Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Westvleteren Belgian Blond Clone Recipe

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!

A glass of homebrewed Westvleteren Blond, and an 8 and 12.

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

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 12.50
Total Grain (Lbs): 21.25
OG: 1.050
SRM: 3.8
IBU: 42.3
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

Water Profile
Profile: Washington, Hoppy

Mash Schedule
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.

MoreBeer and Amazon affiliate links support the blog.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Honey Sour Beer Tasting

These five sour beers were split from the same primary fermentor with Conan and East Coast Yeast Flemish Ale (recipe). When fermentation slowed, I divided the young beer into five one-gallon jugs each with a half pound of a different single-varietal honey. Once the gravity was stable I bottle conditioned with one ounce more of the same honey to trap some volatile aromatics (something I usually caution against). All told, the honey provided about 35% of the fermentables!

This wasn’t my first time adding honey to sour beer, but I wanted to play with a variety of new flavors in a bland-ish base beer to evaluate them!

Five glasses of honey sour beer!

Honey Sours: Five-Way

Appearance – Quintuplets: clear gold body, nice foam on the pour, but mediocre retention (see it as I poured left to right). Honey shouldn’t hurt head retention, but sugar without protein doesn’t help either.

Smell/Taste – Even at one third honey, the differences between the aromas are subtle. They have more alike than unalike. They each have a mild fruity aroma, light horsey-Brett funk, pleasant acidity, and restrained maltiness. Similarities are always a good sign for a split-batch, no major process issues!

Acacia: This was the oddball through most of the fermentor samples I’ve pulled (weird plastic/stable aromatics). It has calmed down, but the honey doesn’t add much. It is abrupt, changing course mid-palate from fruity to funk. However, it has some interesting white-wine and watermelon rind notes I don’t get from the rest.

Sourwood: Classic honey aroma, with some vinous notes behind it. Fresh, honey on your pancakes flavor. Not exactly what I’m looking for in a pale sour, but I drank it quicker than any of the others. Wonderful lingering floral note!

Gallberry: Subtle waxy aroma. The most herbal, a nice counter to the berry. The honey flavor is nicely integrated into the base sour. The most interesting of the posse, with subtleties that needed a pale canvas to showcase.

Raspberry: Young this had a big cotton-candy note, but that has mostly faded. It is still the fruitiest and suggests the most sweetness. Least funky, most acidic. The nose is almost acetic, but the flavor doesn’t bear a trace. An outlier, but then it always has been.

Blueberry: Light, fruity, berry but not distinctly blueberry. Balanced, pleasant, the maltiest, but not quite the right match for a pale sour. Would be ideal for a sour red!

Mouthfeel – Happy that they all seem to have fermented out and carbonated at similar rates. Could be spritzier, but I don’t mind it as is.

Drinkability & Notes – This is the sort of batch that I love to brew! One of my recent pushes has been to brew beers that embrace homebrewing. A large brewery couldn’t procure enough gallberry honey to brew a batch at a reasonable rate. As homebrewers we have the opportunity to produce beers on a scale that allows us to use ingredients that are impractical for even brewpubs because of availability or cost. I’ll be talking about this for one of my talks at the Norwegian Homebrewer Weekend (aka Hjemmebryggerhelgen 2016) later this month, I’ll also be talking to Brad Smith about it for his BeerSmith Podcast if you can’t make it to Drammen!