Winner, Winner: Big Surprise Belgian Pale Ale

The Southern California Homebrewers Festival was held recently, and per tradition they had a style-focused competition. Each participating club could submit an entry for a bragging rights “best of show” beer…this year’s style of choice was Belgian Pale Ale. My beer was selected as the entry for our brew club (Horse Thief Brewer’s Association)…and I was blown away to learn that it was the top beer of the competition, among approximately 30 other entries! Due to a work conflict, I wasn’t able to be there in person, but enjoyed hearing about the results via text message (I was in the field when I received the news). The ?downside is that I received an empty keg back, so wasn’t able to enjoy the beer after my first few samples! I guess that means I’ll be brewing it again sometime soon.

Photo by Nataliya Vaitkevich on

These high ratings surprised me because I had never brewed the style before, was using an untested recipe, and didn’t actually expect to win. But hey, I won’t complain. Even though I didn’t think the beer was anything particularly special, other people obviously did, and I’m kinda proud of that.

The recipe I brewed here was a modification of Ben’s Belgian Pale Ale, which received a silver medal at the 2019 National Homebrew Competition. The recipe is posted on the AHA website; I figured that it would be a good starting point for my own version. This is not a style I’ve sampled a ton of, so I was working a bit in the dark. The original recipe called for flaked oats and red wheat malt, but I elected to pull those out to ensure a clearer result. After a bit of research, I settled on Omega Labs’ Belgian Ale A yeast, because it is supposed to be on the cleaner side for Belgian yeasts–a desirable quality in a Belgian pale ale. I suppose there are enough changes that the original recipe was an inspirational starting point, rather than anything I explicitly followed. I did choose to make Saaz the centerpiece of the hopping, in a nod to tradition.

Andy’s Belgian Pale Ale, in a “farewell tasting” before it headed off to the brewing festival

Big Surprise Belgian Pale Ale

  • 7 lb. Barke pilsner malt (Weyermann)
  • 2 lb. Munich I malt (Weyermann)
  • 12 oz. Cara 20 malt (Dingemans)
  • 8 oz. aromatic Munich malt 20L (Briess)
  • 8 oz. caramel Munich 60L malt (Briess)
  • 4 oz. dextrin malt (Viking)
  • 0.75 oz. Saaz hop pellets (4.0% alpha), 60 minute boil
  • 0.35 oz. Magnum hop pellets (10.1% alpha), 60 minute boil
  • 0.5 oz. Saaz hop pellets (4.0% alpha), 20 minute boil
  • 1 Whirlfloc tablet, 5 minute boil
  • 1 oz. Saaz hop pellets, 5 minute boil
  • 1 pkg. Belgian Ale A yeast (Omega OYL-024)

Target Parameters

  • 1.051 s.g., 1.010 f.g., 5.4% abv, 29 IBU, 10 SRM
  • Claremont tap water, adjusted to hit 45 Ca, 6 Mg, 91 Na, 50 SO4, 115 Cl, 144 HCO3
  • Full volume mash, 60 minutes at 152° and 10 minute mash-out at 168°.


  • I mashed in with 7 gallons of water at 158°, to hit a mash temperature of 152°. I added 1 g CaCl to adjust water chemistry, as well as 2.5 mL 88% lactic acid to adjust pH. I held at 152° for 60 minutes, before raising the mash to 168° for a 10 minute mash-out.
  • I removed the grains and heated the runnings to a boil. In total, I collected 6.1 gallons of runnings with a gravity of 1.047, for 71% mash efficiency.
  • I brought the kettle to a boil, adding hops and finings per the recipe. After 60 minutes, I turned off the heat and chilled to ~66°.
  • On the morning of brew day, I made a 1L vitality starter to wake up the yeast.
  • I brewed this beer on 13 March 2022. Starting gravity was 1.052. I fermented the beer at ambient temperature in my garage, around 60°.
  • After vigorous fermentation slowed down, I moved the fermenter inside on 18 March 2022, where the temperature was slightly warmer (~66°). Very vigorous fermentation took off again (filling the airlock with yeast), so I cleaned the airlock, sanitized it, and let it go from there.
  • I kegged the beer on 8 April 2022, using 3.5 oz. of corn sugar dissolved in 1 cup of water. Final gravity was 1.011, for 5.4% abv.
  • I let the keg sit at ambient for ~2 weeks, and topped up the carbonation with forced CO2. The flavor was pretty good, but it was not terribly clear. So, I added 1 tsp. of gelatin dissolved in water on 24 April 2022. Within two days, the clarity was gorgeous!


  • Appearance
    • Very clear, light amber color. The beer pours with a creamy and persistent white head.
  • Aroma
    • Bready and light caramel aroma, with a light pear-like fruitiness to the yeast aroma.
  • Flavor
    • Light fruity yeast character at the front, with a bready/grainy malt character. Bitterness is moderate, with a smooth extended finish.
  • Mouthfeel
    • Medium body, medium carbonation, slightly dry finish.
  • Would I brew this again?
    • Gelatin improved the clarity on this beer a TON! I really like the restrained yeast character here; it is interesting without being cloying or overpowering. I would highly recommend the Omega Labs’ Belgian Ale A for anyone else looking to make this style–the pear quality is particularly enjoyable. The few samples I had were good enough, although not mind-blowing to me. I guess that’s the slightly understated nature of this style. I’m going to have to give it another try, because I’m now intrigued, especially given the fact that other people liked it so much.
  • Overall
    • 7/10

5 thoughts on “Winner, Winner: Big Surprise Belgian Pale Ale

  1. Congratulations on a beautiful beer. Love to see the scoresheet and comments from the judges.


  2. Me too! Unfortunately, it sounds like they don’t provide score sheets to contestants for this one…ah well.


  3. Pingback: What’s Brewing? April/May 2024 | Andy's Brewing Blog

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