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Designing Great Belgian Dark Strong Ales

Gordon Strong
Dayton Regional Amateur Fermentation Technologists (DRAFT) BJCP Grand Master Judge

Copyright 2003, Gordon Strong. All rights reserved.

Style Review
Style Parameters Modern Variations Sensory Analysis

Brewing: Ingredients and Process

Survey Results

Recipe Formulation Analysis

Judging Feedback Common Mistakes

Style Modifications Tips for Brewers

Style Review: What is it?

A Belgian Dark Strong Ale is Belgian, so its complex and interesting Dark, so its not pale Strong, so its bigger than a dubbel Ale, so its not Stella The Belgian Dark Strong Ale STYLE is An artificial American judging construct not an authentic Belgian brewing constraint A catch-all category for large, dark Belgian beers that fall within Category S (a legal classification, OG 1.062+) Jackson and Protz: not defined as a style (contained within Trappist, Monastic Beers and Regional Specialties)

Style Review: Style Space

Alcohol Strength

Tripel/ Strong Golden Pale/ Saison Blonde/ Pils Wit


Dubbel/ BDG


Color/Malt Complexity

Style Review: Parameters

BJCP1 OG FG Color IBUs ABV Atten.
1. 2. 3. 4.


1.050-1.095 1.010-1.022 3.5-20 SRM 20-45 5.2-11.2% 70-80%

1.063-1.095 1.012-1.022 3.5-20 SRM 20-50 7-12% 70-80%

1.065-1.098+ 1.064-1.096 1.014-1.024+ 1.012-1.024 7-20 SRM 25-40+ 7-12% 7-20 SRM 20-50 7-11%

BJCP Style Guide, 1999. AOB Style Guide, 2003. Belgian Ale, Pierre Rajotte, 1992 (Trappist style) Belgian Ale, Pierre, Rajotte, 1992 (S classification)

Style Review: Sensory Aspects

Factor Appearance Aroma Typical Qualities of Best Examples
Light coppery-red to deep coppery-brown. Huge, dense, moussy, persistent head. Can be clear or somewhat hazy Complex; rich malty sweetness, estery, alcohol, spiciness Malt: rich, some Munich, occasional caramel, toast, bread Fruity esters: raisin, plum, dried cherry, fig, prune Spicy phenols (light notes of pepper, not clove) Alcohol (soft, spicy, perfumy, rose-like) Similar to aroma, plus: Moderately Malty or sweet, but finishes dry Low bitterness; alcohol balances malt High carbonation but no bite Smooth alcohol warmth Variable body by interpretation (med-light to full) Complex, rich, smooth, dangerous

Flavor Mouthfeel Overall

Style Review: Modern Variations

Interpretation Trappist (drier, lower FG) Abbey (fuller body, sweeter) Barleywine (mostly malt) Spiced Favorite Examples
Westvleteren 12 [yellow] (10.5%+) Rochefort 10 [blue] (11.3%) or 8 [green] (9.2%) Chimay Grande Reserve [blue] (9%) St. Bernardus Abt 12 (10%+) Gouden Carolus Grand Cru of the Emperor (8%) Abbaye des Rocs Grand Cru (10%) Gulden Draak (10.5%) Scaldis a/k/a Bush (12%) Weyerbacher QUAD (11.2%) La Trappe Quadrupel (10%) Nice Chouffe (10%) Affligem Nel (9%)

Brewing: Ingredients
Based on results of homebrewer survey Authentic ingredients tend to produce authentic results

Aspect Comments
Water Hops
Soft is best (dont need sulfates or carbonates). Try RO + CaCl2. Low bitterness (15-25 IBUs), try BU:GU of about .33 Balance depends on not having excessive residual sweetness Low to no late hops (less than .5 oz per 5 gal), noble if used Complexity comes from variety. Belgian Pale or Pils base. Malt Munich-types for maltiness, Belgian specialties for flavor Avoid US/UK crystal-types (wrong type of sweetness) Adjuncts Sugar is needed to lighten body, add color/complexity Candi sugar is best, others work. Avoid molasses flavors. Start with 5-10% up to a maximum of 20% of grist Authentic Belgian types required for proper character Yeast Lots of healthy yeast, plenty of oxygen Ferment warm (70 2), depending on strain Avoid if possible. If using, be subtle and keep in background. Spices Try complimentary spices (star anise, cardamom, black pepper)

Brewing: Yeast Selection

Check out Crispy Freys talk on Belgian yeasts Favorite examples from brewers:
Rochefort-type: WY1762, WLP550 (can need attention to fully ferment) Chimay-type: WY1214, WLP500 (keep cool to avoid high esters and solvents, good attenuator) Westmalle-type: WY3787, WLP530 (lots of phenols, use temperature to control ester profile, good attenuator) Achouffe-type: WY3522 (can ferment very warm)

Consider a bottling yeast if you bottle-condition (Chico is fine) Consider using multiple strains for added complexity Experiment with warmer fermentations in shallow fermenters Fermentation management is critical to the final product

Brewing: Malt Selection

Munich Aromatic CaraMunich CaraVienne

Benefit or Resulting Characteristic

Rich malty flavor/aroma. Dont use as base (youre not making a bock). Also can use Vienna. Like super Munich. Also Melanoidin. Nutty, malty. Plum and dried cherry flavors. Darker color. Sweetness, light caramel/malty flavors.

