New Year, New Brew: Step Out of Your Brewing Comfort Zone

Like a one-year membership to the Jelly of the Month Club, homebrewing is the gift that keeps on giving the whole year. And here we are — another new year.  If you’re like me you’ve probably fallen into a brew-tine, brewing up the same styles of beer again and again. Maybe you usually brew malty, rich imperial stouts or sessionable English ales or nothing but NEIPA after NEIPA. Me? I tend to brew German lagers. It’s what I like to drink. Pilsner, schwarzbier, märzen, rauchbier — it seems like all I brew. When I’m not brewing those, chances are I’m brewing a session IPA or blonde ale. I don’t venture much beyond that.

The new year is a time for resolutions. Commitments to change. To improve. To turn over new leaves.  Now, we all know you’re gonna stop going to the gym by March. You’ll get tired of salads and calorie counting before Valentine’s Day. And you’ll be back to eight hours of TV and 12 Diet Cokes a day even before the Christmas decorations are back in the attic. So why not resolve to do something you’ll stick to? Resolve to change up your brewing routine!  If you’re an extract brewer, try your hand at all-grain brewing. If you only brew hoppy ales, aim to brew all the porter and stout styles. If you have never brewed a lager (or kolsch or steam beer), now’s the time! The cold weather can help you keep fermentation temps low if you don’t have active temperature control. Try some new processes:  open fermentation, wood aging, decoction or step mashing, sour mashing. If you always use others’ recipes, learn to develop your own. Use the new year as a springboard into learning more about this great hobby and expanding your skill set.

My resolution is to brew beer styles that I typically ignore. For example, I almost never brew Belgian beers, and on the rare occasions that I do it’s usually the yellow ones — saison or golden strong ale. I have brewed about 150 batches of beer and only once did I brew a Belgian dubbel — from a recipe in a book. This year that will change, and I will start the year off brewing the recipe I have come up with below.

Developing this recipe got me excited to learn more about the style. I read through many of the books available from Brewers Publications for inspiration and ideas:  “Brewing Classic Styles” by Jamil Zainasheff, “Brewing Better Beer” and “Modern Homebrew Recipes” by Gordon Strong, “Designing Great Beers” by Ray Daniels, “Radical Brewing” by Randy Mosher, “Brew Like a Monk” by Stan Hieronymus and “Great Beers of Belgium” by the late, great beer hunter, Michael Jackson. What I found are a lot of published recipes for this style aren’t really true to style. Including the one I previously brewed, they tend to make judicious use of various specialty grains for color and flavor. The Trappist and Abbey breweries, however, keep it much simpler — typically just base malt, dark invert sugar and a hint of specialty malt. With this recipe, based on plenty of research, I’m off to brew something new to me.  I’m excited to share this one. Look for it at a TRASH or TRUB meeting in 2018.

Image by Joe Mruk

“Dubbel Dutch Sipper”
Belgian Dubbel

  • Batch Size: 5.25 gal.
  • Boil Time:60 minutes
  • OG: 1.070
  • FG: 1.013
  • ABV: 7.5%
  • IBU: 23
  • SRM: 17
  • Difficulty: Simple

*Assuming 60% brewhouse efficiency

Grainbill

  • 14 lbs Belgian Pilsner Malt
  • 1 lb Belgian Aromatic Malt
  • 1 lb D-90 Belgian Candi Syrup
  • 0.5 lb D-180 Belgian Candi Syrup

Extract Brewers: Replace the Pilsner malt with 6 lbs of light DME plus 1 lb of table sugar. Use some table sugar instead of all DME to ensure the finished beer has the low final gravity and not-too-thick body this style is known for. (DME is made by mashing malted barley at a higher temperature that produces more body than our all-grain recipe calls for. Subbing in sugar for some of the DME balances things out a bit.)  Steep the Aromatic malt in a muslin sack in 0.5 gallon of 150F water for 30 minutes, then add water, DME, table sugar, and candi syrup and boil as you typically do.

Hops

  • 30 grams Styrian Goldings (5.5% AA) @ 60 min
  • 14 grams Styrian Goldings (5.5% AA) @ 15 min

Mash & Boil

A simple single infusion mash at a temperature that produces light body is all we need for this beer.  Mash at 148F for 75 minutes.  If you have the ability to do a mash out, by all means do.  Perform your normal lauter and sparge process to collect you standard pre-boil volume for getting 5.25 gallons of wort into your fermenter.  Boil for 60 minutes, adding hops at 60 and 15 minutes.

Yeast/Fermentation

There are a lot of Belgian yeast strains available. They all produce similar-yet-different flavor profiles.  If you really want to choose the “best” one, you probably should brew a bunch of Belgian beers and try them all.  If you’re just starting out, however, the safe play is to choose one of the “Abbey” strains such as WYeast 1214 “Belgian Abbey Style Ale” or WLP550 “Belgian Ale Yeast.” Regardless of which you choose, avoid any advice you may receive from old timers about how to “make good Belgiums”. They may tell you to ferment hot — as high as 80 or 90 degrees. Don’t. Do you want fusel alcohols and banana esters?  Because that’s how you get fusel alcohols and banana esters. Just ferment a little warmer than you would for an American or English Ale. Try 68-70F. More importantly, make sure the fermenter warms up gradually throughout the fermentation. This ensures the yeast ferment the beer completely and clean up any by-products they produce early in the fermentation such as diacetyl and acetaldehyde.  Hold it at 68-70 for the first three days after pitching, then add heat or let it warm up to 76-78 and hold it there until fermentation completes. It should take about 10-14 days to be fully fermented. Oh, be sure to oxygenate the wort well prior to pitching, too. This is a big beer and you need a healthy fermentation.  Spend the $50 and get yourself an O2 setup and give that wort two full minutes of oxygen. Be sure to make a proper-size yeast starter, too. Old-timers love to say underpitching really brings out the character in their “Belgiums”.  “Just pour the vial right into the carboy!”  Doing this brings out character, alright. Just not the kind you’d find in any of the great beers of Belgium!

Suggested Pairings

Given this beer’s complexity — rich dried fruit flavors from the candi sugar and fermentation-derived fruity esters and spicy phenols — plus a crisp, spritzy, dry, “digestible” finish, it pairs very well with both sweet and savory foods. You can enjoy it as a sipper with melanoidin-rich desserts such as spice cake with dulce de leche sauce, or have it with hearty, savory lamb stew. The umami-and-herb-laden meat and gravy will play perfectly off the rich maillard flavors of the beer. Of course, it’s a great beer for pairing with strong washed-rind cheeses. One of the Trappist breweries even produces a readily-available range of cheeses with the same label as their beer.

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