Belgian Golden Strong Ale – Recipe & Review

Belgian Golden Strong Ale

Belgian Golden Strong – Not My Finest Moment as a Brewer

A natural temptation for any homebrewing blogger is to write only about their greatest achievements. After all, for most of you reading this, your only way of judging my brewing abilities is through the write-ups I share.

Though this approach to sharing would undoubtedly boost my ego, I find it misleading and limiting as we all seek to better ourselves as homebrewers. Sometimes, I brew a beer that simply sucks. Whether through flawed recipe creation, poor technique, fickle yeast, or acts of God, bad beer happens. This is a fact for most homebrewers and one of the truths we can own without facing any real consequences. Sometimes the cost of a batch isn’t worth choking down a sub-par beer. Luckily this isn’t a big deal for us since our costs are low and we’re not driven to sell our creations—something, perhaps, that some commercial brewers could learn from.

Rant aside, this beer was unfortunately a dumper. While the recipe itself is solid, I made two critical mistakes.

First, I rushed the process, crashing the fermenter and bottling the beer way too early. When I crashed the beer, I was left with an overly sweet, under-attenuated malt bomb. This particular strain of yeast likes to take its sweet time to completely attenuate and I simply didn’t allow it to. After I bottled and stored the beer at room temp, fermentation began again, creating dramatically over carbonated beer. Luckily I bottled the beer in very thick Belgian bottles, which prevented any bottle bombs.

My second mistake came when I cold crashed the beer. Hoping to prevent air suck back through the airlock as the beer chilled and lost volume, I decided to bung up the Better Bottle. Unfortunately, some CO2 was still being generated by the ferment, which popped off the bung, and left the carboy open to the atmosphere for about 16 hours. This oxidized the beer and gave the malt a honeyed sweetness that didn’t help what was already a sweet beer.

Needless to say, I learned from these mistakes and hopefully won’t repeat them. If this can prevent even a single beer being dumped by others then my work was worth the effort!

Belgian Golden Strong Ale Recipe

Specifications:
Size: 3.25 gal
Efficiency: 70%
Attenuation: 75% (target was 93%)

Original Gravity: 1.072
Terminal Gravity: 1.018 (target was 1.005)
Color: 4.66 SRM
Alcohol: 7.12% ABV (calculated) (target was 8.69% ABV)
Bitterness: 15.9 IBU

Malt Bill:
7.25 lbs. (81.7%) Dingemans Pilsner Malt
2 oz. (1.4%) Weyermann Acidulated Malt

Sugar Additions:
1.5 lbs. (16.9%) Dextrose (Corn Sugar)

Mash Profile:
122°F – 5m
146°F – 40m
154°F – 20m

Water Treatment:
Extremely Soft NYC Water
2 g. Gypsum (to mash)
2 g. Calcium Chloride (to mash)

Hopping:
28 g. Styrian Goldings (2.8% AA) – 60m
28 g. Styrian Goldings (2.8% AA) – Whirlpool 15m

Kettle Additions:
0.5 ea. Whirlfloc Tablets (Irish moss) – 15m
0.5 tsp. Wyeast Nutrient – 10m

Yeast:
Wyeast 1388 Belgian Strong Ale

Tasting Notes:

Judged as a BJCP 25C Belgian Golden Strong Ale

Aroma (7/12):
Lots of intense fruit aromas jump from the glass. There is plenty of pear and apple esters as well as just a minute amount of cherry. There is a medium-plus banana or bubblegum ester which I’m particularly sensitive to (and not a huge fan of). There is a hint of peppery phenolic spice that adds a bit of complexity to the fermentation character. While the nose is dominated by fermentation byproducts, the malt comes across as quite bready and sweet with some honey-like undertones. The malt is just a touch oxidized with some prune-like aroma.

Appearance (1/3):
The beer is a very light blond color with some haze. The beer pours with a big white head with cascading bubbles from the ample carbonation. Good retention and lacing.

