Vol. 3 No. 3
by Warren Becker
This meeting was terrific! Fellow MBAS member, and winner of the Samuel Adams World Homebrew Competition, Jim Simpson was our guest speaker. Jim brought the three Pale Ales that he brewed.
First, we sampled the award winning ale that Jim submitted in the contest. This Pale Ale had a nice blend of body and hop bitterness. Jim told us that this beer was intended to be an English Pale Ale, and was pitched with English Draft Yeast. He added two ounces of Cascade hop pellets in the secondary. Jim remarkably bottled this ale just three weeks prior to being submitted to the contest, and the rest is history.
Jim brought out the ale brewed at the Boston Beer Company as the second beer. This ale was nice, but nowhere as exciting on the palate as the ale that won. The short head retention, coupled with little hop bitterness, made this ale a bit of a disappointment in comparison to the one to be duplicated. It was this second ale that the judges felt so strongly about as to make Jim one of three winners.
Last, Jim poured his Pale Ale #2, a second version of his original recipe but with a heavy Cascade Hop aroma and bitterness. Many in attendance thought that this beer was great, however the majority felt that Jim's original entry ale was first rate, and deserving of the contest winning accolades it received.
After Jim's presentation, I decided to seize a very limited opportunity, and let our members sample the Lindermans' Cuvee Rene. Mugs had just received two cases about a week earlier. Joe Lipa of Merchant DuVin told us at our December meeting about this new Belgium Lambic that would be available only at special beer bars. He also informed us that this would be the first entry into the U.S. for this traditional style lambic. The overall club review of the Cuvee Rene was a good one, with members drawing similarities to the sour lambics produced by the Boon Brewery.
The club would like to thank Jim Simpson for sharing his very exciting experience with us. Our congratulations and pride were expressed at this great meeting!
In this installment, I am running down the last three styles, Belgian Ales, Saisons, and Lambics, and all substyles therein! It is a quick rundown, which I'm sure doesn't due justice to such a complex group of styles, but the deadline for the contest (April 1) is bearing down hard and I wanted to get this information out as soon as possible!!
Belgian Ale: OG: 1044-1054; %A: 3.2-5; C: 3.5-12; IBU: 20-30
"Golden to deep amber. A Belgian 'pale ale.' Hop character subdued. Light to medium body. Low malt aroma. Slight acidity OK. No diacetyl. Low fruity esters in aroma and flavors. Low caramel or toasted malt flavor OK." - AHA
Commercial Examples: Palm Ale, De Konick, and also Abbey Singles such at La Trappe Enkel and Wittenkoop.
The so-called "Belgian Ale" is the Belgian equivalent of a session beer. Unfortunately, few of them are available in this country. Palm Ale and De Konick are two of the most popular beers in Belgian, and are reputed to be very distinctive beers, but you cannot yet find them on our shelves. Perhaps this will soon be rectified. The gravity is in the range of most average beers around the world. In most cases, there are distinctive fruity Belgian yeasts, which add a lot a flavor and complexity to a regulargravity beer.
Homebrewing this style of beer is relatively easy. If you have the ingredients for a Double or Trippel, including a good Belgian Ale yeast, you're all set! Just hold back on the malt, put off the candi sugar for this batch, and go for it!
Belgian Strong Ale: OG: 1064-1096; %A: 5.6-8.8; C: 3.5-20; IBU: 20-50
"Pale to dark brown. Alcoholic. Can be vinous. Darker beers are colored with candi sugar and not so much dark malt. Medium body. Low to high bitterness. Low hop flavor and aroma." - AHA
Commercial Examples: Delirium Tremens, Kwak, Gouden Caroulous.
This is a longtime AHA style guideline, and it would be very hard to miss your target within these wide parameters. Basically, this is the Trippel style and what I have termed Grand Reserve style (and what I have seen in other recent contest called Belgian Strong Dark Ale) collapsed together. If you look over the previous article on those styles (which is available from Hop, Skip and Brew) you will see all specifications needed for the style.
Duvel-Style Ale: OG: 1080-1086; %A: 7.8-8.6; C: 4-5; IBU: 48-56
"Strong Pale Ale. Very light color comes from the use of pilsner malt. Much lighter in color and body than an Abbey Triple. Saaz and Styrian hops are used. Beer is conditioned both warm and cold. Served chilled." - Randy Mosher, Homebrewer's Companion
Commercial Examples: Duvel, Lucifer.
