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Belgian Dubbel 3.0

If you've read this blog for any amount of time, it's no secret that I am fan of Belgian style ales. I've made at least six different Tripel recipes that I can remember, several Quadrupels, two or three Trappist Singles, and before this, two Dubbels. One was an extract beer that turned out OK. The other was an all-grain beer that was easy to drink but just didn't hit the mark for me. The recipe I brewed on February 5, 2017, started out as a clone of La Trappe Dubbel. La Trappe's Dubbel is one of my favorites.

When I started assembling the ingredients for this one, I began wondering about my Saaz hops. They were a bit older, and were only 3.2% alpha acid to start with. My concerns were that they might not bitter the beer enough, and that adding a lot of them might trigger a grassy flavor in the finished beer. So I made the decision to use some German Northern Brewer hops to handle the bittering. They were fresh and certainly strong enough at 10.1% alpha acid. I would add a second addition at about 20 minutes to provide some flavor, using the Saaz and a packet of Styrian Goldings I had that was only 1.4% alpha acid. I like the flavor combination of Saaz and Styrian Goldings in a Belgian ale, so I reasoned it would work well here. As I write this, the jury's still out.

The Recipe

8.5 pounds of Belgian Pale Ale Malt
1.25 pounds of Caramunich III Malt
11 ounces of Cara-Pils Malt
0.40 ounces of German Northern Brewer hops pellets @ 10.1% AA
1 ounce of Styrian Goldings hops pellets @ 1.4% AA
1 ounce of Czech Saaz hops pellets @ 3.2% AA
2 pounds of D-90 Candi Syrup
1 packet of Wyeast 3787 Extreme Fermentation yeast
Super Irish Moss
pH 5.2 Stabilizer
White Labs Yeast Nutrient
White Labs Clarity Ferm

Per Beersmith, the characteristics of the brew should be:

  • Estimated Original Gravity: 1.063 SG (Actual was 13.9 Brix or 1.0564 SG)
  • Bitterness (IBUs): 20.5
  • Color (SRM): 19.1
  • Estimated ABV: 6.7%
  • Total Grains: 12.44 pounds
  • Total Hops: 2.40 ounces
  • Bitterness Ratio: 0.367 IBU/SG
  • Estimated Pre-boil Gravity: 1.041 SG
  • Estimated Final Gravity: 1.005 SG
  • Batch Size: 5.90 gallons (actual volume was approximately this)
  • Estimated Pre-Boil Volume: 7.0 gallons (water was added to reach this volume)
  • Boil time: 60 minutes
Given the grain bill, the Grainfather calculations recommended 5.1 gallons of mash water and 5.1 gallons of sparge water. I rounded both of these down to whole gallons, mashing with 5 gallons and sparging with 3. I ended up having to add possibly a quart to reach the 7-gallon pre-boil volume.

The mash schedule was:
  • Heat 5 gallons to 149F.
  • Add grain to the grain basket, stir to ensure it's all moistened.
  • Add pH 5.2 Stabilizer to the mash water and start the recirculation pump.
  • Mash at 149F for 60 minutes
  • Mash out at 170F for 10 minutes
  • Sparge with 3 gallons of water at 168F
  • Top off the kettle to 7 gallons
Pre-boil gravity after some stirring registered 10.3 Brix vs. the 11.7 Brix I expected. I have not yet determined why my gravity was much lower on this batch than usual, but I do have a suspect. I had trouble attaching the recirculation arm to the valve. In the process, I think I loosened the valve from the rest of the recirculation tube. When I returned near the end of the mash, there was a puddle on the basement floor where the valve had leaked wort onto the floor. My suspicion is that the loss of some amount of wort, combined with the the fact that the leak probably prevented the recirculation from working properly, lowered my gravity a bit. If not that, my grain mill may need adjustment. It may not have crushed the grains as finely as needed. The leak has since been fixed, but I still need to look at the mill.

The boil schedule:

  • 60 minutes: Add German Northern Brewer pellets in hop sock attached to hop spider
  • 20 minutes: Add Saaz and Styrian Goldings pellets in hop sock, then grab a sample of wort to cool down and use with Super Irish Moss
  • 15 minutes: Add yeast nutrient
  • 10 minutes: Add D-90 syrup, then rehydrated Super Irish Moss, stir rapidly to allow the Super Irish Moss to do its thing
  • 7 minutes: Begin circulating boiling wort through the counter flow chiller to sterilize it
  • 0 minutes: Turn off the heat, whirlpool the beer. Run cold water through the chiller to cool it down, then begin pumping wort into the fermenter.
My final kettle volume was a little over 6 gallons. In the fermenter, accounting for shrinkage from cooling and losses to trub in the kettle, I still had 5.9 gallons. The gravity in the kettle measured 13.9 Brix versus the 15.4 I'd been expecting. That was probably due to the mash issue. Still, even at 13.9 Brix or 1.056 SG, it's well within the guidelines for the Dubbel style.