Flavor (11/20):
The beer has a lot of malt flavor, frankly more than I’d hope to find in this style. There is a honeyed pilsner character that is particular to Belgian pilsner malts that I’ve used in the past. Unfortunately, there is also an undercurrent of light oxidation with some subtle dark fruit notes. There is a bit of low sugary sweetness that is the antithesis of the hallmark of the style. The fruit flavor is high with lots of characterful fermentation elements including fruity pear and apple esters. The high fruitiness blends with the residual sweetness to give an overly sweet impression. Bitterness is very low—a bit more would be welcome.

Mouthfeel (4/5):
High carbonation bursts from the beer giving a very prickly, almost sharp mouthfeel and scrubbing what would otherwise likely have been a somewhat syrupy beer.

Overall Impression (5/10):
This beer is a bit too boisterous in its fruit character compared to the quiet elegance of a beer like Duvel, the quintessential Belgian Golden Strong Ale. Additionally, the overly sweet impression and slight oxidized notes detract from the drinkability that is key to achieving a good Belgian Golden Strong Ale.

Good (28/50)

Bonus: See how judges scored this beer at the 2017 Homebrew Alley competition in NYC.

Apricot Gueuze-style Review

Apricot Gueuze

The leftovers from a broader Gueuze-like blending session, transformed with apricot.

Over the course of three years, I brewed three different three-gallon batches of sour lambic-like beer that were ultimately further split into single-gallon vessels and fermented individually with a total of nine different mixed cultures. The end goal of this process was to select the best five gallons of beer and blend out a classic version of Belgian Gueuze-style beer.

While I was pretty happy with how the base blend turned out, I was left with an additional four gallons of beer that was less than stellar. The primary fault in these beers was that I dramatically over-hopped the early batches with roughly 1 oz. / gallon of aged Cascade hops. Even though these hops were declared to have 0% alpha acid by the vendor whom I purchased them from, they still managed to impart a fair amount of bitterness and astringency. I have since read accounts from other brewers, including Jester King, who relayed similar stories about the dosing rates of aged hops in their early spontaneous beer experiments. According to Jester King’s blog, they currently use approximately 1lb. / barrel (0.5 oz. / gallon) of aged hops in their spontaneous beers.

Rather than toss the beer outright, I opted to rack the best three gallons into a new vessel and have it go through a secondary fermentation on three pounds of apricot puree. This was allowed to ferment for another four months before being packaged and bottle conditioned.

Tasting Notes:

Judged as a BJCP 23F Fruit Lambic

Aroma (7/12):
Overripe, juicy apricot is the primary aroma component, although there are some low, funky Brett aromatics that are somewhat grassy and hay-like. For being such a complex aged beer, the nose is rather simple, but still inviting. Malt character is almost nonexistent though there is a touch of light crackery malt.

Appearance (2/3):
The beer pours a hazy gold with a bright white, tightly bubbled and persistent foam.

Flavor (8/20):
Juicy apricot flesh is supported and enhanced by a medium-plus lactic acidity and sourness. There is an unfortunate bitterness and slight astringency that comes off somewhat harsh against the acid. The finish has a touch of an odd, somewhat metallic flavor that is hard to put a descriptor on. Brett funk is pretty demure on the palate and only comes off as a bit of earthy grass with the slightest whisper of plastic. The malt manages to be a touch bready and soft.

Mouthfeel (1/5):
The beer has a medium body with fairly low levels of carbonation. More fizz would help lift the beer off the palate and, perhaps, allow a little more complexity to pop on the aroma. There is a tannic astringency that is not particularly pleasant.

Overall Impression (5/10):
Given that the origins of this beer was the rejected blending components from my gueuze blending session, I am happy that the beer retains a level of drinkability that wasn’t present in the individual blending components. The apricot has helped to soften the harsh bitterness and tannin from the original beers; although, not to the point where it isn’t a distraction on the palate. My hope is that as this beer continues to age, some of the harshness will mellow. Time will tell.

