Trappist Technique: Belgian Sugar

For now we see as through a glass, darkly

Recently one of my viewers asked me how my Rochefort style beer Rochefortesque was getting on, now that it has aged a bit, and whether I would do anything different. As luck would have it, a couple of weeks ago I had another go at a big Trappist beer again, and yes, I did try something new out. As to Rochefortesque, it seems to be thining out slightly, and as I said at the time, I would have preferred it to have a little more of the ‘rummy’ character in a real Trappist. Hopefully the following will address those defects

Big Trappist style beers are the dark, rummy strong beers that a number of Cistercian Monasteries brew in Belgium (also a German and one in Holland). I thought I’d use White Labs number 530 yeast, which is supposedly derived from Westmalle’s yeast strain. So far so good. But what I decided to do differently this time as opposed to my last Trappist style beer was use some homemade caramelised sugar for colour and flavour. As you can see from the recipe below I only used a very small amount of black malt for some extra colour, and I used some dark crystal malt to give me a good caramel sugar flavour. I used the same amount by weight of sugar. The method I used to darken this sugar was simple. I simply heated it in a pan along with some citric acid, and slowly it went a cream colour, then a bit yellow, and it began to clump together and finally it liquified. Then it was a matter of boiling it gently until it didn’t seem to be getting darker any longer. I could have boiled it for a shorter time if this had been a different type of beer, and I could have achieved a nice amber colouring, but for something like this I wanted maximum colour and flavour from the caramelised sugar. My inspiration here, as always with brewing Belgians is Stan Hieronymous, whose books I can’t recommend highly enough. The recipe site brew365.com also documents the process of boiling sugar with acid, the point of which is to ‘invert’ it, which means the sucrose breaks down in to fructose and glucose, by a process apparently known as ‘hydrolysis’. The point is, they are easier for the yeast to eat than sucrose is. Here are some pics of the process. click for bigger versions.

Sugar begins to clump together, keep stirring it!

Almost all the sugar has started to liquify

At this stage it is darkening

Pour in to a foil-lined tray, it will harden and cool. Remove from foil and break it in to pieces when it has cooled

This beer turned out Big. I used 7KG Pilsner Malt, 500G dark Crystal Malt, 500G Caramelised Sugar, and 60G Black Malt for 20L. The original gravity was 1.116! It finally finished at 1.026, which gives it a whopping 12% ABV. I hopped with Northern Brewer at the start of the boil, Hallertauer at 10 minutes, and Styrian Goldings at the end, for an IBU of 40. You really don’t taste it though since the final gravity is so high.  It is quite sweet, and what I like most about this sugar method for darkening the beer is that, while it sits in a chalice style glass it looks very dark, but it is very clear upon inspection, with a beautiful ruby colour. I said above that it finally finished; this was a troublesome brew. Although I made up a decent sized starter,  I clearly didn’t pitch enough yeast, and for one of the few times in my brewing life I had a properly stuck fermentation. I pitched a load of s05 from a pale ale fermentation, and that sorted it out. It still has the characteristic Belgian yeast flavour because, even though it stuck at about 1.050 it had started at 1.116, so the WLP 530 had ample chance to do its thing! In any case, s05 is well known for being a fairly neutral yeast. I thought I knew this lesson already, but the moral of the story is Caveat Cervesarius! Don’t underpitch with a beer this big.

Colour inspection

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3 Comments

Filed under Beer, Recipe, Yeast

3 responses to “Trappist Technique: Belgian Sugar

  1. That sounds, and looks, great! I haven’t used sugars in a brew in a long time. Tempted to attempt something similar now…

    • stoutfellow

      yeah, I shied away from sugar for a long time, believing it to be somehow inferior, but ‘my hero’ Stan Hieronymous convinced me that it’s a seriously important component in Belgian beer, especially the strong ones which nonetheless manage to remain light in body, or ‘digestable’ as the belgians say. They maintain, probably fairly, that you just can’t to that with all malt. I’m always amazed at how light and drinkable Duvel for example, at 8.5% is!

      • That’s very true. When you compare them to the likes of a German Doppelbock at 7 or 8%, which are very often quite “sticky”, it’s amazing how light-feeling, actually quite refreshing a 9 or 12% Belgian beer can be.

        I’m often trying to get a fuller body in my beers, which is one reason I’ve been shying away from sugars the past few years. Nothing to do with having moved to Germany, I swear! 😀

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