The Duvel-style ale is a very dry, very pale, very light-bodied, but very strong variation on the Trippel. It is also cleaner than a Trippel in flavor, though it still has the distinctive Belgian yeastiness. The actual making of Duvel is a complex process, involving two different batches of beer, and two different yeasts, which are then blended together to make the final beer.
Duplicating this procedure on a homebrewing scale, while possible, would be complicated, and I am not convinced it is necessary. There is a very vigorous, flavorful yeast used in the bottle-conditioning of Duvel, and I think it will be all that is necessary to duplicate, within reasonable parameters, the outline of the style.
When making a Duvel-style ale, you need to use the palest malt you can find (some version of Pilsner would be preferable) or the palest extract if making an extract beer (probably Alexander's) and plenty of Candi sugar. You also want to use more hops in this beer than you would for a Trippel, probably of the noble type, like Saaz or Hallertau.
Saison: OG: 1048-1059; %A: 5-6; C: 6-9; IBU: 30-45
"French (Saisons) and German (Soezens) spellings for related styles, which could be described as Belgian pilsner ales. Very crisp, bitter, and refreshing. Golden color. Fruity ale aromas also evident. Pretty straightforward, lacking the unusual microbial activity which gives many Belgian Ales their bizarre character." - Mosher
Commercial Examples: Saison Dupont, Florette.
Actually, I think Randy Mosher underrates Saisons in his description above. They have a very distinctive flavor, in my experience. Of course, the problem with Saisons is that the only ones available in this country are from a single brewery, the Brasserie Dupont in Tourpes -Leuze, so it becomes hard to separate style guidelines from the specific house character of their beers. Perhaps soon there will be imports of Saisons from some of the other breweries that still make them, such as Saison Silly, etc., so that we will have a more well-rounded appreciation of the style.
The Brewer's Resource yeast bank has a very good Saison yeast that I have used a few times. It reacts rather slowly (primary fermentation takes two weeks) and it reacts best at pretty warm temperatures (in the mid-70's) but when it finishes its job, you end us with a delicious, fruity beer. Using good Belgian pilsner malt, plus a small amount of specialty grain for coloring, should result in a good version of the style. Saison Dupont is dry-hopped, with East Kent Gouldings (one of the few Belgian beers using that technique, along with Orval), and so some dry-hopping in the secondary should give good results.
Saison Special: OG: 1080-1086; %A: 7-8; C: 8-14; IBU: 35-40
Stronger variation of the style. "Stronger versions more amber." - Mosher
Commercial example now available: Moinette. This style would be the same as above, with a little more malt.
"Intensely and cleanly sour. No hop bitterness, flavor or aroma. Effervescent. Fruity/estery and uniquely aromatic. Malted barley and unmalted wheat. Stale, old hops used. Cloudiness OK. - AHA
Gueuze: OG: 1044-1056; %A: 5-6; C: 6-13; IBU: 11-23
"Unflavored blend of old and young lambics, secondarily fermented. Very dry or mildly sweet. Intensely sour and acidic flavor. Fruity-estery. Pale. Light body. Use unmalted wheat, malted barley, and stale aged hops. Very low hop bitterness." - AHA
Commercial Examples: Boone Gueuze, Cantillon Gueuze, Lindeman's Gueuze, St. Louis Gueuze, Lindeman's Curvee Rene.
Faro: Specs same as Gueuze.
"Lambic flavored with sugar and cometimes caramel added. Pale to light amber." - AHA
Commercial Example: Boone Faro Pertotale.
Lambic beers are perhaps the most traditionally-made beers being produced commercially today. The most unique aspect of a Lambic beer is the spontaneous fermentation, produced by opening the windows of brewery during primary fermentation!
At this point, we are talking about what must be the hardest of all Belgian ale styles to reproduce at home. You must certainly be aware at this point that no American Microbrewery has duplicated the Lambic style of beer. There are a couple of microbrews labeled "Lambic" (most infamously, Sam Adams' Cranberry Lambic), but these are misnomers, coming from the erroneous assumption that an Lambic is, by definition, a fruit beer. Lambic fruit beers were a fairly late addition; they were introduced about fifty years ago, which makes them a later style of beer than a Pilsner, oddly enough. Until that time, the only Lambic available were the straight Lambic; Gueuze lambics, which are carbonated by blending old and young lambics in the bottle in a Champagne-like technique; Faro, which as noted above is sweetened with sugar; and Mars, a low-gravity Lambic from second runnings, which is no longer produced.
