Orange Chocolate Saison

I’m now going into my second year of homebrewing and it’s starting to get wild. Sometimes hobbies fade, but this one still seems to be picking up momentum. In the beginning I was brewing almost exclusively out of the essential Brewing Classic Styles recipe book, with a few clone recipes mixed in. I think this was a good start, because it helped me learn about malts, hops, and yeast; their varieties and peculiarities. I am by no means an expert on these things after 2 years, but I recently decided it’s time to grow up. Time to start making my own recipes. Orange-chocolate saison was one of the first.

This beer and recipe are inspired by an actually beer you can buy. Though I wasn’t trying to clone that beer, nor does mine taste anything like it. Jolly Pumpkin makes a beer around the holidays called Maracaibo Especial. According to their site it is

A rich brown ale inspired by the enigmatic monastic brews of Belgium, and the mysterious mist shrouded jungles of the tropics. Brewed with real cacao, and spiced with cinnamon and sweet orange peel for a sensual delight. A brew to be sipped, savored, and enjoyed!

From what I can tell, Jolly Pumpkin specialized exclusively in “farm house ales” or more colloquially, saisons. (Saison is Belgian for season, and refers to beers brewed warm, in summer). I believe they also use brettanomyces; a special strain of brewers yeast which produces earthy tones. They also barrel age all their beers which gives it oaky, and oxidized notes.

I find this beer incredibly intriguing, though I’m not sure I would want to drink 5 gallons of it. And I was prepared to do virtually none of those special brewing things that Jolly Pumpkin does. So I made up my own recipe, inspired by maracaibo especial.

I wanted it to be super chocolatey, with just subtle spice notes. I was prepared to add cocoa powder to the brew but I wanted to get a lot of the chocolate flavors from the grain itself. There is a specialty grain called chocolate malt, which is roasted very brown like cocoa. It is said that chocolate malt adds the bitterness of chocolate but not much sweetness, therefore does not give you a chocolate-bar flavor. Another grain called black malt gives lots of roasty-sweet flavors, bitter-sweet like espresso or dark chocolate. I stuck with the same ‘spice bill’ as the parent beer. I also threw in half a pound of caramel malt, to give it more sweetness and round out the body a bit. The recipe is for 5.5 gallon batch, assuming 70% efficiency.

Orange-Chocolate Saison
Grain Bill
9# US 2-row (2 L)
1# German Munich (10 L)
0.5# US Chocolate Malt (350 L)
0.5# Crystal 60 (60 L)
0.25# Black Patent (500 L)

Hops
5/8 oz Challenger 8.8%, First Wort
1 oz Saaz 3.1%, 25 min
1 oz Saaz 3.1%, 2 min

Spices
1 oz Sweet Orange Peel (dried), 5 min
0.5 oz Bitter Orange Peel (dried) 5 min
2 oz Cocoa Powder, 5 min
1 tsp Cinnamon, 5 min
1 Vanilla Bean; split, chopped, and soaked in vodka, secondary

I really love Wyeast 3711, French Saison yeast for it’s great esters and malt-chomping capacity; but it can be hard to come by. So I fermented with White Labs WLP568 Saison Blend (go local). OG 1.052, FG 1.016.

Tasting: The beer is quite good after a few 4-5 weeks in the bottle and a week in the fridge. Very chocolatey and bit roasty but balanced and not overpowering, almost like a porter. There is a subtle tartness from the saison yeast and a little hop spiciness. The spices are just below the threshold of detection, you could almost miss them if you didn’t know they were there. If I brew this again I think I would add even more orange. But overall I love this beer! It has intriguing notes while still being very drinkable. I can’t wait to see what my brew-friends think of it.

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