Thursday, 15 January 2015

Brewing a Belgian Tripel

My second Belgian beer brewed within about a month; it's been a long time since that's happened. I love Belgian beers, and used to brew them more frequently during my first couple of years homebrewing, but they started getting a bit ignored when I became more and more obsessed with trying to perfect brewing hoppy beers. Since my last Belgian beer, a Belgian Session IPA, is still really a hoppy beer at heart (or is it a hoppy beer that is Belgian at heart? <brain explodes>), this Belgian Tripel is my first Belgian style brewed since a Flanders Brown I did early in 2014, and my first non-sour Belgian beer since a Dubbel in November of 2013.

Too long. But, as all homebrewers know, so many beers, so little time. Belgian Tripel has always been one of my favorite Belgian styles. Aside from how delicious a well-brewed Tripel can be, I think I'm a bit biased. On a trip to Belgium in the winter of 2009, my wife and I arrived in Bruges, where we would spend our first few nights. I wasn't into beer at the time, but knew - of course - that Belgium was well-known for its excellent beer, so I was more than happy to try some out. We first stopped at one of the country's most famous beers bars, 't Brugs Beertje; we were exhausted after a long travel night/day, and this place was perfect. Great atmosphere and buzz, lots of beers available (most Belgian beer bars fit that requirement), I can still remember it almost-perfectly to this day. And the first beer we both ordered was a Tripel: Tripel Karmeliet, from Brouwerij Bosteels. Even though the whole experience (combined with the beer being served in its beautiful signature glass) most-definitely affected my interpretation of the beer, it really is a tasty one (little did I know at the time that Tripel Karmeliet is available in plenty of places across North America). Tripel Karmeliet was the beginning of my love affair with beer, which soon led to my obsession with homebrewing. Every homebrewer has a story similar to this one, but I'm not going to let that take away from my experience!

't Brugs Beertje - Photo courtesy of Trip Advisor

Wow, that was a longer-than-necessary soliloquy. Sorry about that. Long story short: I really like Tripels, and wanted to brew one again. My first Tripel was brewed in 2010, and was my first all-grain batch. I used one of Wyeast's Private Collection strains, their 3864 Canadian/Belgian, which is supposed to be the Unibroue strain. I really liked that homebrew, and that yeast strain; since Tripels are high-ABV beers, I didn't exactly plow through all the bottles, so I was drinking the beer for a couple of years after I brewed it, and it held up really well. If you're not familiar with what Tripels are all about, they're light-colored beers that have significant fruity esters and spicy phenolics, usually provided from the yeast. Medium-light to medium-bodied, they should be highly carbonated. Belgian Tripel is one of the more-bitter Belgian beers, and combined with a very dry finish, should be quite drinkable despite the high-ABV.

Don't let the high-ABV of Tripels scare you off from brewing them, as they're certainly not the most-difficult style to brew. You can keep the recipe quite simple; while some brewers do add several specialty malts, and often some spices (I'm not normally a proponent of spicing beer unless necessary, but it should be mentioned that Tripel Karmeliet is actually one of those Tripels), I find that simplicity can work very well with this style. Let's start with the grist. I kept this fairly close to my original recipe years ago, which came from Jamil's Brewing Classic Styles. Lots of good Pilsner malt, a bit of Aromatic malt... that's it. However, when I went to mill the grains for the beer, I realized that I didn't have as much Aromatic as I thought, so I added some Wheat malt to the grist. Keep in mind with this style: you don't want a lot of specialty grains, but you REALLY don't want Crystal malts in there. I suppose you could add a little Carapils to boost head retention, but something like Wheat malt may be a better option.

For the mash, aim for a low temperature... like I said, you want this beer to finish DRY. I wouldn't go any higher than 149 F, and you can certainly even go a bit lower. In addition, a large sugar addition to this beer, either during the boil or in primary when fermentation shows signs of slowing down, is a must. This is another way to dry out the beer even more, while at the same time bumping up the OG and, ultimately, the ABV.

The hop schedule is even simpler. For a classic Tripel, you're not looking for a lot of hop character. As I mentioned, you DO want the bitterness in the higher region, at least for a Belgian beer, so aim for somewhere between 30-40 IBUs. My original recipe called for a small addition of Tettnang at 10 minutes as well; you're not looking for major hop flavor here... just a little bit.

