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.


Grey Ghost said...

The Westy blond is my favourate of the westy beers. I had made a 'replica' of it, using (NZ) pale and white sugar and a tiny dash of caramunichII (~1%) to add a bit of colour. Hops were the challange as Euro hops are a bit hit or miss here, so I used a whakatu hop, which has hallertau ancestry but with a bit of the NZ twist at 20/10mins, but northern brewer for bittering. Had wyeast 1762 on hand, and it chomped away fast at 18-20deg C. down to 1010 from 1054. Was one of my best brews overall. Had that rochefort twang rather than the westmalle/westvletren.

You may encourage me to do this again

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Sounds good, had someone on Facebook suggest the Rochefort strain as well. Haven't used it, but might have to eventually!

FerventBrewer said...

Do you think the banana came from the brux vrai?

CRUSADER1612 said...

When you bottle with Brett. you add sugar.
Whys that? I would've thought that the brett would slowly chew away, and carbonate the beer?

What volume do you carbonate to when you add your brett?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

This tasting was for the half without Brett, the two versions with Brett are still bottle conditioning. If anything Brett tends to hydrolyze isoamyl acetate, i.e., reduce banana (which is what I'm noticing in early samples of the Brett'd variants).

For safety, I'd have the patience to age the beer with Brett until stable to determine the true FG, and then use that to calculate the amount of sugar/fermentation required to achieve the desired carbonation next time. For beers like this I'm looking to drink them younger than my typical aged-out Brett-sour bomb (a blend of fresh malt/hops/Sacch and some funky notes). I'd rather not wait for 6-12 months for the Brett to get around to (maybe) carbonating the beer. If the CO2 starts to get too strong, I'll move them to the refrigerator to slow it down. A keg would be a great option, but I like tasting as the beer slowly evolves at cellar temperature!

Ben Cops said...

Hi, sounds good... Why sugar in the keg?
Also do you think the rest makes much difference? Could you just single infusion mash it at 67c?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

I didn't have a free spot on tap when I kegged, so I primed for natural carbonation. That way all I needed to do was chill and serve when there was. Force carbing would be fine if you were in a hurry.

A single infusion mash would be fine, it'd just create a slightly different carbohydrate profile.

BrewJays said...

This is a random water profile question but I wasn't sure where else to ask it. So, here it goes.

I’ve been adding all mineral additions (calcium chloride and gypsum) to the strike water (RO water) to correct mash pH. The mineral ppm in the mash are very high, 100-130 ppm, but the overall ppm are in line with the mineral profiles from bru’n water when both first and second runnings are combined. Would it be better to divide mineral additions between strike and sparge waters? I could use lactic acid if need be to further adjust pH if a smaller dose of minerals fails to do so. Also, I’m using the advanced water calculator on Brewers Friend. Heres the link for a recipe; http://www.brewersfriend.com/mash-chemistry-and-brewing-water-calculator/?id=QJZXTCT


Pewther said...

Hi Mike, Looks like a great recipe, may just have to try it. For your belgian single recipe, which you say you prefer to this beer; you used a more complicated mash schedule. What impact, if any, would using that mash schedule have on this beer? In your opinion. PH.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Protein rests have very small impacts (on things like appearance and head retention, maybe mouthfeel). My preference is mostly for the cooler primary fermentation (which is especially important with the Chimay strain, if you go that route).

Anonymous said...

We brewed this, and it came out excellent. One of the best beers I've ever had. Cost about $0.33 a bottle to make. Can't find anything in the store at a remotely comparable price/taste. Most of the good belgian ales start at $10 or $20 a bottle where I live--let alone if you can find a good singel. Plenty of tripels, quadruples, etc.


Oh and we brewed ours at 6.2% abv. Really accentuates that belgian yeast but without taking you into 9% triple land.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Cheers, glad it turned out well! Always nice to have a beer that you can have a second of. Let me know if you rebrew and end up tweaking/improving in any way.

JF said...

Brewed this last week, hoping to bottle next weekend, looking good so far. I used wyeast 3787 instead of wlp530, and used some homemade belgian candy to bring the OG to 1.063 for a slightly stronger brew. Can't wait to see how it turns out.