Friday, June 6, 2014

Belgian Single

The Westvleteren blond.
Now that my work in Germany is done and I'm back in Victoria it's time to dust off my brewing equipment and get back to brewing. I figured the first beer would be a bit of a mess due to not quite having all of my equipment back and definitely not having it organized, brewing in a new space where I hadn't brewed before, and not brewing for the last 10 months. So I chose a pretty simple recipe and something that I figured would be a bit forgiving while also getting the chance to work on the recipe of a beer I'd like to have around regularly (at least in the warm months) - a Belgian table bier/Belgian single/Patersbier.

Belgian table bier/Belgian single/Patersbier (I'll refer to it as table bier for simplicity from this point) is something that Belgian Trappist monasteries would make for the monks. All the stronger beers being brewed by the trappists don't work quite as well as a general drinking beer and something else was needed for the monks as an everyday type of beer. Generally these beers aren't available outside of the monasteries (they'll generally be at the monastery cafes), but sometimes you can find them in specialty shops or cafes around Belgium. This style of beer doesn't show up with any descriptions on the BJCP guidelines, but you'll find it under category 16e (Belgian specialty beer) under the name 'Blond Trappist table beer'.

The Westmalle Extra (which in 2011 had no label)
Here's a quick rundown on the Belgian Trappist table biers out there: Chimay makes Dorée, a 4.6% beer that has spices typical of a witbier and a taste in the wit direction. Achel makes a 5.3% blond which I've never seen around Belgium. Orval makes a Petit Orval which is 3.4% and is quite literally watered down Orval. Westmalle makes a 5.3% blond of 100% pils malt and ~30 IBUs which the monks describe as "a pils of high fermentation" according to Stan Hieronymus in the book Brew Like a Monk. I think this beer is excellent, and it formed the main foundation for my recipe. And finally Westvleteren makes a 5.6% Blond which comes in at ~40 IBU and is also excellent. There are also non-trappist examples out there but I'll stick with these for here. The goal with my recipe for this beer was to make something like the Westmalle and the Westvleteren blond, while lowering the strength to something like the Chimay Dorée.

My Recipe
I often try to bump up my grain bills in order to make some extra wort to save for future starters, especially when my grist has no specialty malts or only low levels of specialty malts. This saves me some money on extract and doesn't cost me any extra work/time as I'm already doing the mash anyway. So in this case my grist was based for 7 gallons in the primary but my actual target was 5.5 gallons in the primary and 1.5 gallons of unhopped wort pulled off. My boil off volume (though not boil off as a percentage or wort volume) is pretty constant whether I am boiling ~8.5 gallons down to 7 or ~7 gallons down to 5.5 so I don't need to worry about correcting anything more than just the exact extra volume starter wort I am pulling and the grain for it. Hops were only added after the extra wort was pulled so hop amounts are for the final 'in carboy' batch size. I had to work back and forth with beersmith a bit to get my gravity numbers right for 7 gallons and my hops right for 5.5 (at the same gravity). What I'll write below is my recipe as if I didn't make any extra wort.

The Chimay Dorée
Batch Size - 5.5 US Gallons in the fermenter
OG target - 1.047 (my target was a bit lower at 1.043)
IBU - ~40 using the Tinseth formula
Target FG - ~1.008
Target ABV - ~4.6%
Total Efficiency - 72%

8.75 lbs (3.97 kg) Weyermann Pilsner malt
80 g Styrian Golding pellets (5.3% alpha acid)
60 g Czech Saaz pellets (3.6% alpha acid)
WLP 530 Abbey Ale

7g CaSO4, 5g CaCL2 added to mash and sparge water.
-This adds 61 ppm Ca2+, 94 ppm SO42- and 39 ppm Cl- to my total water volume. Victoria's water is pretty low in everything so this is effectively my total Ca2+, SO42- and Cl-.
1/2 tsp Wyeast yeast nutrients
1/2 tab of whirlfloc

The plan was 70 minutes at 150 F. I ended up being at about 151F for most of the mash time rather than 150. I don't think that is a massive difference, but as it is I was mashing a bit warmer than I would generally for a beer like this in order to give me more of a buffer in case I missed my temps low and/or my temperature dropped a lot during the mash. So perhaps my FG will be a bit higher than I desire it to be this time around. I pseudo-fly sparged at a temp in my mash tun of ~155-160 F (the sparge water was more like 170-180 F, but it mixed down with the grain bed and the runnings still in the tun).

