Nick Carr on October 14, 2016 1 Comment History of Belgian IPA Brewing in Belgium stretches back some 2000 years, and the first recorded use of hops in brewing comes from Picardy, France in 822 A.D, about 1200 years ago. Picardy, France is less than 125 miles from Belgium, making it possible, even likely, hops were being used in Belgian brewing around this same time period. By the 1300s, hops were being cultivated in some of the Low Countries, including Belgium. Belgian beer is often typecast as only lightly-hopped and not very bitter. This stereotype is true to some extent. Belgian beers are often light bodied and crisp, so they tend to need less balancing then fuller beers. But the stereotype is only partially accurate. Some older traditional Belgian beers carried a hoppy bite. As this article (a good one to read if you’re gonna brew anything Belgian) points out, things like brewing specialty beers in the face of the crisp lager craze, the popularity of sodas, and the novelty of exported sweeter Belgian brews at the beginning of the craft beer movement ensured the stereotype. An example of these hoppier Belgian brews can be found in the form of Brouwerij Van Eecke’s Poperings Hommel ale. This beer is made with four different kinds of hops and was first brewed in 1981, well before the IPA craze had taken hold. Its IBU rating is somewhere between thirty and forty, so not quite within Belgian IPA style guidelines, but some websites have taken to placing it within the style. There have always been a few hoppier Belgian beers like Poperings Hommel, but a new appreciation and popularity of the hop, largely fueled by America’s craft beer movement, has inspired Belgian brewers’ to embrace their hop-bittered past and build upon it. Urthel Hop-it was probably the first IPA-inspired hoppy Belgian. It was created after head brewer Hildegard van Ostaden returned from a 2005 trip to the U.S. De Rank XX Bitter and Houblon Chouffe followed in close secession in 2006. On the American end, Stone’s Cali-Belgique seems to be one of the first commercial American examples. It was released in 2008. Belgian IPA is a fledgling style, much like the rest of the specialty IPA category; and like most of the specialty IPA’s it stands at a crossroads between style lines. Some may ask whether it should even be its own beer style. Most of the true Belgian IPAs, those made from a Belgian recipe and then “hopped-up,” could easily find a place in other style categories, be it Golden, Tripel, or Saison. On the other hand, American-Belgian IPA’s, those using an American recipe and Belgian yeast, don’t fit under the current American IPA style guidelines. So, is a new category necessary? New additions to the BJCP style guidelines are mostly based on a beer’s popularity. Before they became popular, all of these beer styles would have fallen under the blanket of “specialty” or “mixed-style” guidelines. Then they become popular. IPA’s are very popular, thus much experimentation took place with hopping other styles, thus we get new hoppier versions of a given style. They gain some of their own popularity and get put under the IPA umbrella because, well, that’s how the public knows a beer is hoppy. How long the Belgian IPA lasts as its own distinct style will undoubtedly be decided by its own popularity and the continuing status of its mother style. But, for now we can celebrate the ingenuity and experimentation of the brewers’ art, its popularity, and a reimagining of the hoppier side of Belgian brewing history. Style Profile & Characteristics The guidelines for the Belgian IPA style are set by the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) Style Committee. The below details are a summary of what a Belgian IPA should represent. Quick Characteristics Color Range: 5-15 SRM Original Gravity: 1.058-1.080 OG Final Gravity: 1.008-1.016 FG IBU Range: 50-100 ABV Range: 6.2-9.5% Appearance: Color may range from light golden to amber; Clarity may range from good to hazy; Moderately large off-white head with excellent retention. Aroma: Smooth & sweet maltiness; Moderate to high hoppy aromas possible; Fruity esters may be high, while clove-like phenols remain low. Flavor: Belgian yeast leads the charge with spicy and fruity esters; Light and sweet malts remain in the background; Hoppiness will range from medium to high; Moderately dry finish. Mouthfeel: Body will range from light to medium; Carbonation will range from medium to high; Noticeable alcohol warmth possible. Serving & Storage Temperature: 48-50°F Shelf Life: 3 to 6 Months Suggested Glass: Tulip or IPA Glass Food Pairings: Spicy Shrimp Pasta, Peppercorn Steaks, Mexican & Indian Food, Sharp Cheddar, Blue Cheese, Creme Brulee, Pineapple Upside Down Cake The BJCP classifies the Belgian IPA style as an “IPA” and it can be found in their guidelines as sub-category 21B “Specialty IPA”, along with Black, Brown, Red, Rye, and White. The only other sub-category within the IPA category is American IPA (21A). Appearance: A Belgian IPA will be light golden to amber in color. Clarity depends on dry-hopping and can range from good to very hazy. A long-lasting, moderate to somewhat large head of off-white foam should form. Aroma: Smooth, sweet-grain malt aromas, but only light caramel if present at all. Belgian candi sugar may add to the sense