The counter flow chiller dropped the wort to 67F in the fermenter, which was ideal for the yeast.

The recipe called for oxygenating the wort before pitching the yeast, which I accomplished by dangling the tube from the counter flow chiller high up in the fermenter. This ensured that the wort splashed as it entered the fermenter. If you're thinking that wasn't enough oxygenation, stay tuned. 

I attached my fermwrap heater and Inkbird temperature controller to the fermenter. I had the cooling system nearby, but doubted that I would need it for this beer.

Since the nearly 6-gallon wort volume was close to the top of my fermenter, leaving perhaps a gallon or so of head space, I decided to forego the airlock and use the blow-off tube instead. 

The morning after I pitched the yeast, there was regular burping in the blow-off liquid container. A day after pitching, the burps were about a second apart. When I checked it two days later, there had actually been blow-off through the tube and into the gallon jug underneath. While I'd been concerned that I hadn't oxygenated the wort before pitching the yeast, it doesn't appear that the yeast minded.

Note the jug of previously-clear blow-off fluid, now pale milky tan from blow-off

The fermentation schedule:
  • Feb. 5 and 6: Ferment at 68F
  • Feb. 7: Increase to 69F
  • Feb. 9:  Increase to 70F
  • Feb. 10: Increase to 71F - placed an insulated bag over the fermenter to help it maintain heat
  • Feb. 11: Increase to 72F
  • Feb. 12: Increase to 73F
  • Feb. 18: Chill to 50F and hold for 4 weeks in the mini-fridge
  • Mar. 18: Bottle the beer and hold in 76F "hot box" for 2 weeks to carbonate
  • Sep. 18: Per the original recipe, it should be cellared for six months.
My best guess is that the finished beer will read as 8.5 Brix on the refractometer (adjusting for original gravity and alcohol). That will correspond to a final gravity of 1.014 SG and an alcohol content of 6.67% (ABV).

Update 02/12/2017:  The yeast is still apparently working hard. When I've checked on it, there are burps from the blow-off tube approximately every 10-15 seconds. I'm not planning to chill it until those appear to have stopped.

Update 02/15/2017: I extracted a sample from the fermenter to taste before moving it to the mini-fridge for lagering. The sample has a pleasing but yeasty aroma. The flavor is much more dry than I expected it to be, given that it's supposed to be cloning the La Trappe Dubbel. Color looked good. It was understandably cloudy. The beer will now spend 4 weeks at 50F before I see it again.

The original recipe called for priming with Simplicity Candi Sugar at 31 grams per gallon of wort and cellar conditioning for six months before serving. I'm planning to aim for 3 volumes of CO2 and to allow it to cellar as long as I can stand it. I'm not sure if I'll use corn sugar or Simplicity to prime it.


Update 3/12/2017: Looking at my work schedule, I saw that I would be on-call next weekend when the beer would reach its four-week lagering time. I decided to take it out a week early and bottle it today, when I am not going to potentially be interrupted by tech support calls from the office.

Using BeerSmith's Carbonation Tool, I entered the desired CO2 volume of 3.0 volumes, beer temperature of 51F, and volume of 6 gallons. This indicated that I would need 5.9 ounces of corn sugar to carbonate the beer. I couldn't get 5.9 ounces to read consistently when I weighed it, so I ended up settling for 6.05 ounces instead. Some of my recent brews have been undercarbonated anyway, so I figured this might help.

The gravity on the refractometer read 8.1 Brix before priming sugar was added. BeerSmith indicates that this is a corrected gravity of 1.017 SG and represents ABV of 5.1%. The aroma of the beer is excellent, combining dark fruit, plum, and caramel malt. The fruit component of the flavor is lower than in the aroma, but still very present, along with some hops bitterness. All in all, I think it might be the best tasting Dubbel I've made - and one of the best I've had. I'm reserving judgment until the beer finishes cellaring, however.

Yield for this batch was 25 bottles at 22 ounces and 10 bottles at 12 ounces. 


While I am disappointed and puzzled that the wort came in well under the gravity I expected, I am fairly sure that the cause is the leakage from the recirculation tube. That may have been exacerbated by the grain mill not being set fine enough, which I'll need to check.