The boil.
90 minute boil, pulling 1.5 gallons for starter wort at 30 minutes into the boil (60 minutes left in the boil).
Hop additions: 50 g Styrian Goldings and 30 g Czech Saaz at 30 minutes left in the boil
30 g Styrian Goldings and 30 g Czech Saaz at 2 minutes left in the boil.

I did have to extend my boil a bit due to my propane tank running out mid boil (after the 1st hop addition) and not boiling off quite as much as I expected/having to swap the tanks. All the electric brewers out there are probably laughing at me now. So anyway, the first hops had about 45 minutes in the kettle before chilling instead of 30 minutes. Other than that and the slightly higher OG than my target, the brew day went rather well.

A starter was grown up on a stir plate 4 days before brew day. The starter was taken off of the stir plate after ~36 hours, then allowed to cool at room temp. The morning before brew day the starter was put into the fridge to cold crash it. The starter was decanted and ~1L of cooled wort (~70 F) was added to the yeast slurry to get the yeast active again while the rest of the wort cooled in a carboy in a cold water bath to my pitching temp of 66 F (My groundwater isn't cold enough to efficiently chill low enough). The starter had about 2 hours before it was pitched into the carboy and it was rather active by the time it went in. Using the Mr Malty pitching rate calculator, approximately 150 billion cells were pitched.

The yeast was pitched when my carboy reached 66 F. The wort was then aerated by shaking for ~5 minutes. Fermentation was carried out in a water bath to increase the thermal mass and minimize temperature swings, and also to allow an aquarium heater to be used to warm the beer when needed. Fermentation was ramped up to ~70 F over the first 2 days and then held approximately constant for 2 days (I was out of town and unable to control temps). Then at day 5 the temperature was raised to 74 F. The plan was to unplug the heater and let the beer cool to ambient (~65 F) at around day 7 if the final gravity was low and stable, but it was a bit higher (1.013) so I left the beer at 74 until about day 9. I'll update with the final gravity and any bottling info when I get around to bottling (in a couple weeks as I am, again, out of town).

5-Aug-2014 - The FG was 1.005 so a couple of points below my target. I bottled the beer on June 29th and I primed the beer to 2.8 volumes of CO2.

Tasting notes are up.


  1. Hi Dave,

    This comes at a great time, I hope to brew again soon, I have Pilsner Malt, and I have always wanted to try a table beer like this. I wouldn't mind knowing a little more about your full recipe as I have also thought it would be a good idea to save some wort for the next starters. Cheers!

  2. I've gotten some questions about what exactly I did to make some extra wort for starters/what my full recipe was. The only difference between the recipe I posted is that I actually used 11.25 lbs (5.1 kg) of Pils malt instead of the 8.75 listed. And then as mentioned above I pulled my starter wort before adding any hops.

    I bottled this beer on June 29th and the final gravity was 1.005, so a bit lower than my expectations but I am alright with that. In a beer like this I would rather attenuate further than I expected instead of finishing above my target FG. I'll post up tasting notes and any changes I might make for next time when the beer is carbonated.

  3. I normally just do a second sparge. I'll take 10 liters of 70C water and put into into the spent grains. Normally comes out around 1.010-1.020. I then boil it down to 1.040. No need to do any re-calculating or anything.

    1. That sounds like a reasonable plan. It wouldn't work for me based on my system as any additional runnings I might try to collect would be below 1.010 and would quickly get down to even lower. I guess a way I could compensate for this would be to lower my expected efficiency when I calculate out a recipe, though effectively that would be the same thing I'm already doing. But if you've got your process dialed in to work with the extra runnings then that sounds like another good way to prep some extra starter wort.