Good (23/50)

Bonus: See how judges scored this beer at the 2017 Homebrew Alley competition in NYC.

Mixed-culture Saison – Hops vs. Lacto!

Hoppy Mixed Culture Saison

Great head retention, on this beautiful golden saison.

I’ve had a lot of fun over the past couple of years maintaining a mixed culture of Sacc, Brett, and Lacto; and using it to make some pretty nice tart, funky saisons. The culture started its life as a blend of cultures grown from Saison DuPont bottles, The Yeast Bay’s Amalgamation Brett Blend, and White Labs Lacto Brevis. Over the 6+ generations I’ve used the culture, it continues to produce great beers that have an awesome Brett fruitiness that plays especially nicely with big punchy dry hops. Initially, I was very concerned that too much drift would occur in the blend of different organisms, but the culture has remained remarkably consistent in its fermentation characteristics—something I hope stays true for many more generations.

One thing that I’ve always known is that this mixed culture reacts differently to varying levels of kettle hopping, especially in terms of lactic acid production. I’ve observed this anecdotally over several batches, but never completed a side-by-side experiment. For fun, I decided to actually test the culture on two very similar worts to see just how different the beers would become.

For starters, I used the hoppy saison recipe that has turned out quite good in the past.

Base Saison Recipe

Specifications:
Size: 3.25 gal
Efficiency: 69%

Original Gravity: 1.050
Color: 4.45 SRM
Bitterness: 0 IBUs

Malt Bill:
5 lbs (71.4%) Weyermann Pilsner Malt
1 lb (14.3%) Flaked Oats
1 (14.3%) Weyermann Rye Malt

Mash Profile:
150°F – 60m
170°F – 5m

Water Treatment:
Extremely Soft NYC Water
4g Gypsum (to mash)

Kettle Additions:
0.25 ea Whirlfloc Tablets (Irish moss) – 15m
0.25 tsp Wyeast Nutrient – 10m

Yeast:
Mixed Saison Culture

The Experiment

Two identical batches using the above recipe were brewed back-to-back. The key difference is that Batch 1 received hopping at the end of the boil in the whirlpool, whereas Batch 2 did not and was instead given a post-fermentation dry hop. Other analytic differences between the two batches are outlined below.

Batch 1  – Whirlpool Hopped at End of Boil
Hopping:
2 oz. Mosaic (12.3% AA) – Whirlpool 15 m
4 oz. Azacca (10.3% AA) – Whirlpool 15m

Attenuation: 76%
Terminal Gravity: 1.012
Alcohol: 5%
pH: 3.27

Batch 2  – Dry Hopped Post Fermentation
Hopping:
No hops before fermentation.
2 oz. Mosaic (12.3% AA) – Dry Hop 2 Days
2 oz. Azacca (10.3% AA) – Dry Hop 2 Days

Attenuation: 80%
Terminal Gravity: 1.010
Alcohol: 5.24%
pH: 2.71

The Results

Both batches of beer turned out extremely unique (and quite delicious). I am guessing most people would be surprised to find out that the two beers were produced from the same mixed culture and remarkably similar recipes.

As expected, the whirlpool hopped beer developed significantly less acidity than the batch that was not hopped prior to fermentation. Tasting the beers, it is very obvious that the beer that did not receive kettle hopping is significantly more sour than the beer that was hopped in the whirlpool. That said, the whirlpool hopped beer did develop a light lactic tartness that is consistent with its 3.27 finishing pH.

It is also interesting to note that the kettle-hopped beer attenuated slightly less than the beer that only received a dry hop. I would have thought the opposite would have occurred with the lower pH inhibiting attenuation by the Brett / Sacc in the culture. The difference of .02 SG is probably not significant enough to draw any real conclusions, but it is an interesting anecdote.

