ and compare it to the 90′ boil I did on my witbier brewed a month ago… I’m brewing this exact recipe tomorrow… Working from home is the best!

        • Cool, let us know how it goes. Again, further to the point of YMMV, it depends a lot on beer style … boil length vs. SMM is probably more of a factor if you’re brewing a Pils or Dortmunder and less of an issue for a beer like your Wit or this saison, which bring a lot of other elements to the table (spices, yeast character, dark malt).

          • Brew day was a success last Friday… pitched the 3711 after 48 hours and now I’m back from 3 days at the beach… About to check FG and see where we are at but bubbling has slowed since I was last here (Sunday)… What was your turn around time goal?

            • I had hoped to get it into kegs and carbonating within a couple weeks, but it seemed to go through a 3724-esque stall a few points above planned FG … not sure what that was about but it’s going again and tasting promising – plenty of dark fruit with some funky phenols and roast. The last few hydro samples have been effervescent and showing slowly dropping gravities. It’s just about where it should end up, so hopefully it won’t end up too far behind schedule.

            • I find that while 3711 is a champ among saison strains, it tends to slow down at the tail end of fermentation. It seems like it takes 4-5 days to eat up the last 2 points or so. If I’m bottling a batch, my SOP has been to leave Saisons in primary for about a week longer than a typical ale fermentation. This way I’m confident that I’m at my FG and won’t run into bottle bombs.

  8. I just noticed your mash temp of 152. Do you typically mash a saison that high? All conventional homebrew wisdom and various articles/books I’ve read says to mash lower to promote fermentation.

    • That is a great point, and one I glossed over in this brief post. I do subscribe to that conventional wisdom and normally do mash a few degrees lower than that for saison/farmhouse-type beers. For this one, though, I didn’t want the FG to go all the way to the basement floor – I have had fermentations (quite a bit higher OG than this one, too) with 3711 bust right through the nominal aa% ceiling and take the gravity within a point or three of 1.000. BeerSmith predicted TG of 1.008-009 for this batch, IIRC, so we’ll see.

  9. Thanks for all the feedback MD… Will give a final update when its all said in done in a week or so… Another question for you if you don’t mind since you are a yeast junky… Thoughts on harvesting this yeast blend for another batch…

    • Reusing the blended yeast – definitely possible (I probably will myself), but proportions of the constituents will be different and results – flavor, attenuation, etc. – may not be consistent.

      • Kegged, Chilled and Carbed. Great recipe MD… Definitely a mild roast with the earthy spice that you’d assume from using 3724. Don’t know if I get the dark fruit you mentioned in an earlier reply but you’re palette has always been boss. My FG got to 1.008 so it is nice and dry and being session-able-ish means I’ve had several samples already.

        Interested to see what the wash yeast will provide in subsequent batches… I’m thinking a Belgian Dark Strong is in order since the color of this batch is much darker than any commercial Saison I’ve had.

  10. Quick question. Thinking back to your brewing tv days, and after reading my newest northern brewer catalogue, I have a question. For bigger beers, do you necessarily need a yeast starter larger than 2 liters? I have recipes that call for yeast starters up to 5 liters, but always wondered if you actually needed one that size. I understand that beer style, and alcohol content are the biggest factors in length of fermentation to finished product, but remembering your brew days on brewing tv, you never went above 2 liters on a yeast starter, and always gave a healthy dose of oxygen. I’m inclined to follow your example as you obviously know what you’re doing, but wanted to clarify, I suppose, how large of a yeast starter one should use when a recipe calls for a yeast starter

    • For bigger beers, do you necessarily need a yeast starter larger than 2 liters?

      Can of worms! Short answer: yes – sometimes, depending. Batch size, type of beer, fermentation temp, wort OG, and age/condition of the yeast culture being propagated affect that. For a 5 gallon batch of most types of beer, and starting out with a reasonably fresh culture of yeast, a 2 liter flask will be a workhorse; but regarding those brew days on BTV, at least some of those starters (10 gallon batches of lager, for instance) were definitely bigger than 2 liters, even if they didn’t get highlighted on camera.

      The longer, more complicated but technically accurate answer is that what we’re really after with propagating a starter is the creation of a certain number of cells (a target pitch rate – the ratio of cells vs. volume & gravity of wort), not a certain volume of wort. This is where a pitch rate calculator is great – there are versions online, and on-board in many brewing software programs. Your chosen calculator may dictate a certain volume of starter wort to achieve the target pitch rate for your batch, but that volume of wort is the means to the end and not the goal.

