Saturday, March 22, 2008

Brew day: Worst Case Scenario Belgian Dark Ale

First of all, let me say that "Worst Case Scenario" is the name of the beer we brewed today, not a description of the day itself. I'll explain the name in a second, but actually today's brew day went remarkably well, particularly considering the fiasco last time I brewed.

Anyway, today we brewed a Belgian dark ale. Belgians aren't really into the whole style thing, and our beer doesn't really fit into any specific category. It all began when Leah and I volunteered to again participate in the Drinking and Writing Brewery's Beerfly Alleyfight. I'll post more about the Beerfly Alleyfight as it gets closer, but you can read about last year's here. This year they want everybody to brew a Belgian style, and they gave us 10 lbs. of pale malt, a bunch of Hallertauer hops, and a vial of White Labs WLP 550 Belgian Ale yeast. By pure coincidence, I also won a bottle of Belgian Dark Candi Syrup at the Drunk Monk Challenge (where I judged for the first time) and figured I might as well use it in this beer.

Since I wanted to use the dark candi syrup, I figured I should make a dark beer. My favorite dark Belgian ale is Chimay Blue, so I started with a clone recipe. However, since I won't have a lot of time to let the beer age (the event is in mid-May), I decided to scale back the original gravity. I also decided to add some chocolate malt to get it darker and roastier. The end recipe is basically a slightly scaled down and darker version of a Belgian Dark Strong Ale.

I then had to figure out what to call it. The only Belgian thing I really like besides beer and waffles (and I wasn't about to name my beer "Waffle Ale") is the rock band dEUS. They're not too well known this side of the pond, though they did have a video featured on Beavis and Butthead back in the day and recently had a song featured in a Pontiac commercial. Anyway, I decided to tempt fate and name the beer "Worst Case Scenario" after their excellent debut album.

The brew day went smoothly. I mashed in at 153°F at 11:40am. It was a little higher than my target of 151°F but I was planning on doing a longer mash (1.25 hrs.) and figured with the cold weather that the temp would lower significantly. I was correct and by 12:20 it was down to 148°F. One thing I'd definitely like to improve is my mash tun's ability to retain heat. By 1pm I started recirculating and by 1:15 it was running clear and I began to sparge. (One mistake... I forgot to adjust the pH of my sparge water; hopefully it wasn't a big deal given the dark malts in the grain bill.) While I had issues with my sparge rate yet again (I'm thinking I need to make some sort of grant), I was done at around 2:00 and reached boil by 2:10pm.

Once I reached boil, I added the bittering hops as well as the candi syrup. I decided to try the candi syrup and... holy crap... did it taste good! I thought it tasted like a cross between malt extract and Hershey's Syrup. Leah thought it tasted like a mocha cappuccino. Bottom line is it tasted damn good, and I hope the beer does as well. I boiled for one hour with hop additions at 15 min. and 2 min. I also added freshly ground grains of paradise at 2 min.

After I turned off the burner, the real fun began. I decided to employ my March pump and plate chiller for the first time. To my amazement, it worked! The wort was pumped into the chiller at near-boiling and came out at 64°F. The whole carboy was filled in what seemed like five minutes. I took a gravity reading and was excited to come in at 1071, two points over my target. That puts my efficiency at 72%, which I'm pretty happy with. It seems like my efficiency is best with dark beers, which leads me to wonder if I just need to keep an eye on my pH.

Anyway, I pitched the yeast (I didn't think ahead to make a starter) around 3:30. I've heard that Belgians are one category of beer where you can get away with underpitching since the strained yeast just produce more phenols and esters that we associate with Belgian ales anyway. I suppose time will tell. In the meantime, I have to make sure I keep the temperature up (I'm so used to German beers where you want to keep the temps down!).

Readers in the Chicago area can attend the Beerfly Alleyfight at the downtown Chicago Rock Bottom and sample the results! Look for more info soon. In the meantime, I'm thinking of brewing a Munich Helles next since I suddenly have a windfall of Hallertauer hops. Cheers!


Blogger Bart said...

cool, do you guys know there's another Deus-beer as well?

why aren't you shipping to belgium?

3:14 PM, March 24, 2008  
Blogger Kevin LaVoy said...

In Brew Like a Monk, he actually recommends underpitching as an experimental thing for Belgians. As long as you know you've got viable yeast, you probably aren't taking a very big gamble.

5:19 PM, March 24, 2008  
Blogger Russ said...

I've seen the DeuS beer before but haven't had a chance to try it. And I'd love to ship to Belgium, but at this point brewing is just a hobby and I'm only making 20 liters at a time!

Good to hear someone else saying underpitching is okay with Belgians. My fermentation lock was bubbling away within 18 hours, so I guess I'm good for now.

10:08 AM, March 25, 2008  

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