The sensory aspects of the two beers are strikingly different. The beer that received kettle hopping ultimately developed a much higher level of the traditional flavors attributable to the Brett in the mixed culture (funk, overripe fruit) whereas the Lacto-heavy dry-hopped beer is much more two note with lots of acid and a significant fruity, dry hop character. It is unclear to me why the kettle-hopped beer developed more Brett character and it will be interesting to see if the dry-hopped beer eventually develops these characteristics. I hope to keep some of the beer around to see if the flavors ultimately converge at a single point or whether they continue to remain two incredibly different beers.

UPDATE: The dry-hopped version of this beer placed first in Category 28, American Wild Ale at the 2016 Joint Novembeerfest / Puget Sound Pro-Am.

Sun Shower Saison Review

Sun Shower Saison

After much planning and some apprehension, The Pour Report homebrew wife finally brewed her very first beer this summer. While the brew day itself went quite well, the final product, christened Sun Shower Saison, wasn’t quite what I had hoped for. Conceived as a refreshing, low-alcohol “tart, crisp, and slightly fruity beer” for the dog days of summer, Sun Shower was able to live up to most of what I’ve just described. The most disappointing characteristic was the flavors contributed by the saison yeast, specifically the peppery spiciness. While I’ve always considered myself a fan of saisons, I’m finding that my palette interprets the peppery spiciness as more of a distraction than a complement to the beer. On the flip side, I have discovered that there is no such thing as “too tart” when it comes to my palette and I wish Sun Shower had a little more tartness to it. As a result, I find myself very much disliking this beer and already have plans to rebrew this recipe with a different yeast. Stay tuned to see how Version 2 turns out…

Tasting Notes:

Jessie’s Review:

Judged against my original intent to brew a “refreshing, low-alcohol tart, crisp, and slightly fruity beer”

Aroma (8/12):
Peppery with a hint of ham (reminiscent of the carved ham station at King’s Table Buffet). When fresh, the Galaxy hops bring a nice melon (mainly cantaloupe) flavor.

Appearance (2/3):
Yellow-to-gold range (if there are any designers reading this, think PMS 7405). Relatively clear, but with very poor head retention.

Flavor (10/20):
Peppery spiciness with melon and a touch of salt. A subtle hint of barnyard funk and tartness.

Mouthfeel (3/5):
Very light body with seltzer-like qualities. Could afford to be more carbonated.

Overall Impression (5/10):

If I had set out to brew non-alcoholic water, I’d be ecstatic! But as it stands, I’m satisfied that my first beer came out without any major flaws.

Good (28/50)

 

Nick’s Review:

Judged as 2015 BJCP Category 34C Experimental Beer

Beer Description: Ultra low alcohol (3.0%) saison. Minimal malt, light fruity hop character, soft lacto sourness. Dry, crisp, effervescent, quenching.

Aroma (7/12):

A whisper of sulfury egg hits the nose first, but blows off quickly and is followed by a fairly prominent Belgian yeast note featuring some light peppery phenol, a touch of clove, and a subdued generic fruitiness. There is a touch of yogurt-like lacto and some soft hop aromatics reminiscent of mango, citrus, and perhaps a touch of pineapple and honeydew melon. The nose is subtle, but nuanced.

Appearance (1/3):
Pale gold with a light haze. A low white head forms, but quickly dissipates under a crackle of soda pop like fizziness. No retention whatsoever.

Flavor (14/20):
There is a soft bready malt flavor that is quickly underscored by a fairly expressive peppery yeast character. The beer is somewhat tart, although much less so than I would have expected given the pH tested at 3.14 prior to pitching Saccharomyces. The beer is bone dry. The hop flavor is generally fruity and citrusy, which plays nice with the acidity in the beer. There is no hop bitterness. The beer gives an impression of mineral water with an almost seltzer-like finish.

Mouthfeel (2/5):
Extremely low-bodied with spritzy carbonation. There is a slightly astringent tannin present. The beer is very quenching, although perhaps a bit watery.

Overall Impression (7/10):
This is a nice refreshing beer. I think to be on target with the recipe’s design intent it needs a bit more tartness and residual body to make it more sessionable and expressive.

