This took longer to get to then I had hoped but we finally got together (virtually) and did a blind tasting of these three different Saison beers. The description of the three beers as well as the recipe can be found at https://www.sonatabeerlabs.com/a-saison-yeast-comparison-pt-1. Briefly, I brewed a 1/2 BBL of a pretty standard Saison recipe and then fermented 5 gallons with three different Saison strains – French Saison, Old World Saison Blend and Jotunn. All three were kegged and force carbonated and then bottled in 500 ml swing top bottles via a counter-pressure bottle filler.
The three tasters were myself and my friends Tom Morgan and Ashley Whitney-Rawls. Both are extremely talented home brewers and National-ranked beer judges. And they both love Saison as much as I do. The three beers were randomized so none of us knew which was which while tasting them.
The first beer we tried turned out to be the one fermented with French Saison. The aroma had restrained notes of banana and bubble gum along with a peppery phenolic character. Some hints of sweet grain but that was very much in the background. Tom mentioned that it reminded him of fresh Hennepin. Not the stuff that has sat for 6 months on the grocery store shelf but a real fresh bottle. I got hints of peach/apricot stone fruit that the others did not.
The flavor followed pretty well with the aroma though the bubble gum, though still restrained, came through more than the banana did on the nose. There was a lingering peppery/clove spice that stuck with you. Tom and I very much enjoyed that while Ashley was not as big of a fan. The beer was very dry, finishing at 1.002, so that definitely accentuated to the spicy notes at the finish. Of this three beers, this had the lightest mouthfeel
Old World Saison Blend
This was the unanimous favorite of the group. The aroma as very fruity with more bubble gum then the French Saison but still in the background. Notes of ripe pear and apple. The apple was not in the acetaldehyde/green apple sense but more like a ripe Gala of Honey Crisp. It worked very well. There as a lower level of peppery spice than found in the French Saison but definitely there in the background.
With the first sip, I immediately noticed the much fuller mouthfeel as compared to the French Saison. There was an undercurrent of grain sweetness that worked well with the low level phenolics. Similar fruity characteristics as in the aroma with the added hint of light citrus in the mid-pallet.
This one was a bit of a pleasant surprise as it had some unique flavors not found in the others. First and foremost, the nose was that of citrus (orange and perhaps tangerine) and vanilla. As it warmed, notes of bubble gum were also present. There were no noticeable phenolics on the nose.
This had an even bigger mouthfeel then the Old World Saison Blend. The phenolics were subdues and mainly on the mid-pallet. The peppery notes did not linger in the finish as it did with the French Saison. In fact, the finish was quite clean. The citrus/vanilla notes were also evident when tasting it and this beer had the most malt character of the three.
After tasting and comparing notes, we tried to guess which was which. Ashley got it right while Tom and I switched the French Saison and the Old World Saison Blend. All in all, I enjoyed all three of these beers and was pleasantly surprised by how different they were from one another. The Jotunn was probably the biggest surprise, in a very pleasant way. I wonder (and I have no inside information on this at all) if the Kveik in the Jotunn was Voss or a strain similar to Voss. This could account for the notes of orange in both the flavor and aroma. In fact, the orange notes are quite similar to the orange in the Rivenes APA I brewed and wrote up recently.