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Last week, our house looked a bit like the day after Christmas: messy, full of boxes, packing material, and lots of new toys to play with. Obviously, new stuff calls for a brew day, so that’s what we did. One of our goodies was a package of Wyeast #3864 (Canadian Belgian), so of course we had to make something Belgian with it. At first, we played with the idea of recreating a witbier from a couple of years ago, but after some discussion—informed by 21ist Amendment Brewery’s version of a dark strong, Monk’s Blood—we decided to make a Dubbel, with wheat.
Though Monk’s Blood helped to inspire our brew day, it’s not exactly the same style, so I don’t have any tasting notes on it today. Maybe later. Before we get into brewing details and tasting notes, a word about style. Try as the BJCP may, it’s difficult to define Belgian beer styles.1 As Lew Bryson puts it in his article, Conjuring up the ‘Black Magic’ of Belgian Beers, “Belgian Brewers have an open attitude about brewing that makes the whole country a “style-Free” zone.’2
Belgians are some of the original brewing rebels, which might be part of the reason so many Americans love their beers. Centuries before Rogue and Dogfish Head came along with their convention-defying beers, Belgian brewers were giving the finger to the Reinheitsgebot. That said, most Belgian ales still fit—if loosely—into “a few dozen styles.”3
So what the heck is a Belgian or Abbey Dubbel? If you’re at all familiar with Belgian beers, then you know that Trappist beers are generally amazing, and that only beers from actual Trappist abbeys can be called that. The word ‘Abbey’ on a beer label means that it’s a secular brew inspired by the Trappist ales. Describing his first encounter with a Dubbel, Mark Pasquinelli writes, “It was a sight to behold: glistening ruby highlights; a thick, creamy head: aromas of malt and caramel: sweet, but with a dry finish; hints of dark fruit and spices.”4
There you go. Something answering that description is what we tried to make yesterday. Since the BJCP guidelines are important to anyone brewing for competition in the U.S., I’ll also mention that they have an entry for Belgian Dubbel. It says about the same thing as the quote above, but in a lot more words.
5.5 gallon batch, all grain
We finally got a counter top RO filter, so that’s what we used for the water. To this, Ben added 10 g Calcium Chloride, 9 g baking soda, 6 g gypsum, and 4 g Epsom salt.
The grain bill was 5 lbs Bohemian Pilsner (2.7 SRM), 4 lbs Avangard Wheat Malt (2.3 SRM), 1 lb Munich Light 10L (11 SRM), 1 lb flaked wheat (1.6 SRM), and 8 oz Special B malt (180 SRM).
At mash in, we added 3.7 gallons at 163.7 F, for a 75 minute mash at 148 F. Then, we—actually Ben pretty much ran this one himself—added about 2.3 gallons at 204.7 F, for a 10 minute rest at 168 F.
Using a piece of equipment known by the highly technical name of collapsible colander, he did a fly sparge with 2.88 gallons at 168 F.
As with many Belgian styles, Candi syrup is requisite to achieve the desired alcohol level and flavor complexity in a Dubbel. Especially the flavor complexity.4 For this batch, we used 2 lbs of D-45 Amber (45 SRM). That went into the boil, and then at 60 minutes, so did 1 oz Styrian Celeja (4.5 %). At 30 minutes, another oz of Styrian Celeja went in. At the 5 minute mark, Ben added .75 oz Coriander Seed, and .75 oz bitter orange peel.
According to the aforementioned Pasquinelli, whose authority on the subject is derived from experience and having been published in Zymurgy Magazine, “Dubbels are not spiced.”4 But while one of our ‘research’ beers, Ommegang’s Valar Morghulis, is not described as containing spices, their Abbey Ale, another Dubbel, has licorice root, star anise, sweet orange peel, coriander, and cumin.
Once again, this was a brew day full of firsts: first Dubbel, first time oxygenating the wort, first time using our more powerful induction cooker, first time successfully doing a whirlpool.
Ben’s brew day notes:
Followed the recipe. Attained 64.8% brewhouse efficiency on the new system. Overshot the preboil volume, so we did a 110 minute boil. Oxygenated for 1-2 minutes.
