Brewing Belgian Beers (#2): Belgian ales

1.044-1.054, 4-6% ABV, 20-30 IBU, 3.5-12 SRM Pale to brown. Bitterness, hop flavor and aroma should be noticeable, with noble or classic types preferred. Low to medium esters. Low malt aroma, restrained caramel or toasted (biscuit) malt flavor ok. Medium body. No diacetyl, alchohol flavors, or roasted (black) malt. Medium carbonation.

Keep in mind that these should be easily drinkable everyday beers, the kind you'll have when you're planning to drink more (many more) than one. These are generally beers of standard strength that combine subtle Belgian-tasting yeast flavors with noticeable hop character that is frequently pilsner-like, leaving a pleasant lingering bitterness in the aftertaste. Subtlety, finesse and balance are the most important factors.

Unfortunately this is one of the AHA's problem categories, as there are a few commercial examples of spiced beers that might also fall in here. Judges should also be prepared for variations, particularly mini-versions of stronger Belgian ales. However, I think the original intention was to focus on beers like DeKoninck and Vieux Temps, which are not spiced.

Brewing Method:

Standard infusion or step mashing techniques are fine. Most commercial versions use pilsner malt as a base, employ protein rest, and use hops such as Saaz, Hallertau, East Kent or Styrian Goldings, and other classics. Creative use of yeasts and yeast/hop combinations are good, as long as neither predominates and all are relatively restrained. Judicious use of small amounts of caramel malts and toasted malts such as Victory or Biscuit malt is ok, but the body should remain light and not very sweet or satiating; the vast majority of the grist should be pilsner malt or light extract.

Common Problems:

  1. Solvent or fusel flavors. A change of yeast or lower fermentation temperature should help.
  2. Needs more hops. Subtle lingering bitterness, pleasant hop flavor and an enticing noble hop nose all contribute to a good example.
  3. Body too full. These beers should not be satiating, but should be "poundable". Usually a reduction in caramel malts will help solve this problem.

Commerical examples:

Rubens Gold, Celis Pale Bock

Sample recipe:

Todd Enders' Belgian Ale (all-grain recipe for 5 gallons)


6.5 lbs Belgian pils malt
0.5 lbs Munich malt
0.5 lbs Caravienne (20L)
0.5 lbs wheat malt

2.0 ozs Saaz (3.1% Alpha Acid)
1.0 ozs Hallertauer (2.9%)

Brewtech CL-300 Belgian ale #1 yeast

Mash in:       	12 quarts at 132F
Protein rest:  	20 minutes at 132F
Saccrification: 60 minutes at 156F
Mash out:      	10 minutes at 170F
Sparge with 5.5 gallons at 168-170F [Note: Todd adjusts his sparge water pH to 5.5 with lactic acid]; Boil 90 minutes.

Hopping: 3 additions, 1.0 oz Saaz at 45 minutes from the end of the boil, 1.0 oz Saaz at 20 minutes from the end, and 1.0 oz Hallertauer at 5-10 minutes from the end.

OG: 1.045

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