December 1, 2008
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.
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