Clam Chowder Saison (or… Chowdah Saison)

John Palmer, Denny and Drew Brewing Selfie It all started with Denny being a smart ass. To some of our dallying All-Stars, Denny sent the following line in an email

I really didn’t want to have to bug you like this…really! But Drew said if I didn’t he’d release his recipe for Manhattan Clam Chowder Saison.

Now, my family history runs deep in this country. My mom has traced people back in the family line to the Mayflower, because that’s what you do – it’s the American equivalent of my Chinese friends saying how they’re related to Confucius. At the very least, despite being born and raised in the South, my family goes long and proud on the rocky shores of New England. The very thought of putting tomatoes in a chowder is an insult of the highest order, hence the pejorative name of “Manhattan…” Funnily, historically speaking, Manhattan Clam Chowder has nothing to do with Manhattan, NY. It was born out of Portuguese immigration to Providence, Rhode Island. Once settled in Providence, the newly arrived Portuguese, in an attempt to melt into the melting pot, adapted the creamy New England Clam Chowder into a stew closer to home full of tomatoes. Naturally, this “innovation” was rejected by staunch crusty old New Englanders. Since anything irredeemably bad comes from New York, the chowder was named labelled as Manhattan style clam chowder. Ok, back to the main story here – one of my favorite things to do to Denny is make him balk at a crazy brewing idea. It’s fun, but maybe that’s because I’m strange. So, I reacted as any person with a love of Clam Chowder and an odd sense of ego. “Oh yeah? Well, I’m going to make a proper New England Clam Chowder Saison” And with the timing of Denny and I going to Brazil and Denny visiting for a day before we leave – it’s a perfect opportunity to double the torture and have a beer for the conference. And hey, what do you know – we got joined by genu-wine brewing celebrity, John Palmer! We crush! I need to have Denny over more often because the mill behaved with him. It usually likes to fight me! This brings us to how to make a Clam Chowder Saison… first you must abandon literal reality. When performing an act of culinary deconstruction, the literal makeup of the targeted experience isn’t the most important thing – the sensation of the experience is. In other words, when you look at this recipe, you’ll notice there is no cream, no onions, no flour, no butter – all things absolutely essential to a hot piping satisfying bowl of chowdah. Why not? Well, cause it would make a god awful beer with the fat, the haze and the sulfur. To me the point of these sorts of odd deconstructions isn’t to do a literal pickup and translation – it’s to give you the best melding of the two sensations. I strongly feel that dairy, most fats and sulfur will interfere with that goal. For those of you, who just said “ewwwwwww” to the whole concept, that’s part of the point of some of these beers. I revel in the challenge of creating a beer with a specific vision that may make people squeamish until they try the beer and exclaim in an Agent Dale Cooper fashion “That was a damn fine cup of beer”. People thought I was mad with my Saison Guacamole, but that works like a charm! What does a beer need for clam chowderiness?

  • Richness
  • Herbal tones
  • Brineyness

So here’s what I choose to reach those notes:

  • Richness – use a healthy dose of oat malt; Maris Otter makes an appearance for that crackery note, French Saison yeast lends a thicker body, flaked potatoes yield a silkiness
  • Herbal tones – used Magnum for neutral bittering and US Fuggles for it’s herbal earthy notes. Additionally, a big step at the finish of classic chowder spices – bay leaf, black pepper, thyme.
  • Brininess – gotta get the clams in there somehow and in this case we used bottled clam juice during steeping. Didn’t have any fresh clams to add to the boil and canned clams always have a tinniness that I’d like to avoid

N.B. Oat malt also helps with the flaked potatoes since Oat malt contains a lot of husk material. If not using Oat malt, make sure to use a bunch of rice hulls to avoid potato clumps! Doughing In Drew unsuccessfully throws flaked potatoes in John’s face – hits mash tun instead Checking in on the mash – the potatoes were surprisingly aromatic at this stage After the ferment, I’ll check on the taste and see if we need to adjust with any tinctures or additional clam juice. (Celery seed for instance is traditional, but I forgot to pick it up.) This brew day also involved one of my other favorite brewing tricks – splitting the batch. After the boil, the beer was whirl pooled and half was chilled into the fermenter. Once collected, the chilling was stopped and the herbs, spices and clam juice was added to the boil kettle. The mix was allowed to steep for 10 minutes and then chilled and sent to a separate fermenter. Both batches were pitched with 3711 French Saison. The “plain” version will either be served straight or possibly dosed with some of my homemade Earl Grey Tincture for a spin on the flavor profile. The tincture would be added at kegging.

Clam Chowdah Saison

For 11 gallons at 1.058, 33 IBUs, 4.4 SRM, ~6.4% abv


10 lbs Domestic 2 Row

7 lbs Maris Otter

3 lbs Oat Malt

2 lbs Wheat Malt

2 lbs Flaked Potatoes (make sure your potato mix doesn’t contain butter and cream solids to make mashed potatoes! We used Hoosier Hill Farms.)


– Rest at 149-151F for 60 minutes. Recirculate and batch sparge


1.15 oz Magnum 12.9% 60 minutes

1.0 oz US Fuggles 4.5% 10 minutes


Wyeast 3711 French Saison Yeast

Other Ingredients (for 5.5 gallons – double if making a full 11 gallons of Chowdah. Add at knockout and steep for 10 minutes)

1.0 oz Bay Leaf

1 tsp Black Peppercorns

4 sprigs Fresh Thyme

8.0 oz Clam Juice (with clams)

1 tsp Salt

Follow Drew’s Saison Schedule Cookie the Wonder Dog says “Don’t forget to guard your precious wort!”