Thursday, November 10, 2011

Belgians by the Numbers

The naming convention for Belgian beers has always amused me, enkle, dubbel, triple, quadruple. Based on what I've read the naming convention is nothing more than a way to measure alcohol. While the beers have fallen into various styles now that trends developed over time as breweries and abbeys tried to copy and outdo each other.

Before we get into the brewing it's important to understand where these beers come from in the real world; I'll share a bit of history. Long ago baby Jesus was born in a stable. Fast forward 900 years and monks following Jesus started to live in monasteries and brew beer. These monasteries still exist and still brew beer. Perhaps the best brewers come from the St. Sixtus' Abbey, Westvleteren, which belongs to the Cistercians of Strict Observance, or Trappists, and is located in Westvleteren, West Flanders, in Belgium. They brew the highest rated beer in the world Westvleteren 12.

(read more after the break.)

Earlier this year I made a Belgian Single. There isn't technically a BJCP style tailored for this, it would best fit into the Belgian catch all category, Belgian specialty ale. The Single(enkle) could also known as Paters-bier. There aren't many commercial examples of this beer. The origin of this beer is the table beer of Belgian monks, a simple beer with low alcohol meant to be drank with meals. Think of it as beer soda. This style is having a renaissance of sorts because the simple recipe can create lots of flavors from different yeasts and microbes, is cheap, and can showcase flavors at various strengths easily.

My plan is to brew these in sequence: enkle, dubbel, triple, quadruple.

A Dubbel is like a single beefed up with amber candi sugar and/or dark Belgian grains. These dark grains add a rich malty sweetness to the pilsner base. These flavors can come forward as caramel, chocolate, or light roast(should not be burnt or acrid). Alcohol should be well integrated. The color should be medium copper to dark red, sometimes brownish, and clearer than some. Other characteristic Belgian traits apply, fruity esters, spicy phenolics, and a giant rocky off white head.

A Triple is like a beefed up single, dried out and pumped up with clear candi sugar. The flavors of moderate to significant spiciness, moderate fruity esters prevail with low alcohol and hop aromas.  The yeast should lend generous spicy, peppery, sometimes clove-like phenols with esters that are reminiscent of oranges, but may sometimes have a slight banana character. The BJCP describes this beer as the marriage of fruit and spice. The appearance should be golden to light copper with a tall rocky Belgian head. The mouth feel should be of effervescent carbonation and thinness.

A Quadruple technically doesn't have a BJCP style, but is encompassed in the Belgian strong dark ale category. If you look at the BJCP listing for that style you'll see some things I wouldn't consider to be part of a quadruple and rather to be more part of  other dark strong ales. A quadruple should have a rich malty sweetness. The flavor can have a Munich-type quality often with a caramel, toast and/or bready aroma. The fruity esters are strongish, and can contain raisin, plum, dried cherry, fig or prune notes. Spicy phenols may be present, but usually have a peppery quality not clove-like. Alcohols should have a low intensity and lend themselves to the fruity feel. Hops are not usually present (but a very low noble hop aroma is acceptable). Spice additions are fine for complexity but should not be recognizable as spice additions. The beer should be darker like a dubble while still being translucent. The characteristic Belgian head should also be on top of this style.

My original plan was to brew these as one gallon batches with Safbrew T-58 Ale Yeast, however because I wanted to isolate as many variables as possible I am going to use Wyeast's Ardennes Strain. Because I need so many cells I'm going to need to make a 2L starter with my new flask (thanks cute girl who bought it for me!). It's my hope to brew all three remaining beers in a single day tracking how I integrated my enkle recipe into each one. I'll truly be stepping up the recipe and the alcohol for each.

I'm not sure how regular or how crazy these are going to be. Crazy commercial themes included: Dubbels that went along the lines of other darker beers with chocolate or oaked versions, triples with heavy hops, fruits or oak aging, and quadruples on oak, cherries, or made with chocolate. Each style was also represented by bourbon barrel aged varieties. Some of the crazier examples I've had include Bourbon Barrel Quad from The Boulevard, A quad aged in oak, with tart cherries. Caudruple from The Bruery, a quad made with a stronger than normal dose of hops and agave nectar. Curieux from Allagash, a subtle bourbon barrel aged triple. New glarus had a chocolate dubbel in their thumb print series.

Well that's my plan, the recipes will come in a post to follow this. Look for them as separate posts after my projected brew day of November 10th.

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