One of my good friends is also an amateur beer brewer and after he told me about a special brew he was making for the One Day Play for New Year’s Eve, I asked him if he’d be interested in being a guest blogger for the occasion. He happily said yes. Please welcome Timothy Sprague and enjoy his Belgian Dubbel.
Making beer at home has become a very popular hobby in the past 25 years or so, thanks to developments in equipment and more widespread availability of knowledgeable home brewing retailers. I first took up the hobby almost 20 years ago and have found there is always something new to learn with every batch. It’s not as hard as it seems. If you can follow a recipe, you can make your own beer and impress your friends!
The process starts in Woodland Hills at the well-stocked Home Beer, Wine and Cheese Making Shop. I’ve always wanted to try the cheese part, but haven’t gotten to it yet. The wine making I will leave to others. This is where I like to buy my grains, malt syrup, hops and other adjuncts.
BELGIAN DUBBEL BEER (makes 5 gallons)
- 8 oz. Gambrinus Munich Dark
- 4 oz. Aromatic Malt
- 4 oz. Biscuit Malt
- 4 oz. Crystal Malt
- 4 oz. Gambrinus Pale
- 4 oz. Honey Malt
- 8 lbs. Briess Wheat LME
- 1 lb. Dark Candy Sugar
- 1 oz. Styrian Goldings (substituted Styrian Aurora)
- .5 oz. Spalt
- .5 oz. Hallertauer
- 1/2 tsp Calcium Chloride
- 1/2 tsp Gypsum
- 1/2 tsp Calcium Carbonate
- 1 tsp Irish Moss
- 3/4 Cup Brewers Sugar (used when bottling)
- Wyeast Labs #1214 Belgian Ale Yeast
- 2.5 Gallons of Water
This recipe is a Belgian Dubbel, the style of beer brewed by monks living in remote mountain cloisters. The fermentables are grains that will be crushed together and steeped in hot water. Adjuncts are mainly to make Los Angeles drinking water a little closer to what the monks would use. Finally, the brewing sugar for carbonation and Belgian Ale Yeast for fermentation.
The recipe called for Styrian Goldings, but the store was out so I used Styrian Aurora, which is similar enough. That’s the “bittering” hop; Spalt is the “flavoring” and German Hallertauer is the “aroma” hop. It all looks like rabbit food but, believe me, it’s really good in beer. You can also buy fresh hops in leafy bunches.
The crushed grains are put in a mesh bag and steeped in 170-degree water for 45 minutes. Like making a giant pot of tea.
The grains are then moved over the brew kettle and are sparged (or sprinkled) with more hot water. It’s important to watch the temperature and not go over 170-degrees. You could burn the grains.
The heat gets turned up to start the boiling of the wort (beer before it is fermented). Add the 8 lbs. of malt syrup right before the water starts boiling. This is for home brewing convenience. Some brewers do a “full mash” and make the entire thing with grains. But for a small kitchen, that’s a lot of grains to steep, so a lot of people use the syrup.
This recipe also calls for dark Belgian rock candy, which comes in syrup form as well. I have also used the big chunks of hard rock candy in the past. The syrup is much simpler because it doesn’t have to melt.
Once the kettle has come to a nice rolling boil, continue to skim the foam off the top throughout the brew.
This is when you add the water salts and Irish Moss (to remove haze producing proteins) and prepare for the hops additions. Be sure to skim the foam before adding the hops. Mesh bags are used for the hops to keep them from crumbling into the brew. The lid is kept on about 3/4 to keep the hops flavor in. The hops are added one at a time, keeping the heat on until you add the final hop. Let hop #1 boil for 40 minutes then add in hop #2 for another 20 minutes, finally add your third hop and turn the heat off.
Once the boil is over I will use a contraption, known as a wort chiller, to cool the wort before adding the yeast. It will be attached to my kitchen faucet and cold water will run through it while it is dropped straight into the wort.
I have had this 5-gallon “Ale Pail” for quite a while now. It seems like these days they only make them in a 7-gallon size. The chilled wort will be poured in here and the yeast is “pitched” (added) after that. I activated a “smack pack” of ale yeast earlier (follow the directions on the package). The package will puff up while the brewing continues. The yeast causes fermentation, turning the sugar into alcohol. More cold water is then added to get it up to the 5-gallon mark. This also splashes around some oxygen to help the yeast get started doing its thing.
The lid is placed on the pail and a fermentation lock is attached. This allows gases to escape through something sterile, so you don’t get any nasty airborne pathogens in the beer that would cause it to come out tasting bad, while keeping it a closed system inside. I recommend using cheap vodka. Nice and sterile, but you wouldn’t want to drink it. Another method is to use a bleach/water solution. As the wort starts fermenting, the vodka will start bubbling away.
Now you wait and we’ll check on it in about 5 to 7 days. Stay tuned for Part 2!