A true Lambic is unfiltered, and unpasteurized, and takes years to produce, aged in wooden casks. The mash consists of unmalted wheat, and aged, stale hops. There is an amazing complexity to the aroma and flavor, which is dominated by sourness.
To homebrew this type of beer, you must get access to some of the same bacteria that infect the true Lambic naturally. There are several ways to do this. You could try opening your windows and leaving the wort to be infected, but I wouldn't recommend it in this neck of the woods! There are several Lambic cultures (such as Brettanomyces Bruxellensis and Pediococus damnonsus) that are available from Wyeast and Brewers Resource, and these are very effective. You can also try culturing from the dregs of a bottle, preferably several different bottles, and that can work also. I would not recommend trying to plate out any of the Lambic bacterias; they apparently don't survive well on agar preparation designed for yeast. Of course, if you have access to your own personal microbiological laboratory, you may have an advantage over the rest of us!
I should note here that most attempts at homebrewing pseudo-lambics begin with a regular fermentation, using a standard ale yeast (a Belgian White yeast is effective here). I imagine this is a safety procedure, to prevent the wrong kind of infection from happening while the wort is still rich in sugar, and I would recommend duplicating this procedure.
There have been some prize-winning pseudo-lambics done from extract beer, so I imagine you can have good results in that way. If going all grain, you should try to duplicate the authentic Lambic grain bill by using flaked wheat, which is fairly easy to handle. At about 30% wheat, you will want to have a good protein rest, in order to avoid a stuck mash.
Once you've made the wort, and added the yeasts then comes the important part, the aging. This type of beer is going to take a long time to age properly, and to acquire the proper balance of flavors. The process is much more time consuming than other ales, or even lagers. We are talking about a minimum of four or five months, and probably longer! The process can be aided by adding wood to the beer, either by aging it in an oak cask, or adding wood chips in a regular carboy.
Whatever your results, they will be interesting. To precisely duplicate the flavor of any particular Lambic beer would be an almost-impossible task; however, any attempt to try the process is an exciting and educational process for any homebrewer, and certainly something worthy of the effort!
Lambic Fruit: OG: 1040-1072; %A: 5-7; C: N/A; IBU: 15-21
"Characterized by fruit flavor and aroma. The color is intense, while sourness predominates. Raspberry (Framboise), cherry (Kriek) peach (Peche), blackcurrant, (Cassis) are commonly used, as are muscat grapes (Druiven), Strawberries (Aardbien) and others." - AHA/Mosher
Commercial Examples: Boone Marriage Parfait, Boon Kriek, Boon Framboise, Cantillon Kriek, Cantillon Framboise, Lindeman Kriek, Lindeman Framboise, Lindeman Peche, and others.
If you can navigate the difficulties of making a Gueuze or Faro Lambic, the added complexities of making a Fruit beer would seem to be easy! Also, the added flavor of the fruit may well smooth out any imperfections that would be apparent in a straight Lambic beer. As with any fruit beer, I would recommend adding the fruit to the secondary, to increase the fruit flavor and decrease the likelihood of any unwanted infections.
In my opinion, the best fruit lambics I have had (which would probably be those of Boon and Cantillon) are those in which the fruit flavor did not totally dominate the beer, but was held it submission by the natural Lambic acidity. I would aim for that type of flavor in a fruit Lambic, rather than those "pop" Lambics that go for a wine-cooler flavor. However, that is just a matter of taste, and I am not a beer judge. Just follow the guidelines!
I hope this series has been helpful to you in preparing your submissions to our contest. I'm sorry that we were unable to get it out earlier, so that you would have all the information before preparing the beers. Well, maybe we'll have another contest next year, and you can use it then! (In the case of Lambics, you might need the information two years ahead of time!)
I take full responsibility for any errors that may have crept into the text; if you have any suggestions or corrections you can write me at Hop Skip and a Brew, or via the Internet at warrenb@nycpipeline. I look forward to seeing you at the contest, and trying your Belgian Brews!
This past December, I had the good fortune to visit a friend in Oregon. I went there expecting to try a large variety of good beer, and was not disappointed. The place has to be the closest point to beer heaven this side of Germany.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Oregon is that no matter how much of a dive a bar might be (some pool halls that I visited in Portland fit this bill), there is invariably at least one good, local beer on tap. As you move up the ladder to somewhat nicer bars, the beer selection seems to grow exponentially, but the prices remain reasonable (dirt cheap if you're used to places like DBA).