      • okay, sorry for this off topic question. Brew day coming up Oct 4 is a barleywine. Charging it with 2oz Columbus for 95IBU. When should I add finishing hops? 15′ or 0′? (Columbus 1oz, Cent 1oz, Citra 2oz) I want to cellar this for a year(s). I dont want a hop monster, but I do want good hop flavor initially, and have it fade over time.

  11. Dawson, I’ve been struggling recently with inconsistent carbonation, and it’s driving me mad. I was hoping you could enlighten us on proper methods that you use. Obviously natural carbonation is the best method, but who wants to wait another two weeks? What are your thoughts on the keg lids with the carbonation stones attached to them? would love to her what you have to say in this area.


  12. I have to say the sentiment of this post really reflects my summer of 2014. I have a couple of extra weeks compared to you, in the sense that I am in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. We were in Northfield MN last weekend, and got to see Autumn color slightly in advance, but are just watching it hit this week back home.

    On the repeated subject of pitch rates, I seem to have accidentally purchased (through some self-imposed internet blunder) two packs of 1469 West Yorkshire, so my ESB-to-be will be receiving a two-pack non-starter approach to doubling. Different beer, different approach; similar experience.

  13. I’ve gotta say, I miss seeing constant updates from the ever so wise Mr. Dawson. Updates seem farther and farther apart these days. Such a shame.

    What I really came here to say is how I love that you have begun to list the manufacturer of your ingredients. Not all crystal malts were created equal.

  14. I hope you don’t mind if I refer back to this post from several months ago (I guess I could play the TBT card since today is Thursday), but I’m planning on taking your approach to pitching both 3724 and 3711 into a Saison with the grain bill from Brewing Classic Styles and was hoping for a bit of advice. My plan is to place my primary carboy into a water bath and hold the temperature steady at 85* with an aquarium heater since the ambient temperature at this time of year in my basement is ~52*.

    To get to my questions:

    1. Were you happy with the way your recipe turned out?

    2. Concerning the 3711: would you suggest pitching it at 85* also? I’m curious to know if pitching both yeasts at that temperature would invite competing flavor profiles (or are they perhaps complimentary)? One thought I had was to drop the temperature into the mid-60’s before pitching the 3711 to down play its profile — is this crazy talk?

    Thanks very much for your time!

    • Hey Dan, sorry for the late reply:

      1. Yes; the yeast worked out well in the end. I still need to post some tasting notes on this batch; never enough hours in day, etc etc.
      2. I don’t think the two are necessarily competing – 3711 is so much more tropical-fruity, and 3724 so much more earthy and phenolic. I also don’t think you’d need to drop the ferm temp so drastically to suppress its character in the finished beer if the other strain is given a big enough head start.

      Hope this helps – let us know how it comes out!

      • Just wanted to report back and say that the beer turned out very well! I wound up pitching the 3724 at 85* for 48 hours and then pitched the 3711 at 72*. The beer finished at 1.002 after about 3 weeks.

        Thanks again for your help with this and thanks for all that you do for the brewing community at large — you’re a good man, Charlie Brown.

  15. Hey Dawson! Thanks again for this recipe… It got rave reviews from all who sampled it. I’m planning on brewing this again for a friends wedding. In the previous version I made a starter for the first strain (Belgian) and just added the smack pack for the second strain (French) after 48 hours of fermentation. I’m planning on a 10 gallon batch split into 2 fermenters this time. Would you suggest a starter for both additions? I’m almost worried about too much yeast by doing 2 starters… Hard to find much on the interwebs about the double yeast dosing you used in this beer. Cheers!

    • Right on, Cameron! I would use a starter for both strains/pitches – 2 or even 3 liters for the 3724, 2 liters for the 3711. This is a high pitch rate, but the reasoning being: one, to give 3724, fussy baby that it can be, a leg up early on; and two, to prepare the 3711 culture to go into a wort that already has some adverse environmental factors (alcohol, CO2, etc) built up and nutrients depleted. Since the goal of the double-pitch is to speed up the turnaround time, as long as you can get to TG promptly and then rack it, autolysis shouldn’t be too big a concern. Have fun!

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