Sunday, 19 June 2016

Basic Spelt Saison Recipe

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you might have noticed that I stopped posting recipes at some point.  This was a conscious decision rather than laziness, but it didn't come from any desire to be secretive about my home-brew.  The real reason is that I just don't think that precise recipes are all that important, especially for the kinds of beer I make, and I think posting them can be a bit of a distraction. (If I were making a lot of stouts or amber ales, I might feel differently.) For me the real interest is in the thought process behind the recipe, rather than the numbers on the page.

However, when the team behind the wiki at Milk the Funk asked for some home-brew recipes from regular posters, I decided to provide one that I brew quite regularly.  And having taken the time to write out the details of my process, I figured I might as well turn that material into a post that could serve as a sort of complement to the "A Typical Brew Day" post at the top of the blog (which needs to be updated), using it to describe some of the thinking behind the recipe.  Hopefully people won't find the 'sloppiness' of my approach too horrifying!  As you'll see, there are ways in which I am a very imprecise brewer...

The recipe I provided is for a Basic Spelt Saison, i.e. a dry, bitter, hoppy beer with a reasonably low ABV.  If you want some pedigree, a version of this beer scored 43.5 at MCAB this year, and took bronze in its category.  I have made this recipe, or variations on it, at least ten times, and it probably has as good a claim as any to be my 'standard' saison recipe.  That already shows you something that I think is important in the way I think about home-brew (and that is important background to the details of my brew day): repetition.  For any recipe I'm serious about, I'll rebrew it time after time after time.

I learnt how important this is from making bread.  I'm by no means an expert baker, though I can usually throw together a decentish loaf from any recipe, and know a reasonable amount about the techniques and processes involved in baking.  But I have been making the same sourdough loaf, or variations on it, 1-3 times a week for at least the past five years.  They don't always come out great, but when I put my mind to it, I can make a good loaf, and when they don't come out well I usually know what's gone wrong.  Some of that came from reading a lot about bread-making, but most of it is from making the same loaf over and over again.

So, with that in mind, on to the recipe:


24.2% Unmalted Spelt
75.8% Pilsner


60 min - EKG - 20 IBUs
20 min - EKG - 8 IBUs
2 min - EKG 2 IBUs


Saison blend

O.G. 1.046
F.G. 1.002-4

Yes, that's it!  In a way, you don't need to know anything more, if you know your way around your own equipment.  But I'll include some commentary and suggestions , as well as some details of my process on brew-day.


First, why 24.2% of spelt and 75.8% of pilsner?  Well, after several test batches, in which I varied the proportions deliberately and precisely, I decided this was the perfect ratio...  

Just kidding.  I originally brewed a recipe with 70% pilsner and 30% spelt, the proportions provided for Blaugies Saison d'Epeautre in Farmhouse Ales, with an O.G. in the mid-1.040s, because that would give me a moderately strong (by my standards) but drinkable beer.  As I started to repeat it, I began to make some small changes.  First, a single bag of unmalted spelt from Bob's Red Mill weighs about 800 grams.  Opening two bags to get a different amount is a bit of a nuisance, especially if I'm not baking with spelt at the moment, so I decided to stick with one.  Add 2.5 kg of pilsner malt to that (an easy number to remember), and---on my equipment---you get a predicted O.G. in the range I was looking for.  That means the recipe is less than 70/30, but its close enough to not make a big difference.  My O.G. is reliably between 1.044 and 1.046.

I often vary the grist slightly, depending on what I'm going for and what grains I have on hand.  Here are some suggestions (I've listed them as percentages, but I usually round off to a convenient weight, typically 300g, 500g, 1kg, etc.):
  • Sub in 5-15% Munich or Vienna malt.  I add Vienna fairly frequently, and Munich if I'm adding other adjuncts to this base to make a darker, maltier beer.
  • Sub in 10-40% of a characterful base malt.  I've used Golden Promise, 6-row, and US 2-row, either from necessity or because I thought the flavours would work well.  
  • Add adjuncts.  The spelt gives this beer a nice full mouthfeel, which means the recipe can stand up well to relatively large amounts of sugar.  I've taken this base recipe and added a container's worth of either Candi Syrup or honey.  The latter worked particularly well. 
  • Add post-fermentation flavourings.  I've added a hibiscus tea at bottling, along with some fruity brett strains, and I thought it came out great.


