A Warm Weather Brewing Surprise
I have had conversations in the past with homebrewers who do not have a temperature-controlled fermenter and are opting to not brew during the summer while ambient temperatures are in the mid 20s to 30s Celsius. I do not have a temperature-controlled environment for my fermenters so I know the struggle. In the past I had also avoided brewing during warm stretches, until two summers ago when one of the homebrew clubs I am involved with had a club challenge to brew a Saison.
The club issues challenges several times a year and we agree on a style or category. At a future meeting we judge the beers and the winner gets to keep the trophy until the next challenge. The idea behind the challenge is to get brewers out of their comfort zones and brew something they would otherwise not consider or would avoid. I have personally had great success from these challenges. In the spring of 2015 the club issued a challenge for light hybrids. From that category I chose American Wheat Ale. In this case I decided to make it a bit more interesting by adjusting the grain bill to be approx. 1/3 barley, 1/3 wheat, and 1/3 rye. I used a couple of US hops that start with a C and an English ale yeast. This beer turned out very good and won the club challenge. I entered it into the Vanbrewers contest and it won runner up best in show. I went on to brew that beer at Old Abbey and P49 last summer and that beer is now being brewed at Foamers’ Folly. If the challenge had not been made I would never have made that beer, nor had the opportunity to brew at P49 and have my beer served in their tasting room.
Saison is not my favourite style and is something I have never considered brewing. Challenge accepted. First stop, my good friend Tony Dewald. I asked him for a bit of direction in making a Saison and the first thing he told me was “Ferment at high temperature, like 35 C”. At first I was a bit confused as I have always fermented ales around 20C and I know that lager yeasts ferment closer to 12C, but the more I thought about it the more it made sense. Saisons are all about funky and interesting flavours. Sometimes barnyard is an appropriate way to describe a Saison. I looked up Saison yeasts and found that some prefer temperatures of at least 32C.
It was still spring time and the ambient temperatures were still fairly cool, so I fermented in my 100 sq ft den using the thermostat and electric baseboard to heat the room and maintain a steady temperature. The thermostat only goes to 33C so that’s the temperature I fermented at. The beer fermented out completely in three days. I left it for a couple more days before transferring to a secondary briefly and bottling. The beer turned out good but the biggest complaint I received on it was that it was too clean and not funky enough. To me that says it could have been fermented at even higher temps with good results.
What does all of this mean? Two things: first, there is a style that you can brew in the middle of August without fermentation temperature control or air conditioning. Second, to improve as a brewer you need to go outside of your comfort zone and try making something that you may not have previously considered. Now go make some beer!