Beer: Hibiscus Brett Saison

Recipe provided by Mike Foniok from Establishment Brewing in Calgary, AB.

Hisbiscus Brett Saison by Establishment Brewing

This is a recipe for those who are interested in Brett forward beers. Hibiscus is also a very cool ingredient to use in beer. It adds a huge amount of berry fruit notes, a touch of acidity, and a deep red hue. The selection of a funky strain of Brett helps contrast the berry forward, jammy character of the hibiscus flowers, and it’s also super fun to experience how the Brett chews up all the Saison esters and transforms them into something completely different over time. As the beer ages in secondary with Brett, you’ll notice a drop in the classic Saison pepper phenolics and pome/orange esters and an increase of Brett funk, and new fruit aromas. The bitterness is low, since the Brett does a good job drying the beer out, and the hibiscus provides a light tartness for balance. A beer that keeps evolving with time, but best served when the hibiscus character is at it’s peak.  

Targets:

  • OG 1.054
  • FG 1.000 – 1.004
  • IBU 15

Yeast:

  • Primary Yeast: Characterful Saison Strain (WLP566, or one of many great Escarpment Saison strains)
  • Secondary Yeast: Funky Brettanomyces Strain (We use Escarpment Brett D, Brussels Brett, and Brett B)

Malt:

  • 72% Continental Pilsner (Bestmalz or Weyermann)
  • 9% Continental Light Munich (Bestmalz or Weyermann) 
  • 9% Malted Wheat
  • 5% Naked Golden Oats (Simpsons)
  • 4% Acid Malt*

*The acid malt is used for pH adjustment of the mash, targeting at 5.2-5.4 mash pH measured at room temperature. 4% acid is based on using 100% filtered Calgary municipal water, which has moderate alkalinity. Mileage may vary based on your local water source and seasonality. If you change the percentage of acid malt based on your water profile, replace or substitute it with base malt.   

Hops:

  • 60 minute addition of German Magnum or a clean high alpha European bittering hop to achieve 15IBU

Additional Ingredients:

  • Dry hibiscus flowers targeting a dosage rate prior to packaging of ~3 g/L. Hibiscus can usually be found at your local tea shop.
  • Optional: A few toasted oak cubes, blanched with filtered water 
  • If bottle conditioning: Priming sugar and Dry Champagne Yeast EC-1118
  • And last but not least: Time. This beer takes about 4-7 months to complete!

Procedure:
Aim to create a moderately dextrinous wort, by performing a single infusion mash at 66-67C, using local municipal carbon filtered tap water. Target a mash pH of 5.3 ish, measured at room temperature. Brett doesn’t need a lot of residual sugars to create complex flavours, so you don’t have to mash super hot.Ferment the 1.054 and 15IBU wort with a healthy pitch of Saison yeast, until the final gravity is stable for 3 consecutive days. With 566, I pitch around 19C and allow to free raise to 22C and hold until fermentation is complete.

Primary fermentation is typically complete around 5-10 days, and expect a final gravity around 1.004-1.008 depending on the mash schedule, and the primary Saison strain chosen. Allow the yeast to drop out in the primary fermentation vessel (I use 21L glass carboys at home). You don’t have to wait until the beer is crystal clear, the intent here is to allow the majority of the yeast to fall out of solution before you transfer to the secondary fermentation vessel. This should take a few days to a week after final gravity is stable to achieve adequate clarity.

Transfer to a secondary fermentation vessel, minimizing any oxygen exposure. At the brewery we use previously used red wine barrels as secondary vessels, and at home when I was developing this recipe, I used 20L stainless cony kegs, with great results. You could also try a carboy with a well sealing airlock. I have to admit, if you can get your hands on some oak vessels, it does make a difference! The oak ageing vessel doesn’t add a ton of oak flavour (oak flavour isn’t a big component of the flavour profile of the beer) since the wine has already stripped most of that out. Rather the barrel helps encourage Brett flavours to bloom because of micro-oxygenation and small amounts of wood based aromatic components which leach into the beer which Brett can interact with. The Brett also loves to live in oak, so subsequent batches run through the barrel will be inoculated because of the resident microbes present, making the ageing process more intense and rapid. If you want to experiment, adding a few blanched (boiled in filtered water momentarily to strip the raw wood flavour) toasted oak cubes per 20L batch to your secondary vessel. These oak cubes can later be used to inoculate subsequent batches with Brett! 

Once you’ve racked the beer off the primary yeast cake and into your choice of CO2 purged secondary vessel, inoculate with a healthy Brett culture. From this point on, your goal is to keep the temperature of the vessel around 16-20C (basements work great!) and to absolutely minimize oxygen exposure. Too much oxygen and certain strains of Brett will metabolize alcohol into acetic acid (vinegar). Trust me, you don’t want that! If using a corny keg, vent the keg every few weeks or whenever you walk by so the pressure doesn’t build up too much, but keep a bit of pressure in there so oxygen doesn’t get in. If using a carboy, make sure that the airlock stays full, and that there aren’t huge temperature swings, since a fall in temperature will suck air in through the airlock.

You can sample the beer (and you should! You know, for science) to monitor how it progresses, and keep an eye on gravity. Once gravity is stable for 1 month, give it a few more weeks and check again. The Brett should dry the beer out to about 1.000 – 1.004. If you’re confident that the gravity is definitely stable at that point, it’s ready to add hibiscus and package. However, if you leave the beer ageing longer, you’ll continue to get Brett development. Typically 4-6 months on Brett is a good target. Once you’re happy with the level of Brett character, and you’re confident the gravity is stable (this is extremely important if you plan to bottle condition the beer!) you can add 3g/L of hibiscus flowers into the secondary vessel, minimizing oxygen exposure. You can put the flowers in a cheese cloth/nylon sack to prevent cursing and swearing from blocked racking canes! Allow the flowers in contact with the beer for 5 days. 

If you want to bottle the beer, use thick glassed bottles, and be extremely confident that the final gravity is stable! I would recommend re-yeasting with a neutral champagne yeast (dry, re-hydrated EC-1118 works well). Not much extra dry re-hydrated yeast is needed (~0.05g/L). In fact, it’s only a precaution to ensure rapid bottle conditioning, since it’s very likely some primary Saison yeast is alive at this point, and the Brett would eventually ferment the sucrose. Dose the appropriate amount of sugar to achieve a carbonation level of ~3.0 volumes. It’s vital to take into account the residual carbonation level in the beer when calculating priming sugar additions. It’s tricky to estimate, and these residual CO2 levels could be significant (over 1.5 volumes) if you conditioned the beer in a sealed corny keg, so be very careful! Bottle bombs are serious! Bottle conditioning typically takes about 3 to 4 weeks with this procedure. If you don’t want to worry about all that jazz, it’s much easier (and safer) to remove the hibiscus, and force carbonate the beer directly in the corny keg!

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