The hops listed above are just a suggestion.  EKG work well, and its pretty hard to get too much bitterness from them, so I often go as high as 40 or even 45 IBUs, especially if I'm planning on letting the beer sit for a while post-fermentation.  The fuller, fluffy mouthfeel from the spelt helps the beer stand up to this bitterness, even though it finishes fairly dry.

I tend to stick to European hops, or American varieties that have some of the same characteristics, since I'm looking to both complement and accentuate the slightly savoury characteristic of the spelt with earthy, spicy, citrusy flavours. But I don't see why this recipe couldn't work with some of the North American or Southern Hemisphere hops as well.

I occasionally add a light dry-hop (1-1.5g/l), especially if I've let the beer sit for a few months during a secondary fermentation.  I'm usually going for something quite subtle here, trying to slightly accentuate existing flavours and aromas, rather than adding a new layer that screams 'HOPS!'.


I've used various blends of saison yeast for this recipe, and they all work well: just pick something that will get it fairly dry.  If I had to name one, I'd say Wyeast 3726. Recently I've been using two blends with this strain, one that is a combination of 3726 and 3724, and one that is a combination of 3726 and The Yeast Bay's Saison Blend II.

I also think this beer works well with brettanomyces.  My preference is for a more subtle brett character that emerges gradually as the beer ages, so with that in mind I prefer to pitch a small amount of brettanomyces in secondary or at bottling.  I've been using Wyeast's Brettanomyces Clausenii a lot recently (in the form of dregs from previous batches), as well as The Yeast Bay's Beersel Blend.  Based on what I've heard from a local homebrewer who works at Omega Yeast Labs, I think the brettanomyces strain in their C2C American Farmhouse blend would also work well, so you could just pitch that.

The fuller mouthfeel also means that the beer stands up well to a bit of acidity.  My preferred method for achieving this is by blending in some aged sour beer.  You may want to dial back the bitterness a bit if you're planning to do such blending.  I typically don't bother, because the hops I use rarely give a harsh bitterness, and I enjoy the changing balance between bitterness and tartness as the beer ages.


Because of the relatively large proportion of spelt in this recipe, I typically do a cereal mash. The process is quite straight-forward for Brew in a Bag, but may require some modification for other mashing regimes.  I'm still a little ambivalent about the best time to add the spelt porridge to the main mash.  Some of my recent beers made with the process below have had lower head-retention than I'm used to, and I'm still trying to work out if that is from using a more modified pilsner malt, or from including the spelt porridge in the first protein rest.
  1. Crush spelt separately to consistency of grits.  For me, that means running it through my Corona mill twice on a fairly tight setting (too tight and the mill sticks).  
  2. Bring the spelt grits to a boil in a large saucepan with a few litres of water (subtract this from the volume of your main batch, or take it directly from the liquor in the main kettle). Keep at a boil, stirring to prevent scorching, until it forms a thick porridge: usually 15-20 minutes. This stage can be done prior to brew day, with the cooled spelt porridge stored in the fridge till required.  [NB: I often throw in a handful of crushed pilsner malt as well (yes, a handful, I don't measure it).  I think the enzymes convert some of the sugars as mix passes through the conversion temperatures on its way to a boil.  Sometimes I'll let it rest for ten minutes at around 150°F first.]
  3. Heat main mash liquor and dough in with grist and spelt porridge, aiming for an initial temperature of 131F. You may need to break up the spelt porridge with your hands if you stored it before use. Keep at this temperature for around 15-20 minutes. [Optional step: you can also include an earlier rest at around 113F. This may aid with lautering and possibly increase phenolics from any brettanomyces strains.]
  4. Raise mash to around 145F. Keep at this temperature for 40-50 minutes.
  5. Raise mash to around 154F. Keep at this temperature for 20 minutes.
  6. Raise to 168F. Mash out and lauter. Top-up with water to reach your desired pre-boil volume. Proceed with boil.

Here's what I typically do post-boil:

Cool beer to around 65F. Oxygenate, pitch yeast, and allow to free-rise. (In the summer, I would keep it in my fermentation chamber set at 70F for 24-26 hours.) At the moment I prefer to add a small amount of brettanomyces after primary fermentation is underway, or in secondary.  This is because I'm looking for a slower development of the brett-related flavours.

Hopefully that was helpful, or at least interesting, to someone out there.


  1. Indeed. Thx for sharing. Is the spelt just raw berries? Or rolled spelt?

    1. I use raw berries, but I'm sure you could substitute rolled spelt and get a similar beer. You might be able to skip the cereal mash too.

  2. Great post Amos, Im going to be using more Spelt so this was helpful.