Friday, 8 November 2013

Brewing a Belgian Dubbel

After several months and five very-hoppy homebrews, I figure it's time to brew a beer that DOESN'T showcase hops. Don't get me wrong, if inventory and desire ruled, I'd be quite happy brewing up another five really hoppy beers, and probably more, but I have to admit I DO have a hankering for a darker, maltier beer as the days get colder. Looking back through my brew notes, it occurred to me recently that I've been ignoring one of my favorite beer styles: Belgian Dubbel.

Definitely not a hoppy beer, Belgian Dubbel is in the Belgian Strong Ale category of the BJCP. The good ones have a complex, malty sweetness in both the aroma and flavor, along with fruity esters, spicy phenols, and maybe some subtle alcohol notes. Basically a semi-dark beer that really gets to showcase malt character and Belgian yeast. It's been about three years since I last brewed this style of beer, so once I started thinking about it again, I was pretty anxious to get going.

There's a lot of different Dubbel recipes out there. The grain bill is what makes the recipe, of course, and they can range from simplistic to much more-complicated, with six, seven, or even more specialty malts being used. My original recipe from last time came from Jamil's Brewing Classic Styles; this recipe is somewhere in the middle in terms of malt bill complexity, with five different malt types. I had intended on trying this recipe again with a few tweaks of my own, but came across a different one altogether in Stan Hieronymus's excellent book, Brew Like a Monk. The recipe was provided by Tomme Arthur, brewer at The Lost Abbey and Port Brewing in California. While the malt bill was slightly more complicated (eight malts instead of five), I really liked the look of it. The specialty malts include Caramunich, Aromatic and Special B; the only change I made was upping the Munich malt slightly, and dropping the Belgian Biscuit (since I didn't have any).

While lots of malt varieties can build Dubbel character, another very important ingredient that you see in most Dubbel recipes is Dark Belgian Candi Syrup. Usually agreed by brewers to provide more character than the solid sugar form, there are several different types of candi syrup that you can buy, varying in color, flavor and aroma. I had a little under a pound of the D2 Syrup from Dark Candi, Inc; at 80 SRM, it provides a mixture of "burnt sugar, figs, ripe fruit, toffee, and dark chocolate". I've used it before, and have been very happy with what it adds to a beer. All syrups are simply added to the boil... doesn't matter when, just do it sometime before the end of the boil to make sure it is sterilized. And make sure to stir well when you add it, to prevent scorching on the bottom of your kettle. For those of you so inclined, there's lots of recipes/techniques to make your own dark candi syrup online.

As for the hops, well... pretty simple, as expected. Tomme's recipe called for two additions, at 90 and 60 minutes, but I just made a single addition at 60 minutes. I went with a noble hop, Tettnang, and just enough to bring the IBUs up to about 20... you're really not looking for very much, or any, hop character for this style of beer. Just a bit of bitterness to offset some of the sweetness from the specialty malts and candi syrup.

When it comes to what yeast to use, there's a lot of options out there. Even if you're limited to liquid yeast from Wyeast (which I am, at least through my LHBS), there's still more than ten regular-release Belgian yeast strains available. With my first Dubbel, I actually used the Wyeast 3864, which was a special-release strain based on what Unibroue uses in their beers. For this brew, I decided on Wyeast's popular 1214 Belgian Abbey, from the Trappist brewery Chimay. No real reason, other than I knew other homebrewers who have used it and liked it, and because I really enjoy Chimay Premiere (better known as Chimay Red), an excellent Belgian Dubbel. I made a big starter days in advance, and plan on fermenting the beer in the low 60s to start, bringing it up to about 70 F or so over the first few days.

And that's about it. No need to add any spices to this style of beer; yes, the beer should be slightly spicy, but you want that to come from the yeast. I've seen some homebrewers successfully add fruit (such as plums) to this style of beer, but I think I'm going to keep things relatively simple, here. Just brew, ferment, and bottle... hopefully having a malty, fruity, spicy, and smooth Dubbel on hand in time for the holidays.

Recipe targets: (5.5 gallons, 75% efficiency) OG 1.068, FG ~1.014, IBU 21, SRM 19.7, ABV ~7%

Grains & Other:
3.59 kg (59.9%) Bohemian Pilsner
500 g (8.4%) Wheat malt
454 g (7.6%) Munich malt
409 g (6.8%) Aromatic malt
204 g (3.4%) Caramunich II
204 g (3.4%) Honey malt
204 g (3.4%) Special B
427 g (7.1%) Dark Belgian Candi Syrup (80 SRM) (added to the boil)

Tettnang - 42 g (4.6% AA) @ 60 min

Misc.: 1/2 tab Irish moss @ 5 min

Yeast: Wyeast 1214 Belgian Abbey (dated Sept 18th; with a 2.7 L starter)

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; 7 grams calcium chloride in the mash

- Brewed on November 4th, 2013, by myself. 50-minute mash with 16 L of strike water, mashed in at target temp of 153 F. Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 7 L of boiling water. Sparged with 4 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~7.75 gallons in the kettle.

- SG at 1.046, at target. 90-minute boil. Final volume a bit over, at 5.75 gallons. Chilled down to 64 F, then poured into Better Bottle. OG a touch low at 1.067. Aerated with 90 seconds of pure O2 and pitched yeast starter. Placed BB in laundry room, ambient temp about 66 F. 

- 5/11/13 - Lots of airlock activity in the AM, bubbling about every second, temp 66 F. By the evening, temp had increased to 68 F.

- 6/11/13 - Bubbling more than every second in the AM, temp now up to 70 F. By the evening, the temp was still 70 F, but bubbling had slowed to every 5 seconds or so. Moved the BB into the water-heater room to try to keep the temp up to 68-70 F.

- 20/11/13 - FG a bit high at 1.017. Bottled with 140 g table sugar, aiming for 2.75 vol CO2 for 5 gallons, max temp of 70 F reached.

- 2/2/14 - A little over two months later, the beer is really starting to taste nice... great malt complexity, nice chocolate background. Tasting notes here.

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