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Adventures in Homebrew: Belgian Bitter

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Adventures in Homebrew: Belgian Bitter
by kevin@beerandcoding.com

Somehow, amid the indulgences of Eugene Beer Week, I managed to squeeze a homebrew session into the first week of May. After several months working with the Timothy Taylor (Wyeast 1469) yeast, followed by a quick stint with a German Wheat (Wyeast 3333) strain, I decided to return to brewing Belgians. More specifically, I revisited the first beer I ever brewed, a Belgian-style IPA.

Now, being my first brew, my Belgian IPA had several fatal flaws. First, it contained an obscene amount of carapils, crystal and biscuit malts, about 10% of each. And not fully understanding how hop additions affect beer flavor and aroma, I didn’t include a flameout or dry-hop charge. Equally ignorant on the topic of yeast, I let the beer sail into low 80º’s for the better part of its active fermentation. Welcome to bubblegum city. Still, when I cracked open the first bottle, a plastic 20oz Pepsi bottle mind you, I thought I’d created magic. Oh how quickly we evolve.

A little older and hopefully a little wiser, this time around, I wanted something much cleaner, much drier and much hoppier. While the first Belgian IPA was an attempt at Stone Cali-Belgique, Urthel Hop-It, Auchouffe Houblon and fresh De Ranke XX Bitter were all inspiration for this brew.

De Ranke XX Bitter

Belgian Bitter

Batch Size: 5.0 gallons
Boil Volume: 6.5 gallons

4 lb 11 oz Great Western 2-Row (44%)
4 lb 11 oz Weyermann Pilsner (44%)
1 lb 4 oz Flaked Maize (12%)

0.68 oz (19 gm) Columbus (14.5 AA%) @ 60
1.0 oz Styrian Golding (3.8 AA%) @ 15
1.0 oz Czech Saaz (5.5 AA%) @ Flame Out (steeped 30 minutes)

Wyeast 3522 – Belgian Ardennes

Estimated Efficiency: 70%
Estimated Attenuation 75%
Estimated OG: 1.056
Estimated FG: 1.014
Estimated ABV: 5.4%
Estimated IBU: 48
Estimated SRM: 3

Mash @ 149º(F) for 1 hour.
Boil for 100 minutes, start adding hops after 40.
Ferment @ 66º(F).

A pretty simple grain bill, mashed low to create a very fermentable wort. A long boil was used to retain a touch of sweetness and give a dash of color to the extremely pale ale. For yeast, I had thought about pulling the Duvel culture from my original Belgian IPA back out of the bank, but decided instead to give the Achouffe (Wyeast 3522) strain a try. From my experience with Achouffe beers, this yeast provides a nice spiciness, along with some faint fruit notes.

To keep the fruitiness in check, I fermented near the bottom of the strain’s temperature range, at 66º(F). The yeast took off quickly, but stalled around 1.030. and fell out of suspension. I ended up having to raise to temperature a few degrees and rouse the fermenter a time or two to get the beer to finish out. At 18 days in the tank, the gravity is now down to 1.012. Using my slightly higher than estimated starting gravity of 1.058, this puts the beer at 5.9% ABV and the yeast attenuation at 80%.

I am still trying to decide whether or not to dry-hop this beer. From the samples I’ve pulled, the Saaz flavor is coming through nicely, but I’d like a little more of it in the aroma. On the other hand, the low fermentation temperature resulted in a soft Belgian yeast character and I’d hate to mask it completely with another shot of hops. I suppose I still have some time to make a decision. I am out of free kegs at the moment and the beer fridge is completely full of bottles. This one will be sitting in a fermenter until something clears up. Yeah, I know, tough situation to be in.

Cheers!
Kevin

 

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