I'm happy that I decided to attach the blow-off tube rather than an airlock. Judging from the color of the fluid in the blow-off jug, I suspect that an airlock would have been blown off the fermenter and some amount of wort sprayed around the basement in the process. That didn't happen, though the blow-off jug will definitely need some cleaning when it's all done.

Update 3/18/2017: I chilled and opened a bottle yesterday to share with family members who were visiting. The beer is beautifully clear with a nice reddish brown color. It generates a long-lasting but relatively thin head and doesn't seem to be quite as carbonated as I expected - given the amount of priming sugar I used. The flavor at this point is very balanced. It's smooth and easy to drink, but for my taste lacks the sweetness and fruit elements I like and expect in a Dubbel. I'm hoping as this cellar conditions over the next few months that it will get better.

Update 5/22/2017:  The beer is getting a little better with age.  I've made the decision to enter it in two home brewing competitions. The first is a local competition here in Central Ohio. The other is a state-wide competition, which will pit it against some of the best home brews around Ohio. I will be back to update this post when I have the feedback in mid-to-late June.

Update 6/10/2017: I received the judges' comments from the state fair today. I'm reproducing the notes and scores below.

The first judge's comments were:

  • Aroma: Rich complex blend of toasty and bready malt - moderate to high. Some chocolate and dark fruit as it warms. Background spicy hop character in the finish. Score: 9/12
  • Appearance: Dark amber to brown in color. Good clarity. Score: 3/3
  • Flavor: Inviting blend of spicy phenols and rich toasty malt with chocolate and raisin flavors. Very good. 16/20
  • Mouthfeel: Moderate to moderate-high mouthfeel. Moderate high carbonation with some creaminess. Score: 3/5
  • Overall Impression: A very good example of a Dubbel. The balance is a little toward the hop character more than expected. The bitter finish is slightly out of balance. Consider slightly reducing bittering hops and brew again. Score: 7/10
  • Total: 36/50
The other judge's comments were:
  • Aroma: Moderate caramel malt. Moderate-high raisin and plum. Light spice notes. No alcohol note. Minimal hop presence. Score: 8/12
  • Appearance: Large frothy tan head with great persistence. Dark brown with ruby highlights. Great clarity. Score: 3/3
  • Flavor: Moderate caramel malt, light chocolate and toffee. Plums and raisins taste great. No hop flavor. Minimal bitterness so taste is largely on the sweet side. Score: 13/20
  • Mouthfeel: Dry finish, medium body, medium carbonation. Very light alcohol warmth. Score: 3/5
  • Overall Impression: A good example of the style with great fruit and malt character but the body could use some work. My first thought is over attenuation. Score: 6/10
  • Total:  33/50
Next Time

The competition at the state fair seemed to be pretty intense around the Belgian category. The scores for the Dubbel were better than for my Quad.  I think this beer can be improved next time by making the following changes:

  • Brew sooner:  This recipe called for six months of aging, but I didn't make it until March. What the judges got to sample was a beer that was only about three months aged. I'll brew the next batch in December and have it ready for next year's competition.
  • Reduce hops bitterness, increase flavor:  I felt, and the judges agreed, that this beer came out too bitter for a Dubbel and had a bitter finish.  I blame the Northern Brewer hops for part of that. I don't like the almost harsh bitterness they seem to impart to a beer. I didn't like them in my Quad either. I added them to help with head retention, but they're messing up the flavor. I'm going back to my Styrian Goldings and Czech Saaz mix that I like, and shifting the balance of additions toward later in the boil.
  • Increase carbonation:  Just need to add more corn sugar at bottling.
  • Increase mash temp:  This beer got dinged for being a lower-body example than it should be. I agree with the judges on that, and plan to mash a few degrees higher next time to get the body a little fuller.  That will also add some sweetness to balance out the hops. This version was a bit too dry for my taste.
  • Yeast Starter: Judges noted a "bready" element to it that I think might have been related to the yeast. While I used a fresh yeast and (probably) enough of it, switching to a starter would probably help with that.
  • Temperature control:  I'm going to try the "start low and gradually move up" temperature schedule for the beer next time, to see if that helps reduce the alcohol warmth judges noted. 
  • Add plums:  One of the best Dubbels I've ever had, which was a one-off (?) batch Rockmill Brewing did for Smokehouse Brewing's Mini Real Ale Festival that included plums, still lingers in my memory fondly. I'd like to try adding plums or prunes to this to see if I can come up with something like it.


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