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I’ll be the first to admit: I’m not typically an enthusiast of non-sour Belgian beers. Don’t get me wrong, I love the spirit of experimentation and the “anything goes” attitude that Belgian styles showcase, but I find most Belgians I try are have too much ABV/spice/pretension/etc for me to fall in love with them. I’d wager I’d really love to dig into a nice Belgian Pale Ale, but folks aren’t really clamoring for sessionable Belgians around here and imported examples usually arrive ravaged by light and heat.
To continue my trend of “being the beer I wish to see” (apologies to Gandhi) I set out to make my own sessionable Belgian ale. My goals for this recipe were twofold: 1) create an easy-drinking Belgian and 2) create something that would help me place well in my homebrew club’s first competition, the grand prize of which is getting the beer brewed by Rip Current Brewing. The styles of the competition were picked specifically because they’re outside the wheelhouse of Rip Current’s current offerings (they want a diverse set of offerings to sell, after all), but I’m no dummy: Rip Current is renowned for their hop-bombs and by brewing something that’s both diverse and halfway in their wheelhouse I’m hoping will increase my chances of being selected as the winner.
With an eye on what a brewery would need to sell of I won, I harnessed the beer trends of the past few years and came up with “De Kleine,” Dutch for “small,” a sessionable Belgian IPA. Drawing inspiration from Stone’s Cali-Belgique (Stone IPA brewed with a Belgian yeast), I decided to experiment with how much Belgian character I could extract from a session strength recipe while doubling down on citrusy American hops. Otherwise, the rest of the recipe is Belgian to the core: the malt bill is pure Belgian malts and the yeast is a classic strain from Rochefort.
|Pilsner (2 Row) Bel
|Special B Malt
|Abbey IV Ale Yeast (WLP540)
|66°F - 72°F
|Water profile: Ca 72 | Mg 6 | Na 27 | Cl 55 | SO4 147
|Download this recipe's BeerXML file
Citrusy hops dominate with a light malt/toasty background that grows as the beer warms. Medium-low Belgian phenol/esters present that give it just a hint of spice in the back-end. I can’t quite tell if the hops are overwhelming the yeast character or there is merely a moderate amount of yeast character present.
The color is a medium amber with medium white/off-white head, fine bubbles, and good retention. I’m a big proponent of using ~5% flaked wheat in my beers to get that sticky head that drives the judges wild. You can’t quite tell from the pictures, but I’m really pleased with the clarity on this one; I can hold some text on the other side of the glass and easily read it.
There’s a bit of nutty-sweet maltiness in there from the Biscuit and Special B, but otherwise citrusy/piney hop character dominates. I’d say I dialed in the perceived bitterness on this one pretty well, there’s just enough bitterness to let you know it’s an IPA, but it remains smooth and lets the character of the hops shine through. Again, only moderate spicy yeast phenols shine through and are merely a background note to the hops.
Medium bodied with a slight creaminess. For a session beer it stays nicely full-bodied and doesn’t feel “thin” at the end, which is a common problem with sessions. It could maybe use a bit more carbonation, but too much carb can make it feel thin, so I’m hesitant to bump it up any more.
I called it “De Kleine,” but I could’ve called it “Kleine Maar Machtige” (Small But Mighty) ’cause this fella doesn’t pull any punches. There’s a great, smooth hop character that’s you’d expect from an IPA, but it remains really easy drinking. My one disappointment with the beer is that I didn’t manage to squeeze as much Belgian character out of the yeast as I’d hoped. I think I should have pitched and fermented another two or three degrees warmer to coax out more yeast character.
Next go ’round I think I’ll do the following: remove the Caramunich (the Biscuit and Special B were enough) and pitch/ferment in the low 70’s. I can’t decide if I would go with a different yeast, I’d like to try fermenting warmer first.
Astute readers of this site might notice that this is the recipe I made for the beer featured in the first Yeast Bank article on WLP540. I’m still trying to decide if I should include my evaluation of the non-visual sensory contributions (e.g. smell, taste) of a strain in the Yeast Bank article or the accompanying recipe article. In the mean time, I’ll be cross-linking the two to
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