There are essentially no breweries that exclusively brew strong beers. This is partly because moderate-strength beers have a big market, but it is also a practical consideration. Harvesting yeast from high-alcohol beers is usually frowned upon. Wild yeast rarely have high alcohol tolerance, and even though brewer’s yeast has been selected for its ability to resist the damaging effects of alcohol, viability drops quickly above 8% ABV. So in addition to brewing a beer for the monks to drink with lunch, Westvleteren's moderate gravity beer means they don’t need to get a fresh pitch from Westmalle for every batch.
Sharing a lineup with a quad (Abt/12/Yellow) that is a long-standing contender for best beer in the universe, and a dubbel (Extra/8/Blue) that I prefer to it, how much does anyone pay attention to the blond (6/Green)? Not much, despite it being one of the best Belgian blonds! It blends subtle spice and fruit from the noble hops and Trappist yeast, with clean and crisp malt. Far more drinkable and lively than its two bigger/older brothers! The Trappist equivalent of a wonderful Pilsner!
Given the difficultly and cost of procuring a steady supply of Westy Blond, it seemed like the perfect inspiration for a keg of homebrew (a five gallon batch costs about the same $22 of a single bottle of the original at The Sovereign)!
I began with a well-reviewed recipe from Candi Syrup Inc., but made a few adjustments. According to Brew Like a Monk, Westvleteren includes Belgian pale malt along with Pilsner in the same ratio for all three recipes, so I swapped it in for 50% of the malt. I also swapped out the clear candi syrup for table sugar (my Pale Belgian Sugar Experiment suggested that pure sugar choice isn't critical even at double the rate of this batch). The hops were heavy on mid-boil additions (not my default) but I decided to stick to it as written (other than augmenting with Magnum to hit the target IBUs) to judge for myself.
The other half of the batch is conditioning with two different Brett cultures (WLP648 Brettanomyces bruxellensis Trois Vrai and my house saison culture). Tasting notes for those in the next couple months!
Westvleteren Blond (Green Cap)
Appearance – Blond body, so far so good. Slightly less than hefeweizen haze, but not by much. The snowy head in dense and sticky, with superb endurance.
Smell – Belgian yeast character leads, banana peel, and a waft of vanilla. The phenols skew pepper (rather than clove) and meld with the subtle noble hops to form a nice counter to the fruit. The malt and hops aren’t able to shine through as I would have liked thanks to the expressive yeast.
Taste – Flavor is bright and vibrant, more interesting than the nose. The fruitiness transitions from banana in the nose adding subtle notes of pear and red apple. The absent malt shows itself with some saltine crackeriness. The focus on reducing carbonate and hitting pH really benefits a beer like this making it finish snappy with a final more-ish crack of hop bitterness.
Mouthfeel – Crisp and lively without being thin or bracing.
Drinkability & Notes – A very nice daily Belgian drinker, maybe a half notch behind my favorite pale/session Belgian as a result of a bit too much banana and malt.
And introducing a new category, notes on what I'd change if I rebrewed:
Changes – Sadly I didn’t have a bottle of the original to open up alongside, but from my recollection the homebrew is more yeasty and malty and less hoppy. On a rebrew, I’d reduce the Pale malt to 25% of the total malt and restrain peak fermentation temperature to 75F. This is cooler than BLAM notes for the original, likely a result of ester suppression from fermenting in larger fermentors. The hops may be fine as is once the malt and yeast are tempered, but an ounce or two of Styrian Goldings or Hallertau at flame-out wouldn’t hurt!
Westvleteren Blond Clone
Batch Size (Gal): 12.50
Total Grain (Lbs): 21.25
Brewhouse Efficiency: 76 %
Wort Boil Time: 90 Minutes
47.1% - 10.00 lbs. Weyermann Floor-Malted Bohemian Pilsner
47.1% - 10.00 lbs. Castle Pale Ale
5.9% - 1.25 lbs. Domino Granulated Pure Cane Sugar
0.50 oz. Magnum (Pellet, 11.50% AA) @ 70 min.
2.00 oz. Northern Brewer (Pellet, 7.00% AA) @ 70 min.
2.00 oz. Hallertauer Mittelfruh (Pellet, 3.00% AA) @ 20 min.
2.00 oz. Styrian Goldings (Pellet, 1.20% AA) @ 12 min.
1.00 tsp – Wyeast Yeast Nutrient @ 5 min.
1.00 – Whirlfloc @ 5 min.
White Labs WLP530 Abbey Ale
Profile: Washington, Hoppy
Beta Rest – 60 @ 147 F (Infuse)
Alpha Rest – 20 min @ 157 F (Direct)
Brewed 1/10/16 - 3 L starter made on a stir plate for two days then crashed a week prior.
Mashed 9 gallons filtered DC, 7 gallons distilled. 5 g gypsum, 7 g CaCl, 1 tbls phosphoric acid. Mash pH = 5.31. 2 gallon cold/distilled sparge.
Collected 14.5 gallons of 1.040 runnings. Added white sugar 5 minutes into the boil.
Chilled to 65F, shook to aerate, pitched the decanted starter. Left at 67 F ambient to ferment for the first 36 hours.
Placed next to a radiator, measured beer temperature at 78F 12 hours later. Held around this temperature.
At 10 days allowed to come back to 68 F ambient.
1/23/16 Kegged half with 3 oz of table sugar to condition. Slight sulfur edge, nice mellow singed banana. FG 1.009 (5.4% ABV, 82% AA), on point.
1/31/16 Bottled the other half. 2.5 gallons with 1/4 cup of WLP648 B. bruxellensis Trois Vrai starter and 62 g of table sugar. 2.75 gallons with 1/4 cup of House Saison starter and 75 g of table sugar.
7/14/16 Tasting notes for the two versions dosed with Brett.
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