Orchard Potluck: Saison

As previously noted in “The Discovery of Fermentation”, yeasts are just as vital to our process as the apples we choose to ferment. The curiosity we have for apples and their variation is extended to yeast and their finicky, magical ways. Yeasts are numerous and their potential is infinite. Some yeasts are quiet workers, leaving no trace of themselves other than the alcohol they create. They are happy to do their work and become phantoms of fermentation. Other strains are not content with just leaving behind alcohol and allowing the fruit to shine through – no, they want attention, they want recognition alongside the apple, they want the drinker to know and taste and smell their presence. They are nostalgic and sentimental. Before their death they want to leave their mark; they want to do more than just convert sugar into ethanol.  If these idealistic yeasts had a favorite scene in a movie, it would be when Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront says, “I could’ve been a contender. I could’ve had class and been somebody. Real class. Instead of a bum, let’s face it, which is what I am.”

When I first delved into the world of fermentation in 2013 I wanted to ferment everything in sight. High off the fumes of a brand new world, I devoured information about apples, yeasts, fermentation techniques, and anything within reach. I wanted to practice and explore because gathering information means nothing if those procedures aren’t applied and personally observed.

One of the small batch experiments fermented that year was influenced by saison beers. There are numerous interpretations of the style and I was curious what the yeast would do in apple juice. Saison yeast strains demand uncommonly high fermentation temperatures where they can produce a wide array of characteristics ranging from farmhouse to peppery spiciness or even tropical fruit.

In 2013 I fermented a half gallon of Arkansas Black juice with a saison strain. After pitching the yeast, it began fermenting at room temperature for a short period before I confined the carboy to a room with several heaters aimed directly at it. The temperature climbed, the fermentation roared, and the aroma in the room was extramundane. The finished cider was completely different than anything else I’ve tried before because of the yeast strain, not because I managed to do something special. I learned what kind of fermentation environment and treatment the yeast wanted and gave them exactly what they needed. The cider was cloudy and bone dry with reminiscent spiciness that transported me to some of my favorite saisons.

Every year since then we have attempted to make a saison cider on a bigger scale, always added it to the production schedule, but timing and resources preventing it from actually happening. This summer everything aligned itself and we had 400 gallons of Gold Rush juice, a saison yeast strain, and a week of temperatures in the press area above 95°F.

Orchard Potluck: Saison is the next stage of that initial experiment three years ago. Gold Rush’s acidity uplifts the tropical notes and its lack of tannins allows the phenolic spiciness to shine on its own without overlap. The semi-sparkling cider is hazy with yeast still in suspension, the aroma heavy with notes of pineapple, mango, and passion fruit. The acidity hits you before the tropical notes come in, the fruity esters mingling with mild spiciness and a long finish that remains on your palate. It is light, but complex. It is fruity, but dry. The yeasts are the focus; they are the victorious contenders against the quiet, phantom yeast strains and this is their moment.

Orchard Potluck: Saison will be pre-released  to Cider Club in September and to the public at the Grand Opening celebration of our new home in Scott’s Addition (date to be announced soon).  

-Manuel Garcia


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