Better Know Your Beer Style: Category 18- Belgian Strong Ales

15 06 2010

Today, we finish the wild and wacky world of Belgians. We took you through the farmhouse styles of Saisons, Biere de Garde and Witbiers. Then we took you through the funky and exotic world of sour ales. Now we are going to the world of Belgian Strong Ales. Quite possibly the most straight forward and accessible of Belgian beers, strong ales have to do with one thing, mainly, and that is alcohol. Afterall, it says it right there in name: “strong ales.”

Similar to the Scottish style of grading their beer according to strength, Belgian abbeys will classify their beer according to strength. Belgian abbey styles come most commonly in Double (Dubble) or Triple (Trippel) with the Triple being stronger than the Double. They would accomplish this bigger beer by adding sugar (kandi) to their wort in the boil. In the German and English traditions, this technique is frowned upon. And for homebrewers, the addition of table sugar to their beer is not only seen as cheating, it is ill advised as it results in unpredictable fermentation and a slight cider-like quality. But buying high quality kandi sugar is more and more easy these days. Some beers these days will be labeled a “single” or even “quadruple” but these beers are largely foreign extrapolations on the Belgian style. Some abbeys will actually make a “single” (or “table strength”) beer. But these are primarily made for the monks who live there and are rarely distributed out of the abbey.

What’s the difference between “Abbey Style” and “Trappist Style”?

Abbey styles are prepared in the traditional Belgian strong ale from an Abbey recipe. They are usually named “Double” or “Triple” and are refermented in the bottle for a secondary conditioning. The term “Trappist” or “Trapiste” is an appellation. Much like the term “Champagne” or “Kolsch”, only beers brewed by actual Trappist monks may be referred to as “Trappist.” They must be brewed on the grounds of the monastery and the proceeds must be given to charity. There are only seven Trappist beers left in the world. The most popular would probably be Chimay while Rochefort, Westmalle and Orval are very popular as well.

As for the secular versions of Belgian strong ales, this is resulting in an archaic and strange taxing system. Randy Mosher goes into detail on this with James Spenser at Basic Brewing Radio. But in short, the government taxed the brewers according the amount of liquid that their mashtuns could hold, and not on what came out of them. So, the brewers would jam their mash tuns with the most grains they could in order to pull the most sugar out of the mash tun as possible. The result were these big, sticky, heavy beers that fermented into a big, boozy beer.

Better Know Your Beer Style: Category 18- Belgian Strong Ales

Photo Credit: Erik Cleves Kristensen CC

Subcategories: Belgian Blonde, Dubble, Tripel, Golden Strong Ale, Dark Strong Ale

Aroma: The Blonde ale will have a earthy and complex hop nose with a sweet pils quality and a sharp, phenolic booziness. Highlights could include a sweet orange and vanilla note. The Dubble will be earthy and roasty with notes of chocolate, cherries, caramel and toast. It should never have burnt or coffee notes. Spicy phenolic qualities are not usually common and the alcohol should not be solvent or hot. Tripels should be spicy and citrusy (pepper, clove, orange rind, or maybe even banana) with low to now hop quality. No heat or solvent alcohol notes. Golden Strong ale should be light with core fruit (pears, apples) or fresh oranges. Hops should be spicy and floral. Malt character is low. Dark strong ales should be rich with malt. Caramel, toffee, and toasted bread. Phenols should be spicy with peppercorn and all spice. Alcohol should be well rounded and warming.

Appearance: Blondes are very clear with bright to dark gold and big, firm, white head and excellent lacing. Dubbels are dark brown with ruby highlights and big, firm, off-white head and excellent lacing. Tripels are dark yellow to deep gold and firm, dense white head and superb lacing. Golden Strong Ales are dark yellow to light gold with a massive, explosion of dense, sustaining head and perfect lacing. Dark Strong Ales are dark amber to copper-brown with creamy, moussy tan head.

Flavor: Blondes have a slight pils sweetness but ends very dry with a balancing hop spiciness and a slight warming alcohol note. Yeast may give a slight spicy phenolic quality. A dubbel will have similar flavor components to aroma with hints of chocolate, cherry and toffee. Leaning toward malt with a slight balancing effect from noble hops. Tripels are a balance between fruit and booze. With soft, rounded alcohol and sweet, fresh citrus and core fruit and balancing hops. Very clean and dry on the back end. The BJCP calls them “sneaky”, they are strong in alcohol but don’t taste like it. Golden Strongs are similar to Tripels but with a drier back end. Dark Strong Ales are similar to Dubbels but with higher alcohol content. Very warming and smooth with deep malt character.

Mouthfeel: All Belgian strong ales will have medium body with medium to high carbonation and warming alcohol. The result is a very smooth and clean feeling beer.

Ingredients: All will use Continental gain and hops. Usually a base of pils with some specialty malts for darker styles. Styerian Goldings from England are the most common type of hops although Noble hops are common as well. Belgian yeast is used to create a fragrant and phenolic quality as well as increased alcohol quality. Some will use sugar to increase alcohol without darkening (tripel and golden strong).

Technical Notes:
Original Gravity:
1.063-1.110
Final Gravity: 1.005-1.024
SRM (Malt Color): 3-22
IBUs: 14-40
ABV: 6-11%

Commercial Examples:
Belgian Blonde:
Leffe Blond, Affligem Blond, La Trappe (Koningshoeven) Blond, Grimbergen Blond, Val-Dieu Blond, Straffe Hendrik Blonde, Brugse Zot, Pater Lieven Blond Abbey Ale, Troubadour Blond Ale
Dubbel: Westmalle Dubbel, St. Bernardus Pater 6, La Trappe Dubbel, Corsendonk Abbey Brown Ale, Grimbergen Double, Affligem Dubbel, Chimay Premiere (Red), Pater Lieven Bruin, Duinen Dubbel, St. Feuillien Brune, New Belgium Abbey Belgian Style Ale, Stoudts Abbey Double Ale, Russian River Benediction, Flying Fish Dubbel, Lost Abbey Lost and Found Abbey Ale, Allagash Double
Tripel: Westmalle Tripel, La Rulles Tripel, St. Bernardus Tripel, Chimay Cinq Cents (White), Watou Tripel, Val-Dieu Triple, Affligem Tripel, Grimbergen Tripel, La Trappe Tripel, Witkap Pater Tripel, Corsendonk Abbey Pale Ale, St. Feuillien Tripel, Bink Tripel, Tripel Karmeliet, New Belgium Trippel, Unibroue La Fin du Monde, Dragonmead Final Absolution, Allagash Tripel Reserve, Victory Golden Monkey
Golden Strong Ale: Duvel, Russian River Damnation, Hapkin, Lucifer, Brigand, Judas, Delirium Tremens, Dulle Teve, Piraat, Great Divide Hades, Avery Salvation, North Coast Pranqster, Unibroue Eau Benite, AleSmith Horny Devil
Dark Strong Ale: Westvleteren 12 (yellow cap), Rochefort 10 (blue cap), St. Bernardus Abt 12, Gouden Carolus Grand Cru of the Emperor, Achel Extra Brune, Rochefort 8 (green cap), Southampton Abbot 12, Chimay Grande Reserve (Blue), Brasserie des Rocs Grand Cru, Gulden Draak, Kasteelbier Biere du Chateau Donker, Lost Abbey Judgment Day, Russian River Salvation


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