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.
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.
Straw colored beer, very hazy, with a thin white head that sticks around only as a thin ring around the margin of the glass.
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.
Slightly grainy malt flavor, with low bitterness. Yeast character has a very slight tartness, and a bit of pepper and clove.
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.
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)
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
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.
Deep reddish amber and very clear; there is a persistent and creamy ivory head.
Spicy aroma, with a bit of caramel and dried dark fruit.
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.
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.
1 oz. Amarillo hop pellets (9.5% alpha), 10 minute whirlpool
1 oz. Citra hop pellets (12.8% alpha), 10 minute whirlpool
1 oz. Galaxy hop pellets (13.4% alpha), 10 minute whirlpool
1 pkg. Whiteout Belgian Ale Yeast (Imperial Yeast #B44)
1 oz. Citra hop pellets (12.8% alpha), dry hop in keg
1 oz. Galaxy hop pellets (13.4% alpha), dry hop in keg
1 oz. Mosaic hop pellets (11.2% alpha), dry hop in keg
1.062 o.g., 1.015 f.g., 6.2% abv, 60 IBU, 4 SRM
60 minute full volume mash at 152°, with mash-out at 168°
Claremont tap water, with 8 g gypsum
I mashed in with 7.5 gallons of water at 159°, to hit a mash temperature of 152°. I added 5.5 mL of 88% lactic acid to adjust the pH.
After 60 minutes (with recirculation), I raised the temperature to 168° and held it there for 10 minutes, before removing the grains.
In total, I collected 6.3 gallons of runnings with a gravity of 1.051, for 64% mash efficiency.
I added the gypsum to the kettle and brought the runnings to a boil, adding hops and finings per the recipe. After a 60 minute boil, I turned off the heat, whirlpooled the final hop addition, and then chilled down to around 75°, before transferring to the fermenter.
I chilled the wort the rest of the way down to ~66°, before pitching the yeast.
I brewed this beer on 15 May 2021, and fermented at 66°. Starting gravity was 1.058.
On 24 May 2021, I raised the fermenter to ambient, around 75°.
On 29 May 2021, I kegged the beer. Final gravity was 1.015, which works out to 5.7% abv. I added the hops in a bag, and chilled the beer down to 33°, removing the hops on 1 June 2021.
Light gold, with a moderate haze that has dropped fairly clear over the weeks it was on tap. The beer pours with a frothy and persistent white head.
Light citrus hop character, with spicy yeast phenols and light coriander.
The beer has an up-front citrus bitterness with citrus zest and pithy character. There is a light malty/doughy malt character, and a nice spicy yeast character as appropriate for a Belgian wit yeast.
The beer has a medium-light body, moderate carbonation, and a dry finish. It’s pretty good!
Would I brew this again?
Yep! This is a nice recipe. The beer is best before too much yeast settles out, and I think it would be tasty with a touch more carbonation, but even after a month or two in the keg, it’s still a very drinkable beer.
One of my favorite local establishments is The Back Abbey, a little place in Claremont that has been a gathering spot to celebrate special occasions, and sometimes just to enjoy a nice meal (their fries are the best in the area). They also have a phenomenal selection of draft and bottled Belgian beers. When I want a treat, I’ll order a glass of Houblon Chouffe, a Belgian IPA. It has a cute gnome on the logo, and the beer is pretty good too! Because we’re not eating out much these days, I’ve been missing that beer. And the fries.
Thankfully, as a homebrewer I can fairly easily make a clone brew and enjoy my own version at home. I did a bit of looking around online, and found a clone recipe based on Houblon Chouffe that seemed pretty decent. The beer is fairly high octane, so I elected to do a 3 gallon batch rather than my usual 5 gallons. As noted below, I had to improvise a ton to hit my marks, so I dubbed this “Off the Rails Belgian IPA”. The improvisation made things a bit frantic, but also kinda fun.
The result was pretty great. It drank super easily, especially for something pushing 10% abv. The keg is drained, but here are the overall details and tasting for posterity’s sake.
Off the Rails Belgian IPA (Houblon Chouffe Clone)
10.5 lb. Viking Pilsner Malt
1.5 lb. white sugar
0.55 oz. CTZ hop pellets (15.8% alpha), 60 minute boil
0.25 oz. CTZ hop pellets (15.8% alpha), 20 minute boil
1 tsp. Fermax yeast nutrient, 10 minute boil
1 Whirlfloc tablet, 5 minute boil
0.5 oz. Saaz hop pellets (5.3% alpha), 5 minute boil
1 pkg. Belgian Ale yeast (WLP550)
1 oz. Amarillo hop pellets (7.7% alpha), dry hop in fermenter
1.084 s.g., 1.009 f.g., 10.0% abv, 52 IBU, 5 SRM
Infusion mash, full volume, 144° for 30 minutes, 154° for 70 minutes, 168° mashout for 10 minutes
Claremont tap water, with Campden tablet to remove chloramine
The night before brewing, I made a 1 liter shaken-not-stirred starter for the yeast. I also prepped the brewing water.
