Brewing Belgian Beers (#5): Strong ales

Description:
1.062-1.120, 6-12% ABV, 16-30 IBU, 3.5-20 SRM Pale to dark brown. Low hop bitterness and aroma ok, should blend with other flavors. Medium to high esters in flavor and aroma. Phenols ok. Often highly aromatic. Spices or orange ok. Strength evident, but alchohol flavor subdued or absent. Medium to full body, sometimes with a high terminal gravity. Medium to high carbonation. No roasted flavors or diacetyl.

Belgian strong ale recipes are usually formulated to show off yeast character, with all other ingredients playing a supporting role. The flavor may be subtly complex, but should not be crowded. Body is comparatively light for beers of this strength, due to use of brewing adjuncts or of pilsner malt only. High carbonation also helps; these beers should feel like mousse on the palate and have an impressive head. The best examples may be noticeably strong but still have no alchohol flavor. Flemish examples tend toward higher terminal gravities (1.025-1.050), while Walloon versions are usually more attenuated.

Due to the vagueries of AHA style categories, Trappist strong ale clones (Chimay, etc.) should be submitted in this category. Despite what Michael Jackson says, Saisons are strong ales and should also be submitted to contests in this category.

Brewing method

Yeast choice is absolutely crucial, as the yeast will provide the foundation flavors for the beer and all other ingredients should be added to support or accentuate them. As with all beers of this strength, high pitching rates and agressive aeration are necessary. Fermentation temperatures should be cool (below 65F) to avoid creation of headache-causing fusels.

Infusion or step mashing techniques are standard procedure. Most commercial versions use pilsner malt as a base, but many also use substantial quantities of sugar or flaked corn as an adjunct. Caramel, Munich and toasted malts are often used in small quantities; roasted malts are sometimes used in very small amounts for coloring only. All classic hop varieties are common, but are used in small and judicious quantities. Sugars are added in the kettle, as are spices. Many spices have delicate aromas and should be boiled for just a few minutes, if at all. Common choices are bitter or sweet orange peel, coriander, vanilla, and anise.

Extract brewers will do fine in this category. Start with pale extract, adding judicious quantities of caramel malts and sugar (1-2 pounds) to the kettle. The secret is to choose the right yeast and to keep your ferment as clean as possible.

Priming should be about 7/8 (125 grams) for five gallons. Addition of fresh yeast at bottling should assist with carbonation; a 1-pint starter is sufficient.

Common Problems

  1. Solvent & banana flavors. Fermentation at excessive temperature, poor yeast health, or both. Particularly a problem with people using Wyeast Belgian or Chimay yeasts at temps above 62F.

  2. Wrong type of orange. Sunkist type orange should not be substituted for bitter or sweet orange.

  3. Insufficient carbonation. Use more priming sugar, or add fresh yeast when bottling.

Commerical examples

Corsendonk blond (8% ABV), Corsendonk brown (8% ABV), Saison DuPont (6.5% ABV), Gouden Carolus (7% ABV), Scaldis (12% ABV), Duvel (8.5% ABV), Brigand (9% ABV), Oerbier (7.5% ABV), Arabier (8% ABV), Bos Keun (7% ABV), Stille Nacht (8% ABV), Pauwel Kwak (8% ABV), Celis Grand Cru, Mateen (9% ABV)

Sample recipe

Jeff Frane's Strong Ale

GUMMITCH@TELEPORT.COM
DeWolf-Cosyns pilsner malt    9 pounds
DeWolf-Cosyns aromatic malt   0.6 pounds
DeWolf-Cosyns caramunich      1 pound
Flaked maize                  1 pound
Light candy sugar             1.5 pounds

BC Goldings                   1 oz boiled for 15 mins
Mt Hood                       1 oz boiled for 15 minutes
Saaz                          0.25 oz boiled for 60 minutes

Made 5.75 gallons at 1.062
Mash in the malts (not the maize) at 98F in 3.5 gallons water and adjust pH. Raise to 120F and hold for 30 minutes. Raise to 153, add maize, and hold until conversion (about 45 minutes). Raise to 175 for 15 minutes for mashout.

Add sugar to kettle and boil for 90 minutes. At 1/2 tablespoon rehydrated Irish moss to boil for 75 minutes.

Ferment with Wyeast White, prime with 1 cup corn sugar.

[Phil's note: This produced the best and most authentic Belgian-style homebrew I've tasted. This is the one to beat!]


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