In eleven days I took notes on 30 different draft beers, and tasted many others that I was not quite lucid enough to take notes on (or remember the names of, in some cases). Most were good, a few bland, and a few were exceptional.
Of note were Widmer's Alt (a malty nose and palate with a pleasantly bitter finish), Nor'Wester's Hefe-Weizen (although the aroma was quite bland, it actually had plenty of banana in the palate, a rarity among American wheat beers). Grant's Imperial Stout was a very nice beer; a malty nose with alcohol evident, and an earthy, full palate. The finish is strongly bitter, but quite pleasant. Widmer Dopplebock is a good, malty beer, but was hurt by being served ice-cold.
McMennamins Brewing runs The Baghdad, and old movie theater in Portland. There one can see relatively old films (for only $1!) And drink the brewery's products. I saw "Planet of the Apes" and tried several beers. A beer named "Terminator" perplexed me. Seeing the "-ator" suffix, I had my taste buds ready for a dopplebock. The beer appropriately had not hop aroma and was fairly malty in the nose, but with a bit of roast character. The palate was dominated by roasted malts and the body was a bit thin for the style I was expecting. A good beer, but not a dopplebock. Two days later, at a different bar, I saw a menu with the beer's full name: Terminator Stout. That made sense.
The highlight of this beer adventure was a tour of the Deschutes Brewery. Both the brewery and the brew pub (with its own separate brewing facilities) are located in the town of Bend. This small, but quickly growing community is at the eastern foot of the Cascade mountains. Aside from beer, the town is know for the ski resort at Mt. Bachelor.
The brewery was established in 1992 and is housed in a modern building near a hazardous set of railroad tracks (that's a different story). They are able to brew 50 barrel batches and are about to start 24 hour brewing because the demand for their beer is so great. It is currently distributed only in Oregon and the bordering states.
My 9:00 A.M. started with a beer tasting (of course)! I tried a "cask-conditioned golden ale," because I had not seen this anywhere else. Wonderfully balanced malt and hops up front, fading to a dry, earthy hop finish (the result of dry hopping). The bitterness was perfect for a breakfast beer; my palate was happy to be awakened by it.
Bill, my tour guide, then guided me to the top of the four-story gravity-fed brew house. Here the grains were stored. I noticed some of the malts they used were from Belgium. The mash tun and boiler are both steam-fired. All of their beers are mashed using a multi-step schedule (mash in at protein rest, heat to conversion, and hold for 50-70 minutes, heat to mash-out). The grain is fed to a separate lauter tun (one floor below the mash tun) for sparging. In this way, they are able to stagger batches and maximize output. They allow the grain bed to settle for 20 minutes before they begin recirculating the wort. The bed is usually underlet and reset once during sparging.
The wort is then pumped into the boiler. Whole hops are used in all their beers (I guess if there were hops growing all around here, I'd use whole hops all the time too!). The boiled wort is then pumped to a whirlpooling tank where the hot break is settled out. From there the wort is cooled and oxygen is injected on its way to a closed, conical fermenter. Cold break is not removed, because they don't feel it's worth the risk of microbial contamination.
After primary fermentation, the fate of the beer depends on how it will be packaged. None of the beers are filtered or pasteurized. I asked if this had any effect on its shelf life. The answer surprised me: the greatest threat to their package beer is oxidation, caused by hot-side aeration in the whirlpool tank. There is a metal lip on the inlet of the tank that interferes with the flow of the wort, thus aerating it. I don't know why they don't fix it.
Beer that it destined for bottles is first filtered then krausened. Beer that is to be kegged is conditioned in the fermenter and kegged under counter pressure. It was fun to watch the guy bunging the keg with a sledge-lots of beer in the air!
Some of their beers are cask-conditioned in stainless kegs. These are simply taken from the primary and put into kegs for secondary fermentation. Two of their most notable products are Obsidian Stout and Black Butte Porter, both named after the interesting geological features of the area. Both were more interesting on tap than from the bottle.
I could go on extolling the wonders of Oregon's brewing scene, but this is too long already! It is most definitely a state worth visiting. The natural beauty of the area, coupled with good beer, makes for a great time.