The Unrepentant Individual

...just hanging around until Dec 21, 2012

December 1, 2008

A Nice Belgian Dark [Strong?] Ale

So, I haven’t posted anything about brewing lately. Largely, that’s because there’s really been no news. I’ve mostly brewed the same beers I know and love, and haven’t changed much in how I’m doing it. I did toy with this method, which would have been pretty cool to show off if it had worked, but I wasn’t able to dial in the necessary efficiency.

But I’ve been having the itch to create a new recipe, and I stumbled into 150 lb of free grain. 50 of those lbs of grain were Belgian Pilsner, so I asked myself what I might brew that’s heavily-dominated with some pilsner malt… And I decided on a dark belgian ale.

The recipe is pretty simple. I was looking at doing something darker than a Belgian Dubbel, but not as strong as a Belgian Strong Dark. I just took a grouping of dark malt flavors that I thought would be very interesting, and came up with the below. This is for 15 gallons (or thereabouts, I think we slightly undershot volume):

28# Belgian Pilsner Malt
1# Special B
0.75# Carafa I
0.75# Chocolate Wheat Malt
2 oz Cluster (7.7% AA) @ 60 min
2 oz Santiam (4.4% AA) @ 5 min
1 big slurry of Belgian yeast from The Bruery — Thanks Pat & Tyler!

And the final touch?

5# Homemade Amber Belgian Candi Sugar

Belgian Candi Sugar is a staple in many Belgian beers. It’s extremely fermentable, so it helps to lighten the overall body and flavor of the beer while adding alcohol. It’s usually used in a caramelized form, and typically sold as “clear”, “amber”, or “dark” (with a variant of the dark also available as a syrup). For this recipe, I wanted to add a little flavor, but didn’t want to go to a truly deep dark color, so I chose Amber.

But how to get it? Belgian Candi Sugar, purchased from a store, tends to run $5-6 per pound. That might be okay for a 5 gallon batch of beer, but when I need 5 pounds of it for a 15-gallon batch, it doesn’t quite work. So I made my own.

It’s a pretty simple process, actually. The point is to “invert” sugar, breaking the complex molecules into their much simpler-to-ferment components. This is easily done with a combination of [citric] acid — thanks again to Pat & Tyler for the acid — and heat. So how do you do it? Take a 5# bag of table sugar, add just enough water to make it into a nice thick slurry, add a few pinches of citric acid, and put it on the stove.

Of course, “put it on the stove” is a recipe for a sugar burn, a burn that would make this look like fun. So one must be very careful. You raise the temperature slowly to the point between hard ball and soft crack, allowing the sugar to boil, holding it there until the desired color is reached (or slightly before, as it continues to darken). 5# of Amber sugar took about an hour for me. You then raise the temp all the way up to hard crack, and pour it into a pan to harden:

I made a slight mistake on the sugar, in that I either had too much water or didn’t leave the sugar at hard crack long enough. Thus, when I went to break the sugar up and put it into bags, it didn’t “shatter” the way I’d hoped. It was still partly pliable. That being said, it’s not intended to be eaten like hard candy, so I wasn’t worried.

Once I had it all done, brewing went well. Efficiency (due to a very fine crush) was quite high, and my target gravity was definitely much higher than expected (partly also due to low volume, I’m sure). That means we have a nice Belgian Dark Ale (which may be classified as a Belgian Strong Dark Ale) coming it at about 8% ABV.

It won’t be kegged until this coming weekend, so I’ll update with some tasting notes in about 2 weeks or so once it’s cold and carbonated.

Posted By: Brad Warbiany @ 4:49 pm || Permalink || Comments (3) || Trackback URL || Categories: Beer


  1. Brad, this sounds very interesting. I want to know where you found a 5 lb. bag of sugar….The ones I buy at the grocery store are now 4 lbs. bags……

    You can buy your Citric Acid at San Francisco Herb co. for $ 3.10 a pound. I would be interested to know where you are purchasing your grains.

    Comment by Lucy Stern — December 4, 2008 @ 8:00 am
  2. Just got the sugar at the grocery store… I’m pretty sure it was 5#.

    I got the citric acid from that brewery. They provided a small baggie full of it, which will probably be enough for me to make candi sugar another 5 times… I’m not likely to do that much within a year. So I can’t figure that I’d ever have a need to buy a pound of it.

    For grains, I typically buy them at homebrew supply shops. There are a few of them locally, so it’s very easy to buy. They can be bought in 50# or 55# sacks (for base malt), or by the pound for the specialty grains.

    Comment by Brad Warbiany — December 4, 2008 @ 4:50 pm
  3. Don’t be so sure, put a tablespoon of corn syrup and red color, boil it til the beads roll off the spoon very slowly or when bead congeals in water. No need for citric acid. Great candy apple coating. I believe that its 2 cups sugar to 1/2 cup water.

    Comment by VRB — December 4, 2008 @ 9:52 pm

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