Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Belgian Pale Ale

Now that I had brewed a beer at my new location with my new system, a citra amarillo IPA, I wanted to shift back to Belgian brewing. The problems with my first brew were small and I felt ready, as well as excited, to get more experience with brewing Belgians. I figured I would start by trying to make an easy drinking Belgian pale ale, similar to the one I brewed with Ron Bradley at Moon Under Water, but with more traditional ingredients, and a lower, more traditional hopping rate. After that was done I would move on to brewing a Belgian tripel, a style I've been thinking about a lot recently. Both these beers would also benefit from controlled fermentations to keep the flavours of the Belgian yeast in check as well as reducing potential off-tastes, so it would be a great opportunity to try out my newly wired fermentation chamber.

A fermentation chamber is something I've wanted to make for some time. It is one thing to monitor the ambient temperature of a room, but beer will generally ferment warmer than this, which may cause an overly-active fermentation resulting in unwanted properties like fusel alcohols in your beer. This is where the chamber comes in, usually a fridge or freezer that is wired into a temperature controller that monitors the temperature of the beer itself, and adjusts the temperature to whatever level is desired. The importance of controlling temperatures is doubly important with Belgians, as the signature fruity, spicy character of these beers is primarily derived from yeast, and the character yeast creates in beer changes with fermentation temperature. A Belgian pale ale, for instance, should have a restrained "Belgian" character, and thus is usually fermented around 19 degrees Celsius, whereas a saison can finish fermenting as high as 28 degrees Celsius or warmer.

To create my chamber I took a feezer, and with the help of a brewing buddy, wired-up a temperature controller that I ordered from China. Controllers that require no wiring are available from homebrewing supply stores, but are generally quite expensive; the Chinese unit was about the quarter the cost so I decided to go for the cheap DIY option. That's the spirit of homebrewing anyway isn't it? On our first wiring attempt we mixed up the hot wire and the ground, but we realised our mistake and didn't electrocute anyone, so no harm, no foul (Honestly, ma there was no danger). After a few tests all seemed to be working well, so it was time for the beer.

As I mentioned before, I wanted to make this beer a bit different to the Belgian pale ale I brewed at Moon. Specifically, I wanted to use traditional hop varieties and a lighter hopping rate to create a fairly malty, easy drinking beer. As I alluded to before I would ferment it at 19 degrees Celsius to keep the Belgian character restrained. I was especially interested if this controlled fermentation would improve the quality of my beer, but perhaps I would have to wait for a high gravity beer where the potential for an over-active fermentation is greater. The upcoming tripel should work nicely.

As an added note this was my first time using the Ardennes yeast, which has the unusual property of maintaining a krausen layer all the way to terminal gravity. Fortunately I knew about this as I had read about it in a recent post on Upright Brewing's Blog, otherwise I would have been stressed out as to why it was taking so long to drop. It never ceases to amaze me how no two yeasts seem to behave exactly the same.

Belgian Pale Ale
Pilsner malt
Locally malted British style pale malt
Wheat malt
Biscuit malt

East Kent Golding hops

Wyeast 3522 Belgian Ardennes

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