Belgian Beer Herb & Spice Beer Recipe Saison

Tea time.

Bia Trà Xanh (Green Tea Saison) – 6% ABV – 25 IBU

My favorite tea beer is Rowley Farmhouse Ales’ Tea for Two, a saison fermented with Rowley’s house culture and liberally dry-hopped with Earl Grey tea. Rowley makes a lot of excellent beers, both sour and clean, but Tea for Two is a real standout—one that tastes completely unlike anything else I’ve ever tried.

I’ve been mulling a recipe for a tea beer of my own since January of 2018, when my girlfriend and I visited Da Lat, Vietnam. We were hanging out with Ha Le, our friend and barista from our cafe in Da Nang. We’d spent several days sampling an endless array of awesome coffees and teas at The Married Beans, and one tea in particular blew me away—a super-premium green tea from Northern Vietnam, near the Chinese border.

It isn’t what many of you probably think of when you hear “green tea.” It’s nothing like matcha, or sencha, or any other Japanese-style green. The flavor and aroma is more akin to a Chinese or Taiwanese tea like Oolong. However, it’s not nearly as dark as most of those. It’s a flavor that blew me away when Ha prepared it, and one I’ve never tasted in a beer before. I knew I had to see if I could make it work.

I’ve dialed in a simple base saison recipe over several batches, and I thought it could work well with the Vietnamese tea flavor profile. I couldn’t resist a few tweaks, though. Specifically, I added a little crystal malt and subbed in a new yeast, changes designed to provide a slightly rounder mouthfeel and more residual sweetness to balance the tea tannins.

What’s in it?

The Vitals

  • Method: BIAB, no sparge
  • Batch size: 3 gallons
  • Mash: 60 minutes @ 150F
  • Boil: 60 minutes
  • OG: 1.053
  • FG: 1.008
  • ABV: 6.0%
  • IBU: 25
  • Efficiency: 75% pre-boil conversion, 73% brewhouse

The Grain

  • 5 lbs Pilsner (Best Malz)
  • 1 lbs Red Wheat Malt (Briess)
  • 0.4 lbs Caramel 60L (Briess)

The Hops

  • 9g Pekko [16.8% AA] @ 30 minutes
  • 28g Opal [5.9% AA] @ FO

The Rest

  • Yeast: Wyeast 3726 Farmhouse Ale [Blaugies]
  • Water: Distilled/RO + 3g gypsum, 1.5g calcium chloride, & 0.5tsp lactic acid
  • Extras: 75g Vietnamese green tea, added as dry hop for 6 days (but you could use any premium loose-leaf tea that you enjoy)

How’d it go?

It’s been a little while since I brewed this beer, but I recall the brew day being largely uneventful. I doughed into 4.2 gallons of treated water at 154F, aiming for a 150F mash temp, and hit it pretty well. However Robobrew will Robobrew, so it oscillated between about 148 and 156. After 60 minutes, my preboil SG was 1.046, with a volume of a little under 4 gallons.

Not much to say about the boil. After 60 minutes, I ended up with about 3.2 gallons of wort and an OG of 1.053, a bit too much beer and a bit under the 1.058 that Beersmith predicted. I’m pretty sure this was down to an ultra-aggressive squeeze and too-low boil-off rate. I made adjustments for the next beer I brewed (my polygyle stout), and hit my numbers perfectly with that one. But the next no-sparge BIAB brew will really tell the tale.

I chilled the wort to 68F and pitched a 750mL starter of Wyeast 3726. Boom! Airlock activity within 6 hours. Man, I love saison yeast. By the next morning, the temperature of the wort had free-risen to 71F, and I used a FermWrap to raise it to 74F by the end of the day. I kept bumping it over the next couple days, ending up at 78F, where it stayed until I added the tea.

