Saturday, January 26, 2008

Belgian Epiphany

I have always been a hophead, inspired originally by British Bitters and IPAs. Then I moved on to West Coast ales with insane amounts of hops and a higher-than-normal ABV. Moylan's Triple IPA and Rogue Brewery's Brutally Bitter (among others) were my choices.

However, my wife traveled to Europe several times for work when we first married. She would go to England, the Netherlands, and Germany, and come home talking about some of the great European beers she was trying fresh off the tap. While I did enjoy a Hefe or Bock, she never really brought home any of the Belgians. My only real experience was local sources of Lindeman's Kreik and Framboise. Not good samples in trying to convince me of the Belgium brewing magic.

I have since traveled several times to the Netherlands and once to Germany, but never made time to research or find good beers. It was usually whatever they served in my isolated Dutch hotel, or the one local Irish establishment in the heart of Schweinfurt.

During an extended work trip last year, Mrs. Brew Meister and I methodically sampled every variety possible. We started with the grocery store close to our lodging. Grolsch Kanon, Le Chouffe Blond, Paulaner Naturtrub, Hoeggarden's Grand Cru and Verboten Vrucht...oh, there will be more on beer travel later.

I was fascinated with the complexity of these brews. Many were malty, vinous, yeasty, heady, and downright delicious. After we returned home, my thoughts were still with these styles. In fact, the first batch for 2008 was a Belgian Dubbel based on a "Joy of Homebrewing" recipe. I was probably inspired by time spent in Europe drinking as many new dubbels, trippels, witbiers, schwartzbiers, hefeweizens, farmhouse ales--and anything else I could try.

When I visited the Local Brew Shop, and asked, I was recommended the "Joy" version with a few minor alterations:

  • 3.3# Amber Extract Syrup
  • 6#Amber DME.
  • 5# Chocolate malt
  • 1# crystal malt
  • .5oz Belgium Special B2oz goldings (60 minute)
  • 2oz Mt Hood (15 minute)
  • White Labs Belgium Trappist Yeast OG 1.079
I had a few friends over to show them the joys of homebrewing. It was also an easy sell, as we sampled a few beers from the style
  • 2 x Chimay Grand Reserve (Blue)
  • 1 x Duvel
  • 1 x Lindeman's Spontaneous Fermentation.

Everything went off without a hitch. Primary fermentation lasted 6 days, secondary fermentation lasted 8 days. At the end of secondary, the beer tasted a bit fruity in the nose, with banana or apple, followed by a warm tongue-coating maltiness. The hops were still surprisingly apparent in the taste. The alcohol was pronounced as it went to the belly. It finished with a sharpness reminding me the beer is still too young. The batch was primed with corn sugar and bottled in an assortment of glass and Brew tap bottles.

I forgot to check FG, out of practice. Still, all and all, a great way to kick off the Brew Year.

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