The Simple Monk

We’re into the season of Lent on the liturgical calendar, often observed through simple food choices or abstinence from dietary pleasures like chocolate and alcohol. Although I won’t go quite so far as to give up beer for the season, I do think it’s worth trying something a bit different for my beer. Along these lines, it seemed appropriate to make a Lenten beer, focused on the principle of simplicity.

I was inspired by the concept of a patersbier, or a low alcohol table beer that might be served at an abbey or monastery. This of course brings associations with Belgian styles, leading me towards a Belgian ale yeast. I was determined to go for simplicity in recipe and process, and so decided to execute a SMaSH recipe. I had some pilsner malt to use up, and chose whole Cascade hops from South Dakota. I also wanted to go lower alcohol, perhaps around 4% or so, to be safely on the session side of things. A hotter mash temperature would keep the result from getting too thin, and I also wanted to keep the hop rate down to avoid being overly bitter. Finally, I aimed to keep the fermentation simple. I would do an open-style fermentation (no airlock), and let it ride at ambient temperature. Finally, instead of force carbonating, I would let the keg condition with corn sugar. It was a fun experiment! I wouldn’t claim this fits any style particularly well — the whole concept is pure fantasy, but that made the brewing even more fun as a creative process.

The Simple Monk

  • 9 lb. Viking pilsner malt
  • 1 oz. Cascade whole hops (5.5% estimated alpha), 60 minute boil
  • 1 pkg. Abbaye Belgian ale yeast (Lallemand)

Target Parameters

  • 1.044 o.g., 1.013 f.g., 4.1% abv, 3 SRM, 19 IBU
  • Full volume mash at 154° for 60 minutes
  • Claremont tap water, no adjustment

Procedure

  • I mashed in with 7 gallons of water at 159°, to hit a mash rest of 154°. I added 7 mL of 88% lactic acid, and recirculated for 60 minutes before raising the temperature to 168° for 10 minutes.
  • When I pulled the grain basket, I had 6.4 gallons of runnings with a gravity of 1.039, for 75% mash efficiency.
  • I brought the wort to a boil, adding the hops and boiling for 60 minutes.
  • Once the boil was done, I chilled to 68° and transferred to the fermenter, before pitching the yeast.
  • Starting gravity was 1.043. I brewed the beer on 5 February 2022.
  • In the interest of simplicity, I left the beer to ride at ambient indoors (the garage was going to be a bit too cool). I also tried an open fermentation of sorts–instead of an airlock or blowoff tube, I just put a bit of foil over the outlet of the fermenter.
  • I kegged the beer on 16 February 2022, adding 2.6 oz. of corn sugar boiled in a cup of water. The beer carbonated at room temperature for about two weeks, before I put it into the keezer.
  • Final gravity was 1.014, for 3.8% abv.

Tasting

  • Appearance
    • Straw colored beer, very hazy, with a thin white head that sticks around only as a thin ring around the margin of the glass.
  • Aroma
    • Spicy yeast character, and a bit of clove aroma. It’s very clearly Belgian, and pretty nice. As the beer warms up, I get a tiny bit of hot alcohol character.
  • Flavor
    • Slightly grainy malt flavor, with low bitterness. Yeast character has a very slight tartness, and a bit of pepper and clove.
  • Mouthfeel
    • Medium light body, with medium-low carbonation. There is a slight astringency on the finish; it’s not over the top, but a bit noticeable.
  • Would I brew this again?
    • This was a super fun experiment. I enjoyed the freedom that the simplicity brought, in not having to really fret over a recipe or over the details of mashing and fermentation. It isn’t the best beer I’ve ever made (the slight astringency is a bit of a ding), but the experience was really enjoyable, and it’s a highly drinkable brew.
  • Overall
    • 7/10

Winter Dream Ale

I often make a special, small-batch beer for Christmas, something that’s rich and high alcohol and perfect for cold (southern California) evenings next to the fire. For the 2021 edition, I threw together a Belgian-style winter warmer. I wanted a rich, sumptuous malt backbone, and to let the fermentation add any spice, rather than using actual species. I used up a few ingredients on-hand, which just happened to be perfect for my vision of the beer.

Winter Dream Ale

  • 8 lb. Vienna malt (Weyermann)
  • 1.25 lb. Munich light malt (Chateau)
  • 11 oz. Special B malt (Dingemans)
  • 4 oz. Crystal 120 malt (Great Western)
  • 0.75 oz. Magnum hop pellets (10.1% alpha), 60 minute boil
  • 1 Whirlfloc tablet, 5 minute boil
  • 1.5 g yeast nutrient (WLN1000, White Labs)
  • 8 oz. honey, add to flameout
  • 2 pkg. Abbay Belgian ale yeast (Lallemand)

Target Parameters

  • 1.086 o.g., 1.018 f.g., 9.2% abv, 22 IBU, 22 SRM
  • Mash held at 150° for 60 minutes, and 10 minute mash-out at 168°, with ~0.75 gallon sparge
  • Claremont tap water

Procedure

  • I heated 4.5 gallons of water to 159°, and added the grains to hit a mash temperature of 150°. I held here (with recirculation) for 60 minutes, before raising the temperature to 168° and holding there for 10 minutes. Then, I removed the grain basket and sparged with 0.75 gallons of hot water.
  • I collected 4.5 gallons of runnings with a gravity of 1.060, for 71% mash efficiency.This was a good efficiency but too high of a volume. So, I boiled for an extra 30 minutes before adding hops.
  • After 30 minutes of boiling, I added the hops, honey, and finings per the recipe, boiling for an addition 60 minutes.
  • Starting gravity was 1.076; this was a bit short of the recipe, but I didn’t worry about it too much.
  • I chilled to 80°, transferred to the fermenter, and let the wort chill overnight before pitching the yeast.
  • I brewed the beer on 12 October 2021, and pitched the yeast on 13 October 2021.
  • I fermented at 65°, and raised the beer to 70° (free rise) on 20 October 2021, to help the yeast ferment out.
  • I kegged the beer on 5 November 2021. Final gravity was 1.020, for 7.5% abv.

Tasting

  • Appearance
    • Deep reddish amber and very clear; there is a persistent and creamy ivory head.
  • Aroma
    • Spicy aroma, with a bit of caramel and dried dark fruit.
  • Flavor
    • Wonderfully rich! There is a caramel and toffee malt character with a bit of dried fruit and sweet candy. A bready malt quality sneaks up behind that. Bitterness is moderate, and the yeast character has a slightly spicy quality. Fermentation quality is really nice, and I dodged any hot alcohol character.
  • Mouthfeel
    • Medium body, with medium-high carbonation and a smooth finish. The body is maybe a little thinner than I had envisioned.
  • Would I brew this again?
    • I am really, really happy with the results in this recipe. It absolutely hit the rich, complex qualities I wanted, and is highly drinkable. The fermentation quality is perfect too! The only minor ding is that starting gravity was a touch low, which decreases the body a little, but I think that worked out okay in the end. I would rather the body be somewhat thin, than the beer be too sweet and cloying.
  • Overall
    • 8/10