Sunday, January 6, 2013

Belgian Dark Strong Ale

The flavors of a Belgian dark strong ale come from the interplay of Belgian yeast and candi sugar. Traditionally the flavors in these beers are made with a very simplistic malt bill. It has been rumored that Westvleteren 12 is made with water, pale malt, candi sugar, local hops, and yeast. Those five things combine to form one of the worlds best beers. A while back I ordered a pitch of Belgian Abbey from East Coast Yeast so that gives me another ECY to evaluate.

My plan for this beer was to explore my home made candi sugar vs. the store bought kind but I can tell you after tasting the store bought one that it is better. I'm not sure how to describe the differences. The store bought one had the same deep caramel flavors as my home made variety. I would describe these as burnt sugar. It also had a metallic but pleasing flavor and a sugary flavor that added to everything else that was going on. The multi dimensional flavors of the authentic candi sugar make me want to use it in other Belgian beers moving forward.

(please read more after the break.)

Belgian Candi Sugar
This is the indispensable ingredient in a Belgian dark strong ale . Commercial examples come in a range similar to how caramel malts are rated. Candi Syrup, Inc offers their candi sugars in a range including: 180, 90, 45, 25, and clear. For this recipe I plan to utilize the the darkest variety of dark candi sugar, D 180.

BJCP Guidelines:
"Belgian yeast strains prone to production of higher alcohols, esters, and sometimes phenolics are commonly used. Water can be soft to hard. Impression of a complex grain bill, although many traditional versions are quite simple, with caramelized sugar syrup or unrefined sugars and yeast providing much of the complexity. Homebrewers may use Belgian Pils or pale base malt, Munich-type malts for maltiness, other Belgian specialty grains for character. Caramelized sugar syrup or unrefined sugars lightens body and adds color and flavor (particularly if dark sugars are used). Noble-type, English-type or Styrian Goldings hops commonly used."

Recreating a Classic:
All that from the BJCP makes sense given that the folks at candi syrup offer this up for a Westy 12 clone. A recent article on single malt single hops in zymurgy eludes to the recipe being this simple. The remaining variables that exist past the recipe are fermenting conditions, water quality, and process. I am quite happy to give this a try knowing that it won't be ready for possibly a year or more.

5 lbs 6.0 oz Pilsner (2 Row) Bel (2.0 SRM) 52.4 % 
3 lbs 10.0 oz Pale Ale (Dingemans) (3.3 SRM) 35.4 % 
1 lbs 4.0 oz Candi Sugar, Dark (180.0 SRM) 12.2 % 
0.60 oz Brewer's Gold [8.00 %] - Boil 63.0 min 21.7 IBUs 
0.60 oz Styrian Goldings [5.40 %] - Boil 23.0 min  9.6 IBUs 
0.60 oz Hallertauer Mittelfrueh [4.00 %] - Boil 10 min 3.9 IBUs 
1.0 pkg Belgian Abbaye (East Coast Yeast #ECY09)

Recipe Specifications:
Boil Size: 4.53 gal 
Batch Size (fermenter): 3.00 gal 
Estimated OG: 1.092 SG 
Estimated Color: 27.7 SRM 
Estimated IBU: 35.1 IBUs 
Boil Time: 90 Minutes 

Mash Schedule: Double Infusion, Medium Body, Batch Sparge 
Protein Rest Add 10.00 qt of water at 130.2 F 122.0 F 25 min 
Mash In Add 8.00 qt of water at 203.0 F 155.0 F 90 min 
Sparge: Batch sparge with 1 steps (1.36gal) of 170.0 F water
Brew Day:
This was a good learning experience. On brew day one I accidentally added to much water to my mash trusting a probe thermometer. That did not work. Next time I am going to trust my calculations. I dumped the mash down the sink and threw the grain off the deck for deer or rodents to eat. Even this went poorly as I accidentally dropped the mash tun on the way outside, another mess to clean up.

Brew Day Redux:
This went much better. The mash was fine, took a bit longer than normal being a double infusion. The boil went well. Slow to start, quick to cool because of the cold. The boil was easy. I used the timer on beersmith 2.0 to perfection. It let me know when to add hops and such. The beer was a beautiful garnet color inside of the autosyphon tube. Contrast against the snow it was quite striking.

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