Currently, I work for Endless Summer Harvest, a hydroponic farm in Purcellville that grows leafy green vegetables year-round. My job has given me a lot of great opportunities to meet local producers and find interesting ingredients to use in beers. I’ve been focused on winter beers since it is, after all, winter, but now I’m working on a more summery beer for the Master Series: Endless Summer basil saison.
The basil we grow at Endless Summer really is the best. It’s sold still alive, with the roots still attached, harvested the morning before it goes to market. You can’t get any fresher than that. It is also bigger and more robust than any basil you’ve ever seen before, thanks to the power of hydroponic gardening.
Saison is a natural fit for using basil. It’s a French style of beer that has become very popular in America. Saison was traditionally produced by farming households in Belgium and France, and uses special yeast that not only tolerates the hot temperatures of the French summer, but needs them to realize its true potential. While the Belgian abbey ale strain I use thrives in the 70’s and 80’s, saison yeast likes it as high as 90 degrees! Keep in mind that the vast majority of ale yeasts need to be kept in the 60’s, otherwise they produce some bad off-flavors. Saison yeast not only likes the high temps, but needs them to produce the fruity flavors that are the hallmark of the style, and just as importantly, make the beer dry.
You see, saison is one of many styles that needs to finish very dry. When a beer is dry, it is low in residual sugars. The effect is that the beer tastes crisper. The malt flavor leaves the tongue quickly, allowing other flavors to stand out. In this case, the other flavor components are spicy rye malt, a touch of rummy flavor from turbinado sugar, fruitiness from the yeast, and, of course, the basil. Three ounces of freshly picked basil are added at the end of the boil, and also directly to the beer once fermentation is complete.