28 December 2013 AD
For some reason, I have never tried to brew a Belgian Abbey Ale. Oh, there was the Ugly Duckling, but that was never intended to be an Abbey Ale. This was an interesting exercise in light of the fact that I recently brewed a wee-heavy scotch ale. The two are both high gravity beers, but in other respects are basically opposite in philosophy. The scotch ale is mashed at high temp to maintain high finishing gravity, and is fermented at low temperature over a long time in order to avoid ester production. The Belgians are meant to have low terminal gravity, assisted by the use of sugar, and are fermented at high temps very quickly in order to produce esters.
The recipe I used was a combination of one from the Belgian Beer Styles book, and various recipes for Ommegang Abbey clones I found online. I skipped the spice and fruit to keep things (relatively) simple.
Grains and sugar-
- 8 lbs Belgian Pilsner Malt
- 3 lbs Dark Munich Malt
- 4 oz Aromatic malt
- 4 oz Amber malt
- 4 oz crystal 60L
- (2 oz carmel 80L – see below)
- 1 lb Light Belgian candi sugar
- Bittering: 7.8 AAUs German Perle
- Aroma: 0.5 oz Czech Saaz (3.2% alpha), 0.5 oz Styrian Goldings (3.8% alpha)
- White labs Abbey Ale
Starter made with 1/2 c light extract to 20oz of water
I used a step infusion procedure outlined in the book that is supposedly the procedure used at La Chouffe.
I mashed in with about 3.5 gallons of water. I used Poland Spring water as the water at the Thoor is very hard and Belgian beers in particular call for soft water since they are not intended to be hoppy. Was looking for a good stiff mash. The book recommended 1 qt per pound of grist, which would have come out to about 3 gal, but this seemed a little tight to me, so I added a little extra. It came out a little thin. Next time I would go with the book’s recommendation.
I tested the mash ph with litmus paper, something I have not done in a long while. It is a blunt instrument, but the ph seemed to be in the right range of around 5.3.
- 1. Mashed in to 145F and held for 15 minutes
It is not clear to me what this rest is for. It is too high a temp for proteases, so not really a protein rest, and a bit too high for beta amylase. But too low it seems for starch conversion. Perhaps a way of letting the beta amylase work a bit before raising it to starch conversion range? Then the high rest at the end to maximize alpha amylase? Not sure, but I did it anyway.
2. Raised temp to 154F for two hour rest. At 1 hr temp had dropped to 151, which is right where I wanted it. After 2 hrs it had dropped to 146F.
3. Raised to 160F for 15 minutes
At this point, the color seemed a little light to me. I wanted a little more red to it. So, I ground up 2 oz of 80L caramel and added it to the grist for this last rest. It won’t add any sugar at this point, but maybe up the color a bit.
Mash out at 170 for 5 minutes.
Sparged with 5 gallons of water at 180F. About 1.25 gallons of this was spring water, and the rest was well water from Solis Thoor. The book recommends a procedure of first draining the grains completely of wort, then cutting a crisscross into the top of the grain bed and running sparge water over it. This seemed to me to be a recipe for stuck mash disaster, so I skipped it and did a standard sparge.
S.g. was 1.050 at start of boil. I wanted a boil of at least 1.5 hrs. Bittering hops added as soon as rolling boil started.
At 15 min into boil, 1 lb light candi sugar was added and stirred in. According to the book, beers true to the style cannot be made without sugar, since even if the desired gravity could be achieved with malt, the taste would be too heavy for the style.
At 1.5 hrs, heat was turned off and the aroma hops added. The book’s abbey ale recipe calls for dry hopping. Yet, in the style profile, it says there should be no hop aroma. Dry hopping seems like a good way to get hop aroma to me. I opted for some more subtle aroma. I don’t want a nose full of hops in my abbey ale.
Old school cold break in the snow.
Starting Gravity= 1.082
Pitched yeast starter and transferred carboy to the machine room. I need a high temp for fermentation. The house is usually between 50 and 60. Good for scotch ales. Not so much for Belgians. Fortunately, I have the machine room which can be heated pretty easily. I usually keep it at 60 in the winter to keep the well pump from freezing, but I have turned it up to almost 80 for primary fermentation. I kept some starter aside, and may take a bit more of the yeast from the fermenting wort to use for refermentation in the bottles. For Belgian styles, because of the high gravity, fresh yeast is pitched for bottling instead of just priming with sugar as for regular beers.
Fermentation started very oddly. In 24 hours, there was a nice Krausen on it, but nary a bubble in the blow off jug. I actually searched around thinking there was a leak, or maybe the tube was plugged or something. But nothing was wrong. Maybe the yeast was just consuming the oxygen first, but I have never seen such a delay. The next morning it was bubbling steadily though.
This is the strangest fermentation I have ever seen. At day three, it had a thick, fluffy krausen on it, but had ceased bubbling once again.
Nothing coming out of the blow off tube. My theory is that the yeast had been lifted out of the wort by the foam. The Belgian beer styles book mentioned that this is sometimes an issue as these yeasts ferment right on top. This is certainly true, as there is no sediment at all on the bottom. I removed some yeast to add to the Tripel, and stirred and shook the krausen back into the wort. Bubbling then resumed.
Despite having a thick krausen still on it, it was not bubbling at all. So, I racked it off clean. S.g. 1.042, so it still needs some work. The new carboy had no foam at all in it. But a few hours later, it had developed a thick foam and was bubbling in the airlock. I think the racking was needed to get things moving again.
Sample tasted good. Interestingly, it tasted hoppy, despite the very low level of alpha acids the beer actually contains. The alcohol is also obvious, and it is not finished yet.
While racking, I washed the yeast for preservation. First time I have tried this. I used the procedure shown here. After one night in the cold box, here is what they looked like:
Not a whole lot of yeast in there. Maybe I can combine a few jars or something. If this works, the days of buying yeast may be largely over.