Like a lot of Belgian beer styles, yeast selection for a Tripel is a very important decision, and should involve some thought on exactly what you're looking for in the final product. When selecting which yeast to use to ferment the Belgian Session IPA, I was also choosing based on what strain I would like to harvest to re-use for a Tripel. I had used the Wyeast 1214 for my Dubbel, which is the Chimay strain, and while I do really enjoy Chimay's Tripel, I wanted to try something new. So, I settled on Wyeast 3787 Trappist High Gravity, the Westmalle strain (and therefore also Achel and Westvleteren, two other Trappist breweries). I've always loved Westmalle Tripel, and I really enjoyed how the yeast worked in my Belgian Session IPA - seemingly well-balanced between fruitiness and spiciness. While that beer was definitely a different style than a Tripel (obviously the heavy hopping would have had an affect on the perceived fruitiness), I think I'm going to like how it works with this beer.

Note: As mentioned, I reused some yeast slurry from my Belgian Session IPA; I wasn't exactly sure how much to use, since I hadn't taken the time to thoroughly wash the yeast, so I added about 1 cup, maybe a bit more. Now, Wyeast goes out of their way to say "additional headspace is recommended"; using a blow-off tube is another option. I stupid did neither... and had quite a large explosion on my hands the next morning, despite pitching cool and the fermentation temp only reaching 70 F. So... be smart if you go with this strain!

I'll be bottling this beer... as cool as it might be to have on tap, I don't think I need a 9% ABV Tripel taking up a line right now. Plus, since this is a style that should be highly carbonated, it's easier to bottle condition and hit high CO2 numbers without having to worry about overcarbing a keg, or affecting other beers hooked up to the CO2 tank. Finally, with beers that benefit from some aging, I like the freedom of having a good quantity of bottles to sit on and try over a period of time, without taking up valuable keg space. I'll likely be giving this beer a bit of time after it's carbed, anyway, before taking some tasting notes on it; expect to see those sometime in the next month or two.

NOTE: If you go with the same yeast I did (3787), pay close attention to Wyeast's warning to allow lots of headspace (or at least, use a blow-off tube) during fermentation; I stupidly ignored this, and even though I pitched cool (64-65 F), I had a bit of an explosion! Fair amount of beer on the walls and ceiling; luckily the temperature wasn't out of control, as it was still in the 60s at this point. Lesson learned!


Recipe Targets: (5.5 gallons, 75% efficiency) OG 1.076, FG ~1.009, IBU ~30, SRM 5, ABV ~9%

Grains & Sugars:
4.8 kg (77.8%) Pilsner
250 g (4.1%) Wheat malt
50 g (0.8%) Aromatic malt
1000 g (16.3%) Table sugar (added in primary when fermentation slows)

Tettnang - 80 g (3% AA) @ 60 min
Tettnang - 14 g @ 10 min

Misc: 1/2 tab Irish Moss at 5 min

Yeast: Wyeast 3787 Trappist High Gravity, cultured 2 weeks ago; about 1 cup slurry

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; 4 g Gypsum and 4 g calcium chloride added to mash

- Brewed on December 1st, 2014, by myself. 50-minute mash with 15 L of strike water, mashed in at 149 F, slightly above target of 148 F. Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 9 L of boiling water. Sparged with ~3.5 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~7.25 gallons.

- SG high at 1.046 (target 1.044 - keep in mind this is BEFORE the sugar addition). 90-minute boil. Final volume 5.5 gallons; OG high at 1.061 (1.058 target before sugar). Chilled to 65 F, then poured into Better Bottle. Aerated with 75 seconds of pure O2, pitched yeast slurry.

- By the morning after pitching, activity was vigorous in the airlock, temp was still manageable at 66 F. By the afternoon, the airlock had blown off, and there was beer on the walls and ceiling. Over the next couple of days, I had tinfoil over the opening; once the krausen started settling back, I replaced the airlock and began adding the table sugar, 333 g at a time, every 12 hours or so. Temperature of the beer never got above 68-70 F.

- 1/1/15 - Bottled, aiming for 3 vol CO2.

1 comment:

  1. Do you have plans to push the temp up?