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Thursday, April 28, 2016

Ermahgerd! Dark Belgian Strong (or Quadrophilia)

I thought I hadn't brewed since my wedding, but the wedding brew was the penultimate brew to this one. I brewed a Tripel a few months after the wedding, then a bit of mead and cider a couple years back. So we're almost at our four year anniversary and I'm finally mashing in again.

I think of myself as an 'all grain' brewer, when you buy malt extract you're paying for someone else to do the mash, convert the starches in the malt to sugars and evaporate it down. Why pay them to have all that fun? But there is a place for extracts. I should probably do an all extract brew here and there because the fact that my all grain methods take the whole day is part of why I end up going stretches without brewing. There's things I can do with a whole day of play, such as riding my bike a hundred miles.

There's a technique referred to as 'partial mash' which means you do a mash yourself, then supplement with malt extract. Some people use the term when they aren't mashing at all, just soaking some specialty grains such as crystal malt and roasted barley, but are getting all their fermentables from extract. But in this case, it's a true partial mash. There's the 25 pounds of Pilsner malt, a pound and a half of 60º Crystal, a quarter pound each of Special B and Chocolate Malt, I mashed that at 152ºF and collected 17 gallons of wort which was then supplemented with six pounds of DME and a collection of sugars Belgian and otherwise.

I had a couple of pounds of candi syrup from a door prize a couple years back, and I bought a pound of dark belgian candi crystals at B&B, and then I got worried as I did gravity calculations and did some reading on 'invert' sugars, and I ended up putting 2-1/2 pounds of white table sugar in the kettle.

Using table sugar in a homebrew is near putting ketchup on your eggs in a French restaurant as far as faux pas go. But a Quad or Dark Belgian Strong like this, it cries out for sugar. The sugar boosts the alcohol content without adding body for a start (leading to a sneaky-drinkable beer). It also seems to contribute some flavors and aromas of its own as the yeast deals with all that extra glucose. Strong Belgian ales are complex, endlessly variable things. But Belgian candi sugar? It's expensive here in the States, and its credited with magical properties because it's 'invert.'

The inversion happens when you take table sugar (sucrose) and break it down with heat and acidity to be fructose and glucose.

Guess what? Wort is acidic. And I boiled the shit for two hours. I don't think I'm going to get cidery off flavors and aromas, but I did save like $30 over buying more Belgian candi sugar.

Derek got a late start, but I'd gotten a later one. So instead of doing the lift to the cooker trick around noon it was after 5:00. And it was almost midnight by the time I had wort chilled, pitched, and shit cleaned up and put away.

The lifting, bending, squatting, and so on involved in this process, I guess all the cycling I do works a whole different muscle group because the next day I could hardly walk. Four days later I'm still feeling it. But I figure if you need a second weekend to recover from the fun you had on a weekend, that's a weekend worth having.

And as I explained in this post, I experimented not just with two yeast strains but two yeast suppliers on this one.

I think I feel a Belgian phase coming on actually, with the revelation that I can invert my own sugar. For light, adding white sugar to the kettle as I was collecting the wort makes perfect sense. And since I had some dark candi sugar aside from that, plus that little touch of Chocolate Malt and Special B, I had plenty of color this time. But I could have just used a bit more white sugar, boiled it with a bit of Acid Blend for however long it took to get dark enough and used that.

I've never been a big one for 'clone brews' where you try to make something just like a thing you can get at the liquor store, though I have made my Ugly American Stout a few times and it's essentially a clone beer for Sierra Nevada Stout. But I was thinking, a Duvel clone would be an interesting project. I love Duvel, would drink it more often if it weren't so freaking expensive. I bet if I mashed 30 pounds of Belgian Pilsner Malt and supplemented that with eight pounds of sugar, used some Saaz finishing hops in the last half hour or so of the boil...

Bacchus & Barelycorn is having a demo day on May 7, maybe me and that Duvel clone idea can meet up there.

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