Primary fermentation was finished in a little under a week, but I let it rest for a total of 11 days, adding the tea just before I took off to L.A. for the Christmas holiday. My plan was to bottle as soon as I got back, about 6 days later. Tea can get pretty tannic even in a cold brew situation, but I was wagering that any tannins in the finished beer would balance the residual sweetness and low IBUs. Plus, I wanted a really strong tea aroma and flavor.

When I got back from the trip, it was clear that I’d gotten it: the beer was super tea-forward—it almost drank more like tea than beer. But prior experience told me that carbonation changes everything, and I was planning to carb this one pretty high.

When I cracked the fermenter to bottle, I was alarmed to find a suspicious-looking white film that had formed on top of the beer. I’ve brewed mixed-culture sours before, so I know what a pellicle looks like. This wasn’t that. But it still looked weird. It didn’t taste or smell weird, though, so I just carbed a little lower than originally planned (around 2.7 vols) and went ahead and bottled. I hoped that if Brett took hold, the extra CO2 headroom would keep me safe from bottle bombs.

That was three weeks ago and so far, so good.

How’s it taste?

My label game needs some work.

I hesitate to call my own beer excellent, because I’m just a novice at this and I’m sure I have a lot to learn, a long way left to go. But if I bought this beer from a commercial brewery, I’d call it excellent.

Appearance: It pours a beautiful, ultra-hazy light orange—haze that was present after dry-hopping with the tea and didn’t go away even after weeks in the fridge, in the bottle. I suspect it comes from the tea itself. It’s capped with the fluffiest, most meringue-like head I’ve ever seen on any beer, not just my own. Seriously stiff peaks that don’t go away until you drink ’em.

Aroma: Typical saison aroma, with predominantly clove-like phenols (not so much banana). On top of the yeast aroma is the smell of the tea itself, lightly flowery and, well, tea-like. The two smells go very well together, in my opinion. I don’t smell the hops much, which makes sense given the low IBUs. Not getting much grain, either. The yeast and tea really dominate this one.

Taste: Up front, you get a burst of fruit: pineapple gives way to grapefruit, which in turn gives way to the earthy, flowery notes of the tea and the spice of the Blaugies yeast. It’s a real rollercoaster ride. The bitterness is unlike other beers; it’s interesting to be able to distinguish hop bitterness and tea bitterness on your tongue in the same moment. They meld well, though, and ultimately the bitterness balances the slight sweetness from the 1.008 FG and the tea itself.

Mouthfeel: Despite the low mashing temp and relatively low ABV/FG, the beer initially feels quite luscious, almost pillowy. The carbonation helps: despite going lower than I originally intended, this beer is still plenty carbonated. It’s easy to re-rouse a big fluffy head by swirling the glass. After swallowing, a tannic dryness develops and lingers on the tongue, making me want another sip.

Would I brew it again?

Yep, I’m already thinking about how to improve it. (Though it came out better than I could have reasonably hoped.) I think next time I might dry-tea it just a day or two less, but with a larger quantity of tea. I’d like to keep the same level of tea aroma and flavor but see how it feels and tastes with a little less tannic dryness. I might also up the kettle hops (or even add a dry-hop charge) to see how higher hop bitterness would play with the tea flavors.

An update:

Green tea saison left, un-tea’d saison right.

Prior to adding the tea, I bottled two flip-tops with the base saison. Today (1/21/19), I opened a bottle of the green tea saison alongside one of these base bottles to compare. The results were interesting.

The base saison is nice, but (to my taste) not bitter enough, perhaps a bit too sweet. If I made it in the future without the green tea, I’d definitely reduce the crystal malt (or eliminate it entirely) and either up the hops overall, or shift some of the IBUs to a late addition for more hop presence in the aroma and taste.

After I poured off a small amount (maybe 3 oz.) from each bottle, I went outside to take photos. When I came back inside, both bottles had foamed over onto my kitchen counter. This recipe is definitely foam-positive.

Also of note: the green tea version holds its head better, and also has finer bubbles. Seems tea itself is foam-positive when added to beer!

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