In what I believe to be my final brewery visit of this year, I made the windy, rural trip to Gussignies, France. It is in this small corner of the world, one little brewery has been consistently pumping out quality for over 30 years.
Brasserie Au Baron is nestled into a fabulous brick structure alongside a creek with a nearby waterfall. The once little brewery is connected directly to the restaurant bearing the same name. Its one of those places that would be glorious to visit in the summer, sadly I was there in mid November; but, at any rate I was not going to miss the opportunity to visit this storied place. I say once little because they have just added 4 20hl fermentors, yay more Au Baron!
Au Baron is known primarily for their blonde/saison/bier de garde ‘Cuvée Des Jonquilles’. Shelton Brothers imports the liquid gold to the states and they have limited distribution around Europe; however, they exist for their local market as over 80% doesn’t leave France. While I wish I could easily source their beer when I am back in Australia, I respect and admire this decision to take care of their home market first. After all, this is really the spirit of Farmhouse brewing, isn’t it?
The Cuvée Des Jonquilles is a highly complex, bone dry, peppery and fruity beer. That being said, when you see it poured, it is immediately apparent that it is also very simple. From this, I don’t mean its common or lacks finesse; rather, its more similar to a table wine or loaf… utilising great materials mixed with experienced techniques to make something that is truly worth its value. If this doesn’t make sense to you, it may be a good idea to read some of my previous posts which talk about the value of restraint in brewing.
Before I visited the brewery, I had only ever tasted one of their beers. When I was at Jester King in October, I was lucky to share a bottle of Noblesse Oblige, the 4% collaboration beer between JK and Au Baron. It was the lightest beer I had ever seen, but wasn’t watery at all. I could tell their yeast was special, so I had to visit. Much to my delight, Au Baron makes a handful of other beers that I was able to try when I visited and they did’t disappoint. Notably, their Bier de Noel ‘Saison Saint Médard’, was incredible… I only had one bottle and immediately regretted not getting more. It was beautifully bready with a hue between amber and brown and what tasted like a modest mixture of seasonal spices that finished bone dry, encouraging you back to the bottle for a second taste.
However much I loved the Bier de Noel, it wasn’t the beer I was chasing… I wanted to know about the Jonquilles. So I spoke to Xavier about it most, and here is what I learned.
I’m going to make this short, their process isn’t too far deviated from others I have written about.
Firstly, its 100% pilsner malt. Good ingredients make good beer, hey. So if you want to make this, start with your saison Dupont base and forget about the specialty malts. Shoot for 7% (or lower like I would). Single infusion mash, anywhere from an hour to 2 hours. With how dry it is, I would suggest to start on the lower side and let your sparge raise the temp slightly to get some more alpha amylase action.
In the kettle add some hops early to keep the boil down, use a low AA% from the old world. Throughout the boil add what you like. This beer is not about bitterness, this is a beer for your yeast to shine, I would keep the hops below 20 IBU, less if you can. The yeast will add the pepper you want. Hour long boil, knock out around 22-25 C (72-77 F).
For fermentation, add a healthy dose of their yeast. Grow some up from their bottles if you can, if not… the saison Dupont strain will work well. Stray away from the Belle Saison styles or the cleaner French Saison strains (WY3711). Pitch your healthy yeast into your tank and set your jackets to 27-28 C (80-82 F). Let fermentation continue at this temperature for at least 5 days.
After a week, transfer your beer off most of its yeast into another container and garde that sucker. By this I mean, hold the beer at a cold temperature for an extended period. At Au Baron, the magic formula is around 6 C (42F) for at least 2 weeks. If this doesn’t make sense to you, split your batch, do a side by side test of your beers… one with the garde one without. You tell me which one is more complex at the end, I have a strong suspicion as to which one will taste better. I spoke about this process a lot and its reasons in the Brasserie Thiriez post; however, Daniel gardes around 12C for 3 weeks.
After its garde, mix in some priming sugar and some more yeast if necessary and package your beer. It is imperative that a beer like this is bottle conditioned, preferably on its side too. If you aren’t bottle conditioning your saisons or Belgian styles they are missing something. Not only does this help the beer achieve the mouthfeel you are looking for, it also promotes a tighter bead in your foam. Once packaged, let it sit warm 20-22C (68-71F) for at least a month. You need to view this step as part of the fermentation, not an ends to a mean.
After that, drink it. Easy. Serve at cellar temp 12-15C (53-59F) to really taste the yeast.
Easy does it
Time and time again, I am blown away by the simplicity surrounding making these beers and the complexity they end up with. Its the provenance that created them, their terroir. If you want to make a good meal, don’t buy your ingredients from a supermarket… and if you want to make a great saison, get your hands on good malt, better yeast and put your watch in the drawer, it will tell you when its ready.