Very Good (31/50)

Bioreactor Culture A – Gen 2

Bioreactor A2

Bioreactor A2 – Sour red with a subtle toasty background.

The somewhat laborious process of maintaining mixed cultures via what I’ve called, for lack of a better name, my Bioreactor Project is beginning to bear fruit (or in this case, sour beer). The recipe and review below represents the second generation fermentation of mixed culture “A”  grown up from the following beers:

  • Cantillon Gueuze
  • Tilquin Gueuze
  • Russian River Beatification
  • Crooked Stave Surette
  • Jolly Pumpkin La Roja

I’ve managed to consistently maintain the bioreactor on a 4-month refresh cycle. The results so far have been positive, although I’ve noticed that the fermentations have rather sluggish starts, which is a bit concerning. If I were to implement this program on a commercial level, I would decrease the refresh cycle to something more reasonable, perhaps refreshing every couple months. Unfortunately, the practicality for doing this at a homebrew level is somewhat limited (at least for myself).

For this iteration of the recipe, I wanted to see how the souring culture might synergize (or clash) with a slightly toasty malt background. Vienna malt plays a prominent role in the beer bringing a subtle toasty note to what should be a fairly funky sour beer.

Specifications:
Size: 1.25 gal
Efficiency: 66%
Attenuation: 85%

Original Gravity: 1.054
Terminal Gravity: 1.014
Color: 11.13 SRM
Alcohol: 5.25% ABV
Bitterness: 0 IBU
Terminal pH: 2.60

Malt Bill:
2.75 lb (91.7%) Weyermann Vienna Malt
0.25 lb (8.3%) Weyermann Carared

Mash Profile:
160°F – 60m

Water Treatment:
Extremely Soft NYC Water
Added to mash: 2g Calcium Chloride

Hopping:
0.25 oz Aged Cascade Hops (0.0% AA) – 90m

Kettle Additions:
0.25 ea Whirlfloc Tablets (Irish moss) – added during boil, boiled 15m
0.25 tsp Wyeast Nutrient – added during boil, boiled 10m

Yeast:
Bio Reactor “Culture A” – racked from a 4-month old fermentation using the same culture

Tasting Notes:

Judged as a BJCP 28B Mixed Fermentation Sour Beer

Aroma (8/12):
Prominent pie cherry, fruity Brett aromatics on the nose with a punchy level of lactic sourness. There is a nice soft, bready malt nose featuring light toast along with some oxidized dark fruit (think prune). Some of the more funky Brett aromatics of wet hay and earth are subtle, offering background complexity. As the beer warms, the beer exudes a nutty, almost Amaretto-like aroma.

Appearance (0/3):
The beer strikes a deep copper tone with light chill haze. A vigorous pour offers up a very slight white foam that quickly dissipates. The beer is a bit under-carbonated, making head formation a difficult task. Also not helping matters is lactobacillus’ ability to degrade foam positive proteins.

Flavor (12/20):
The beer strikes a medium acidity, primarily lactic in nature although a touch of acetic acid is perceptible. The first sip reveals a prominent THP flavor that is reminiscent of Cheerios, which is actually quite pleasant when tasted in concert with the lightly toasty Vienna malt base. There is a low level of residual sweetness which helps take the edge off of some of the stronger acetic acid notes. Interestingly, when tasted at 4-months old, the beer had a fairly robust plastic-like phenol which seems to have been transformed at this point into other more positive flavors.

Mouthfeel (1/5):
The beer has a medium to medium-light body with a very low carbonation level. The beer is in desperate need of something to lift it off the palate; a task that the acidity only marginally accomplishes.

Overall Impression (6/10):
The beer falls a bit flat, but does offer up some interesting complexity, particularly in the commingling of some of the THP and toasty Vienna malt characters. The touch of oxidized malt flavor plays nicely with the Brett fruitiness—something that I think could become even more interesting if actual fruit (think tart pie cherries) were introduced into the mix.

Good (27/50)