I mashed in with 5 gallons of water at 152° and 3.75 mL of 88% lactic acid, to target a mash temperature of 144°. It was a touch low at first (142°), so I extended the first mash rest to 30 minutes instead of 20 minutes as planned.
As the mash recirculated, I got a stuck sparge about 20 minutes in. It manifested as foaming in the mash, and a low water level outside my grain basket. Argh! I added two handfuls of rice hulls, which worked for a bit until it got stuck again. I hadn’t used the small batch adapter, so maybe that was the issue? Or perhaps it was the thickness of the mash? Either way, I had to watch things pretty carefully, and there definitely was some aeration (argh).
After 30 minutes at 144°, I raised the mash to 154° and held it there for 70 minutes, before finishing the mash cycle at 168° for 10 minutes.
I thought I had only put in 8.5 pounds of pilsner malt, but had actually put in 10.5 pounds. This led to a surprise gravity reading waaay above what I had calculated. With 1.067 after the mash and 1.080 after adding the sugar, I needed to thin things out a bit. So, I added 0.5 gallons of water to bring the gravity down to 1.072.
I boiled for 70 minutes, adding the hops as per the recipe. At the end of this, I ended up with 3 gallons, after discarding about a gallon of trub and a bit of extra wort. This brew session really went off the rails!
I brewed this beer on 12 December 2020. Starting gravity was 1.084.
I chilled the beer down to 75°, transferred to the fermenter, and chilled it to 65°. I aerated for 30 seconds with pure O2, and pitched the yeast (12 December 2020). I held the fermenter at 65° for 48 hours and then let it free-rise to 70° (starting 14 December 2020). I let it free-rise to 75° after 48 hours (starting 16 Decembe 2020). I held it at this temperature for a week, and then let it free rise to 78° (on 23 December 2020). After 24 hours, I let the beer drop to 70° (beginning 24 December 2020). I removed the beer from the fermentation chamber and brought it in to ambient (~65°) to finish fermentation, 19 days after brewing (1 January 2021). The gravity was 1.015 at this point, so I agitated the fermenter to rouse the yeast and hopefully help spur the last bit of fermentation.
I had steady bubbling in the airlock by the morning after pitching the yeast, and vigorous bubbling into a blowoff tube within 48 hours. I changed out the blowoff jar twice. The most vigorous aspect of fermentation was done by 19 December (one week after pitch), so I switched over to an airlock. The airlock had a crack, so tended to leak liquid…unfortunately, I think this means the fermentation got a little more latent oxygen than desirable.
I moved the beer to a ~64° location on 7 January 2021, adding the dry hops at this point. I cold crashed on 10 January 2021, and kegged on 15 January 2021.
Final gravity was 1.013, for 9.6% abv.
Medium gold beer, fairly clear; it has a pillowy and persistent white head.
The aroma is wonderful! It is quite spicy, like gingerbread or spice cake, showcasing a really nice Belgian yeast aroma. The hops definitely faded a bit over time, starting out as herbal and slightly grassy, fading to a low herbal note towards the end of the keg. There is a light pear-like yeast character.
Very clean! There is a wonderful hop/malt balance, with no boozy notes to speak of. Malt level is medium-low, with a cracker quality. Bitterness is relatively high, with an herbal and piney character, but that had faded a bit over time. There is a slight pear quality to the yeast, with spicy and peppery aspects more at the front.
Highly carbonated, medium-light body, with a medium-dry finish.
Would I brew this again?
Absolutely! I’m super pleased with the results, particularly in how well I nailed the yeast management. This fermentation schedule (gradual ramp up and gradual ramp down) seemed to do really well for WLP550, and I would absolutely use that again. I may have had some minor oxidation issues due to the mash problems as well as the airlock going dry, which resulted in a faster hop fade and slightly darker color than desired. The beer was definitely a deeper gold hue than I expected for 100% pilsner malt (with white sugar). I didn’t notice any sherry or cardboard or honey notes that I usually associate with oxidation, but I bet it would have manifested if I had let it age out a bit more. In any case, I’m super pleased with the overall result, and will give it another try someday when I want a high gravity sipper. I’ll need to reconfigure the malt and water quantities for a more carefully constrained future batch, but that should (hopefully) be trivial. I might also lower the second mash rest to 150° or so, to help dry out the beer a bit more. It finished a touch higher than desired, so I’ll mash a bit lower next time for the second step.