Biscuit/Victory Toasty, bready. Background flavor only (not an ESB). Special B Chocolate Wheat Raisin flavors. Can be grainy and overpowering. Use sparingly for color adjustment. Consider light or huskless varieties to avoid roasted flavors. Use for added head retention and flavor complexity.

Brewing: Process
Mash for Attenuation
Specialty grains will provide body Consider step mashing, particularly if using pils malt Convert at lower end of beta amylase range (149-150)

Practice Good Yeast Management

Pitch a big, healthy starter and use lots of oxygen Consider adding sugar adjuncts after fermentation is going Keep it going, but dont let it overheat

Conditioning for the Long Term

Avoid post-fermentation oxygen pickup Good sanitation and packaging techniques Consider bottle conditioning with a new, healthy strain Be Patient. Wait 3-6 months before tasting. Peak in 9-24 months.

Recipe Formulation: Grist Analysis

Based on results of homebrewer survey

Pale, Pils Munich, Vienna Aromatic, Melanoidin Biscuit, Victory, Special Roast CaraMunich, CaraVienne, Crystals Special B Chocolate, Choc/Roast Wheat Wheat, Flaked Barley Candi Sugar, other sugars Carapils

High Low
80% 32% 15% 8% 15% 4% 4% 22% 15% 5% 35% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0%

62.5% 10.5% 4.5% 1.5% 5% 2% 1% 3% 9% 1%

100% 69% 69% 31% 92% 85% 62% 38% 92% 38%

Recipe Formulation: Style Parameters

Based on results of homebrewer survey

High OG FG IBU ABV BU:GU 1.107 1.030 51 12.1% 0.48

Low 1.075 1.008 20 8.5% 0.19

Average 1.096 1.019 33 10.1% 0.34

Judging Results: Age vs. Score

Belgian Dark Strong Scores

50 45 40 35 30 25 20 15 10 5 0 0 2 4 6 8 10 1214 1618 20 2224 2628 30 3234 3638 40 Age (Months)

Optimal? 9-30 months

D1 D2 D3 D4 D5 D6 D7 D8 D9 TREND


Common Judging Errors

Not understanding the full range of the style
Big Beer bias Halo effect of favorite commercial beer

Dismissing spiced and paler versions Misunderstanding style guidelines

Phenolic doesnt mean weizen-like

Not deducting for faults (or detecting them)

Misunderstanding body, sweetness, attenuation, carbonation and alcohol strength Liking fusels and other off-flavors

Common Brewing Errors (1)

Fermentation Management
Temp too high (fusels, solvents) Poor yeast health (inadequate pitching) Too high FG (infection-prone, syrupy, cloying) Not clean enough (infected, sour, phenolic, medicinal) Wrong yeast (insufficiently Belgian) Unbalanced Too much spicing Roasted, burnt flavors Lacking complexity in malt profile and yeast character

Recipe Formulation

Common Brewing Errors (2)

Lack of Style Fidelity
Just because its big, dark and (possibly) funky, doesnt mean its a good match for the style Alcohol cant mask other problems Too bitter, hoppy, roasted, or sweet. Too much body. Too pale in color.

Lack of Aging
Rough flavors (grains, fusels, alcohol hotness) Unpleasant balanced; flavors not melded High residual sweetness (needs to dry out, firm up)

Recommendations: Style Changes

Tighten definition to traditional Trappist/Abbey styles Minimize overlap with Dubbel Raise gravity range: OG 1.075-1.110 Allow for drier beers: FG 1.010-1.024 Decrease IBUs: 15-25 (higher is OK if FG is also high) Color is too light: 14-20 SRM Raise ABV slight: 8-12% Allow for lighter bodied, drier versions De-emphasize spicy phenols Emphasize dark, dried fruit flavors and aromas Discuss variations, balance, smoothness, malt complexity Head should be moussy and long-lasting

Recommendations: Brewing Tips

Focus on making classic Trappist styles, not Barleywinetypes and spiced variations. Judges expect Belgian character and complexity from malt, yeast and sugar. Use a variety of grains. Use sugars to cut the body and increase alcohol and flavor. Adjust color with very small amounts of darker malts; judges dont like this style to be too pale. Avoid overhopping. Let the alcohol balance the malt. But it needs to attenuate for this to occur (age it). Dont enter your beers too young. If theyre well made, they can wait until next year. Fermentation management is probably the most critical factor in determining the quality of the final product.

For Showing the Way...
Ray Daniels

Survey Participants
Andy Anderson Dwight Bradish Erv Brese Brian Cole Steve Ford Mike Heniff Dave Justice Jim Layton Steve McKenna Joel Plutchak

Beer, Recipes or Advice

Shane Coombs Nick Edgington Crispy Frey Marc Gaspard Al Korzonas Steve McKenna Dave Sherfey

Comments, gripes, etc. to

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