Dubbel is one of the few styles that it is hard to find a good American brewed version of. While the best Belgian examples (Westvleteren 8, St. Bernardus Pater 6, Westmalle Dubbel etc.) are malty without overwhelming sweetness, the Americans tend to either overdo the sweetness or underdo the malt. Brew Like a Monk reports that some Belgian dubbels get all of their color and dark fruit flavors from dark candi syrup, but I have not been happy with the results of leaving out the dark crystal malt.While dark candi sugar does add great flavor caramel and dark fruit flavors, it becomes richer and more complex when combined with complementary character from malt.
For this dubbel recipe I used American (pale and dark crystal) malts from Valley Malt to add their unique character. I also didn't want the beer to be too strong, starting at 1.058 it is a beer that I can drink a glass of and still write a blog post.
American Malt Dubbel
Appearance – Shoots out of the picnic tap with a voluminous off-white head. The body is dark brown, almost opaque in my St. Bernardus tulip (although it appears more reddish-brown towards the bottom of the glass, revealing a bit of haze). The head has great structure and leaves thick lacing.
Smell – Big spicy clove character from the cool fermentation with WLP545 takes the lead. There is toasted malt and some of those classic dark fruit and toffee flavors I expect in Belgian dubbels. Neither the dark crystal nor the candi syrup drowns out the other. The pale malt gives a backbone that I find lacking in the dubbels I've brewed with Pilsner malt as the base.
Taste – Nice balance of flavors, malty without being sweet. Just a slight bitterness to help counter the sweetness that does remain. The candi sugar adds come caramelized raisin type flavors with the dark crystal malt contributing plums and prunes. The yeast character is slightly stronger and spicier than I prefer; I'll probably go with my old standby WLP530/WY3787 next time I brew a similar recipe.
Mouthfeel – Despite the energetic pour the carbonation is about right (just below prickly). The body is medium-light, which is fine by me.
Drinkability & Notes – Really happy with the way this batch turned out. Excited to see how the half with bugs, plums, and oak does (especially after recently having a standout pale sour with homegrown plums – thanks Mike!).
If you are interested in brewing something similar, but don't have access to Valley Malt's products use the flavorful pale malt of your choice for the base and your favorite dark crystal malt (Special B, C120, or English Dark).