This batch has been in the works for a long time. I mentioned back in May that I was planning some Abbey beers. This is the first of those. I’m planning at least a Belgian Dark Strong Ale, maybe another beer or two, but I’m starting with the Tripel.
Victory’s Golden Monkey was probably my first exposure to this style. That was very early in my beer drinking career. Before I knew anything about Belgian beers, let alone Abbey or Trappist beers. When I first tasted it, I thought it was a souped up wheat beer. That is probably where I got the idea for Trap Weiss. I also thought that it actually had bananas in the recipe. With monkey in the name and the extremely fruity flavor plus the fact that I was about twenty-two, I think my ignorance can be forgiven…
If you’re unfamiliar, a Tripel is Belgian strong ale that is pale in color. It is the hoppiest of the Abbey style beers, not that that is saying a whole lot. Despite “quad” or Belgian Dark Strong Ales’ name, Tripel is often the strongest beer in a breweries portfolio. The style was created by Westmalle and their version is still considered the gold standard by many people.
Tripels’ grain bills are usually made up nearly entirely of Pilsner malt. Small amounts of Aromatic, light Crystal or wheat malts are sometimes added. Unmalted grains including wheat and corn are sometimes used, as well. I opted for a small amount of flaked wheat in addition to a whole lot of German Pilsner.
Like many Belgian beers, though, the fermentables go beyond the grain bill. Tripels should get ten to as much as twenty percent of their fermentables from sugar. This can be anything from candi sugar (syrup) or invert sugar to plain table sugar. I went with ordinary table sugar. Invert sugar is just sucrose (table sugar) that has been broken down into simpler sugars. Brewers’ yeast will do this on its own, though. The process of inverting sugar involves heating it with water and some acid. Continuing this process can lead to darker candi sugars which will add both color and flavor to your beer and it is desirable in darker Abbey beers, but for Tripel, you want to keep it as light as possible so you are better off saving your time and money and just using table sugar.
I went towards the top end of the hop spectrum for this style. According to the BJCP guidelines, a Tripel can have anywhere from twenty to forty IBUs, but most examples are somewhere in the thirties. I pushed this close to forty because that is my preference. I also added my late hops even later than is usual. I am finding lately that I’m not getting much flavor and aroma if I don’t push my hops to the very end of the boil. This may just be because it’s so hot and it is taking me longer to chill my wort than usual. This is not a hoppy beer, but with as much alcohol as they tend to have, it can take quite a bit to get any hop character at all and while not all examples do, I prefer the ones with noticeable hop bite.
I have mentioned Abbey and Trappist beers a few times already, if you don’t know what I’m talking about, I’ll explain a little bit. Trappist is a designation for beer produced by or under the supervision of a certain sect of monks. The monastic brewers must apply for the right to use the designation and no beer that is not approved may bare the Trappist seal. Abbey beers, on the other hand, can be brewed by anyone and are simply inspired by the types of beers made by Trappist brewers.
The most popular of these beers are Belgian Blonde, Dubbel, Tripel and Quad or Belgian Dark Strong Ale. They are all relatively strong, use sugar as an adjunct to make them drier and more “digestible” and they all get most of their character from their yeast. That yeast can range from fruity to spicy but it is always distinct. If you are interested in these beers, you need to read Brew Like a Monk by Stan Hieronymus. This is one of the best brewing books I’ve read. It strikes the perfect balance between history and brewing process. Plus he got all kinds of details from the monks themselves that were previously thought to be well guarded secrets.
I am currently working night shift. I got off work at six in the morning today and began the mash for this beer with water that I had pre-measured last night. I used the same process as my last batch, Trap Weiss. Mash, sparge, hold the wort and go to sleep. When I got up this afternoon, I began the boil and then started getting water ready for another batch of Berliner Weisse, which I’m also brewing today. I’ll cover that batch tomorrow.
This beer is boiled for ninety minutes. With so much Pilsner malt, it is important to extend the boil to prevent DMS. It is also good to help concentrate the wort a bit with a beer this strong. I planned to use Nugget hops for bittering but they were out at the homebrew store so I went with Warrior instead. It shouldn’t make much difference, but I’ve seen in Brew Like a Monk and elsewhere that some of the Trappist breweries use Nugget. I added some Hersbucker hops with five minutes left in the boil and Tettnang at the end.
After having some trouble getting my last batch chilled as low as I wanted, I froze a few bottles of water to add along with the wort chiller this time. Another of the many things I learned from Brew Like a Monk is that most of the Trappist breweries agree that it is important to start fermentation cool. While these beers are often thought of as being fermented very warm, the key is to start cool and let the yeast warm itself up. Allowing it to free rise to much warmer temperatures will cause the formation of lots of fruity and spicy esters and all kinds of interesting fermentation character. However, if you start it that warm, the yeast will go crazy and instead of pleasant esters you will instead get harsh alcohol heat. I added this wort directly on top of the yeast cake from Trap Weiss, so it is probably an over pitch, which means that it could be even more susceptible to this issue.
While chilling most of the wort, I added half a gallon of it to a pot on the stove and dissolved three pounds of cane sugar in it. I did it this way to try to insure that all of the sugar actually made it into the beer and wasn’t stuck on the wort chiller or anywhere else. Once the wort was chilled, I added both portions to the fermenter and started cleaning the kettle for the next batch. This is going to be fermenting and aging for a while, but I am extremely excited to taste the result. Now I need to get back to work on that Berliner Weisse…
Style: Belgian Tripel
Brew Date: July 16, 2014
Serve Date: September, 2014
Original Gravity: 1.076
Expected Final Gravity: 1.012
Approximate ABV: 8.4%
IBUs: 38 IBUs
78% German Pilsner
5% Flaked Wheat
17% Cane Sugar
1 oz Warrior @ 60 min
1 oz Hersbucker @ 5 min
1 oz Tettnang @ 0 min
White Labs 500: Trappist Ale (Chimay) cake from previous batch
24 quarts of water @ 162º added to grains to achieve 149º mash temperature
Mash for 90 minutes, stirring halfway through
Drain mash, batch sparge with 15 quarts of water @ 180º
Collect about 7 gallons
Boil for 90 minutes
Add three pounds of cane sugar while chilling
Chill to 65º and ferment at room temperature, allowing to free rise
Rack once fermentation has completed and hold for one to four to six weeks before packaging