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Brewing a Belgian Dubbel Style Beer

Being a big fan of Belgian and Belgian-style ales, there are several types of beer I'd like to dial in a good recipe and process to brew.  Those include:
  • Tripel:  This is one of my favorite styles.  I've made this four times now and still haven't made a beer with the right fruity, spicy, slightly sweet flavor I want.  As I write this, I have one of these in the secondary fermenter.
  • Quadrupel:  I've not attempted this style yet.  I had found a very promising recipe online but can't find it now.
  • Dubbel:  I've not attempted this style, until now.
  • Strong Dark Ale:  I've attempted this one once.  It was drinkable but had no recognizable Belgian style elements to it, so I was disappointed.
When I found a Belgian Dubbel recipe recently that sounded really good, I realized that I probably had all the ingredients I needed except for yeast, and that was actually on order from Midwest Supplies.  A few days later, the yeast arrived along with a 5-gallon economy kettle I wanted for brewing 2.5 gallon batches.  As it turned out, I didn't have the Special B grain, so I made a trip to Gentile's Wine Sellers (a local homebrew shop here in Columbus) and picked up a pound plus a vial of White Labs WLP530 Belgian yeast (rather than the dry yeast I'd planned to use).

Here's the ingredient list I used:
  • 4 oz. Aromatic Malt
  • 4 oz. Biscuit Malt
  • 2 oz. Dingeman's Special B Malt
  • 2 oz. Caramunich III Malt
  • 4 lb. Alexander's Pale Liquid Malt
  • 0.35 oz. Styrian Goldings Hops Pellets (6.2% AA)
  • Fermcap-S as directed on bottle, to prevent boil-over
  • 1/2 tsp. Irish Moss soaked in wort for 15 minutes to activate it
  • 2 tsp. Fermax Yeast Nutrient
  • 0.5 oz. Hallertau Hops Pellets (4.0% AA)
  • 1/2 lb. Belgian Brun Fonce Candi Sugar
  • White Labs WLP545 Belgian Strong Ale Yeast (I found a still-viable tube of this in my refrigerator while gathering the hops and other ingredients, so I decided to reserve the WLP530 I'd purchased for a future beer.)
  • Oxygen stone and tank
The brewing process went as follows:
  • Cleaned and sanitized my kettle, fermenter, airlock, and other tools.
  • Filled the kettle with 2.5 gallons of filtered water from the tap.
  • Inserted the grain bag in the kettle (without grain).
  • Heated the steeping water to 160 degrees Fahrenheit, then moved the kettle to a different burner on my stove, set on low.  Past experience has shown me that this will tend to keep the kettle within 1 degree of the temp it's at when I move it over to this burner.
  • Added the specialty grains to the grain bag and stirred to ensure they all got wet.  The kettle temperature dropped to around 154-155, as I expected.  It stayed there for the remainder of the steeping process, but I monitored every 3-5 minutes to be sure since I've ruined steeps in the past by getting them too hot.
  • With the steeping finished, I moved the kettle off the heat and removed the grain bag.  At this point, my wife and I needed to leave the house, so I put the kettle back on the (now turned off) burner and let it sit there until we returned a few hours later.  I hoped this would give the enzymes time to convert more starch to sugar.
  • When we returned home, I turned on the burner and brought the kettle to a boil.  I opened the 4 pound can of Pale LME and added it to the kettle.  I also added a hops ball filled with the Styrian Goldings pellets and began a timer for 60 minutes.
  • At 30 minutes, I took a couple of large spoonfuls of wort and used them to rehydrate the Irish Moss and dissolve the yeast nutrient.
  • After 45 minutes of boiling, I put my wort chiller into the kettle.  I added the Irish Moss and yeast nutrient.
  • After 55 minutes of boiling, I added a hops ball with the half-ounce of Hallertau hops pellets for aroma. I also added the half-pound of Brun Fonce Candi Sugar.
  • When the boil hit 60 minutes, I turned off the heat and removed the kettle from the burner.  I then began pumping cold tap water through the wort chiller to cool the wort.  About 20 minutes later the wort was down below 78 degrees Fahrenheit.  I transferred it to my fermenter, and added water to get the volume to 2.5 gallons.  I then inserted my oxygen stone and oxygenated the wort for 90 seconds to give the yeast a good living environment.
  • I pitched the yeast and used a sanitized spool to stir everything up and mix in the yeast well.
  • I sealed the 6.5 gallon fermenter and inserted an airlock filled with Star San.  
  • The fermenter was moved to my basement, which tends to remain at around 68 degrees year round, so it's good for fermenting beer.
The beer fermented from June 13 to June 25.  At that point, the gravity seemed to level off, so I used D-45 Candi Syrup to prime it for bottle conditioning.  That was on July 3.  It's now July 20 as I write this, and the beer is definitely finished.

So, How Is It?

I can't speak for other homebrewers out there, but I've often been frustrated when I find beer recipes (like this one) online.  The brewer will give us painstaking details on how they brewed the beer, but not tell us how the beer turned out.  So we have this recipe in front of us that might produce the greatest beer ever, or something mediocre, or something awful.  We just don't know.   So my plan for the Begin Brewing blog is to come back and edit articles like this to tell you how the recipe turned out, what was good and bad about it, and what I'd do next time differently (if anything).

This particular beer turned out the perfect color and clarity, to my eye, for a Belgian Dubbel.  (See the photo at the left.)  It's a nice reddish mahogany color with a bit better than finger-thick head that's tan in color.  The head lasts for several seconds (maybe 15 or so) before reincorporating into the beer.

The aroma is yeasty, like most homebrew beers that are bottle conditioned.  There is a hint of caramel in the aroma and a touch of dark fruit like prune.  There is a little bit of a perfume note to it.

The flavor turned out malty, but with what I think is a perfect hops balance for a Dubbel.  You'll definitely know there's hops in it, but this isn't a hoppy brew by any stretch.  There is a hint of the Belgian dark fruit (prune or similar) in it, but it's not as pronounced as it could be.  There isn't a lot else to the flavor.  If I'd been handed this (and didn't know what it was), then asked to review it on a 1 to 10 scale (where 10 is fantastic), I'd probably give it a 7.  It's good, but it could definitely be better.

What Would You Do Differently Next Time?

The Sugar:  I used Brun Fonce candi sugar in this beer.  While it didn't ruin the beer at all, it didn't contribute much to the flavor.  I tasted some of the beer while it was flat, before bottling it, and felt that it was decently balanced but boring.  I used D-45 Candi Syrup to prime it before bottling, and that amped up the Belgian flavor a little bit.  I'm hoping that additional bottle conditioning may improve on that (Update:  It did.  Each week I've opened a bottle it seems to have gotten better.).  Either way, the next time I brew this beer I will definitely follow the advice of a local professional homebrewer and use Candi Syrup.  He said that the syrup provides a better flavor than the rocks or granulated stuff, and I think he's right.  I might consider priming it with Brun Fonce, but I'll definitely brew it with the syrup.

Although the original recipe called for more hops than I used, I would not adjust this.  Even if the Candi Syrup provided a touch more sweetness in the next batch, the hops should still be pretty well balanced as-is.

I might also try to monitor and control temperature a bit differently in the fermentation process.  In this case, I left it in the primary sitting in the basement with no thermometer or heating/cooling.  It doesn't seem to have harmed the beer at all, but I have to wonder if better temperature control would have improved it... or if keeping it closer to the top end of the yeast's tolerance near the end might have generated additional esters and phenols common in the style.


Below are some photos taken during the brewing process:

Wort boiling, hops ball visible in the kettle

Wort chiller inserted and cool-down underway


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