Ran a starter on the yeast, 1l for 24 hours. Used the whirlpool method and the new side pickup, got no visible hop trub in the fermenter. Ground water temperature is extremely cold; the post chiller wort was 51 F even with the pump chugging wort through the plate chiller as fast as possible.
Used a 240v induction cooker. Killed 1 thermometer during mashout, but mash efficiency didn’t suffer too badly. The “precision labs” ph strips are garbage.
Thanks to the lovely winters we get ‘round here, the garage is literally freezing, so I am again sharing the office with a conical fermenter. I don’t mind; it’s probably going to be delicious, and the airlock makes a pleasant bubbling sound. Look for an update on that one in a few weeks.
Right. So that was brewing. In between all that, we of course spent some time savoring the two Ommegang examples. Some new friends came over to share our brew day and ‘research’ session, and their remarks contributed to the tasting notes.
Pour/Appearance: (Ben) Poured a murky mahogany with a short lived 1 finger head.
(Meagan) Deep russet, with—in a Glencairn nosing glass—a very pale biscuit-colored head of 2 fingers.
Nose: (Ben) Nose is a leathery cherry with caramel bits in.
(Meagan) Strong caramel character (thanks, Anthony), with raisin and plum notes.
Taste: (Ben) Taste is a mix of caramel, cherry, “sweet” (thanks to Ashley) grainy Munich bready flavor.
(Meagan) Same caramel and fruit notes hinted at in nose; caramel, plum, raisins. Much of that comes from the candi syrup, which imparts a particular flavor that is hard to describe, but noticeable when you know what you’re looking for. Also, it has the faintly spicy bite that is characteristic of Belgian ale yeasts.
Body: (Ben) Thin to medium body.
(Ben) Overall, a leathery cherry tart/sweet pretty good example of a Dubbel.
Pour/Appearance: (Ben) Pours a rich, murky mahogany color (kinda similar to Valar Morghulis, but with a much better head) with a three to four-finger long lasting head that sticks to the glass forever.
Nose: (Ben) Nose is a cherry/plum with tart milky notes and a hint of some kind of citrus wood.
(Meagan) Caramel notes are less pronounced in this one than in its Game of Thrones-themed cousin, with more spicy character (thanks, Ashley).
Taste: (Ben) The flavor, however, is another thing entirely. It tastes like cherry, Virginia Cavendish and Scotch Burley tobacco, notes of Irish Cream and alcohol. Breathing over it really wakes up the acidity and the alcohol, making those berry and stone fruit notes stand out. I’m getting a Prunus Subcordata (Klamath Plum – if you haven’t had it, sorry) note from the vapor. There’s a hint of leather, but not excessively so, not a smoky leather, maybe a vegetable tanned calfskin.
Body/mouthfeel: (Ben) Body is on the medium side of thin to medium.
(Ben) My overall impression is a very complex, interesting Dubbel, which I’m glad I bought more than one of.
“Abbey Ale.” Ommegang — Brewer of Belgian-Style Beers in America. Accessed February 16, 2015.
2Bryson, Lew. “Conjuring of the ‘Black Magic’ of Belgian Beers. Zymurgy. January/February 2005: 24. Print.
“Category 18B. Belgian Dubbel.” BJCP 2008 Style Guidelines. January 1, 2008. Accessed February 16, 2015.
1Schneller, Bill. “Belgian-Style Brews: Tricks of the Trade.” Zymurgy. January/February 2005: 29. Print.
3Taniff, Michael. “Belgium: Small in Stature Big in Beer. Zymurgy. January/February 2005: 16. Print.
4Pasquinelli, Mark. “Dubbels: The Best of Everything Belgian.” Zymurgy, May/June 2009: 22, 26.
Fermentation update: In the time it took me to write this post, the fermentation got so vigorous that I had to change the airlock out for a blowoff assembly (long hose with one end in a gallon jug of StarSan water). And the bubbles are threatening to overflow the jug. That yeast sure is happy.
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