Thursday, August 11, 2011

Belgian Summer Ale Tasting

Belgium has gained a reputation for high alcohol beers, aggressive sours, and other weird, challenging, and complex creations.  However they also brew some great session ales: Wit, Belgian Pale, and Abbey Single.  These are the traditional everyday drinking beers of Belgium (or they were before the growth of pale lager brewing). This Belgian Single was just a quick batch meant to build up enough yeast for 10 gallons of braggot for out third wine barrel fill, but I still wanted to do something interesting with it.  Inspired by the first batch of Russian River's Redemption (apparently Vinnie's favorite bottling of any of his beers to date) I added a small amount of White Labs Brettanomyces bruxellensis to some of the bottles right before capping.

I wanted to do a tasting of this one young so I could find out how quickly the Brett is going to make a noticeably flavor impact.  To make sure my brain doesn't get in the way of my tongue I decided to do a blind triangle test to see if there was an appreciable difference between the two versions of the beer.  I'll be repeating this test every couple months to see how quickly the small amount of Brett I added at bottling impacts the flavor (and carbonation) of the beer.

From left to right samples: #1, #2, #3.
Summer in Brussels

Appearance – All three have a similar bright yellow body with thin white heads. #3 has slightly worse head retention than the other two, and #1 is hazier.

Smell – Yeast character dominates in all three aromas.  Sample #1 and #3 have similar fruit and spice aromas including some banana. #2 is more spice (clove) heavy with a reduced fruitiness. #3 has more honey aromatics than the other two, but it is slight.

Taste – All of the glasses have a similar crisp pilsner malt backbone and just a hint of herbal hops.  None of them taste overtly funky or Brett-like at this point. #1 has a bigger yeast character than the other two, I'd suspect it was the second pour off of one of them. #2 is slightly cleaner than the other two, less fruity, more balanced. 

Mouthfeel – Sample #2 is a bit thinner than the other two, with marginally higher carbonation. 

Drinkability & Notes – All three of the beers are enjoyable and refreshing, but at this point if forced to choose I would go with #2. I'll guess that #2 is the Brett spiked bottle, and the other two are both the clean one. There are slight differences at this point (more carbonation, less body, and less fruit make me think the Brett is starting to work), but nothing major.

After checking I was correct that #1 and #3 were from the same bottle, but I was wrong on which one. Surprisingly the non-Brett-spiked beer was more carbonated, lighter, and fruitier. It will be interesting to see how this changes in the next few months.


Anonymous said...

Did you also add sugar to the brett bottles or just hoped the brett would consume what the sacch couldn't?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

I added the same amount of sugar to the bottles with Brett (part of the reason I'm planning on checking on their progress frequently). The safer plan would have been to just pitch the Brett, but I didn't want to wait that long.

Anonymous said...


I thought I was going to read about some new (notice lower case) Belgian beers.
"Belgian" as in brewed-in-northern-europe.

It seems you Americans just "own" the term/word Belgian now.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Do you say wiener-style-schnitzel? Chinese-inspired fried rice? When someone asks you to go get Mexican food, do you respond that you don’t have time to go to Mexico for dinner? I imagine that like most people you understand (without thinking) that they are asking you to go to a restaurant that serves food in the same general style as those in Mexico (however accurate it may or may not be).

My point is that using a country’s name is common shorthand for the general qualities of the products that come from it. I could have called this batch “A minimally hopped low gravity pale beer that was well attenuated with a top fermenting yeast which produces above-threshold levels of esters and phenols in a similar style to some beers brewed in Belgium.” but that is the same thing most people would get from calling it a “Belgian Single.”

Anonymous said...

I love you.

Haputanlas said...

That was awesome. Had to give you props for your response to that post. Lovin it.

Oh, and thanks for the semi frequent updates. I love reading about your experiments.