of sweetness. Hop aromas should be moderate to high and will often carry the qualities of American/New World hops; citrus, piney, stone and tropical fruit. The earthy, spicy, and herbal aromas of European hops may also be present. May have a grassy character, an effect of dry-hopping. Fruity esters of apples, bananas, and pear can be moderately high, while clove-like phenols remain light, but often are noticeable. Mouthfeel: Body will vary somewhat depending on carbonation level and the use of adjuncts, but ranges from light to medium in most examples. Carbonation can range from medium to high and some warming may be noticeable in higher alcohol examples. Taste: The Belgian yeast often contributes an initial flavor of spice and esters; spicy and clove-like, along with esters of banana, apple, and pear. Maltiness stays light with a sweet-grain quality back-lit by possible low notes of caramel and/or toast. Hop flavors run medium to high and show much the same qualities as the aroma; tropical, melon, pine, citrus, and stone fruit of New World hops and/or the floral, spicy, herbal notes of Noble hops. Bitterness can be quite high and may be further heightened by the spiciness contributed by the Belgian yeast. It finishes dry to moderately dry with the possibility of some lingering sweetness. Food Pairings: The dry crispness and high bitterness of this beer works well with spicy heat. Try rare peppercorn rubbed beef steak, herb rubbed rabbit, spicy shrimp pasta, or spicy fish tacos. It’s also a good companion to many spicy food cultures; Asian, Indian, Mexican. Think Vietnamese spring rolls, chicken quesadillas, or curry. Look to sharp and tangy cheeses to pair with a Belgian IPA; sharp aged cheddar, goat cheeses, or blue. When it comes time to discuss desserts lighter and fruity such as pineapple upside down cake, crème brûlée, or rhubarb strawberry pie. Storage & Serving: For best presentation and greatest appreciation a Belgian IPA should be served at 48-50°F in a tulip glass or IPA glass. They are best stored at refrigerator temperatures away from light and should be enjoyed with 3 to 6 months of purchase or brewing. *Reference: The 2015 BJCP Style Guidelines Examples of the Style To help get you started, below are few popular examples of the Belgian IPA style. To get a better idea of what to expect, we would recommend you track one of these down and give it a taste. Houblon Chouffe from Brasserie D’achouffe (Houffalize, Belgium) Urthel Hop-It from Urthel Brewery (Ruiselede, Belgium) Raging Bitch from Flying Dog Brewing Company (Frederick, MD) Bitter Monk from Anchorage Brewing Company (Anchorage, Alaska) Hopsinjoor from Brouwerij Het Anker (Mechelen, Belgium) XX Bitter from Brouwerij De Ranke (Wevelgem, Belgium) Reninge Bitter Blond from Seizoensbrouwerij Vandewalle (Lo-Reninge, Belgium) Le Freak from Green Flash Brewing Company (San Diego, CA) Live A Rich Life from 3 Floyds Brewing Company (Munster, IN) Cali-Belgique IPA from Stone Brewing Company (Escondido, CA) Poperings hommel from Brouwerij Van Eecke N.V. (Watou, Belgium) Audrey Hopburn from Great Lakes Brewery (Toronto, Canada) Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster from Shorts Brewing Company (Bellaire, MI) Tripel Hop from Duvel Moortgat (Puurs, Belgium) Triomphe from Brewery Vivant (Grand Rapids, MI) How To Brew A Belgian IPA Recipe The BJCP guidelines style comparison for the Belgian IPA sums it up this way: “A cross between an American IPA/Imperial IPA with a Belgian Golden Strong Ale or Tripel. This style may be spicier, stronger, drier and more fruity than an American IPA.” This seems to be describing the most common way to build this IPA; make a big American IPA and ferment with Belgian yeast. But it could just as easily be simply a Belgian Blond, Golden Strong Ale, or Tripel recipe, hopped to a higher level with European hops. This, to my mind, would truly be a Belgian IPA. The other is more along the lines of an American-Belgian IPA. And then, of course, there are combinations of the two that provide each country a closer-to-equal representation across the ingredients, i.e. using American grain with European hops or European grain with American hops. Really, the only inescapable constant is the Belgian yeast. Recipe Options for Belgian IPA: Start With An American IPA Recipe Or, Go With A Belgian Golden or Tripel Recipe If you’re thinking of trying your hand at brewing a Belgian IPA recipe, here’s a few tips to help you throughout the brewing process. Grain Bill: The grain bill is going to depend on what base style you’ve decided on. If making the American version, start with a strong American IPA recipe. Domestic 2-row or pale malt will likely make up, anywhere from 80 to 100 percent of your grain bill. You want some low malt flavors, but very few roaster tones. Keep use of specialty malts constrained. Crystal malt should be used sparingly, making up less than 5% of the grain bill. For a Belgian IPA, you can use any strong pale Belgian recipe; a Golden, Tripel, even some Saison recipes will work. In this case, your base malt will be either a Belgian pilsner and/or pale malt at 60 to 100 percent of your grain bill. As with the American recipe, specialty malts should be used with care; little to no crystal/caramel type malts, no darker roasty malts, low quantities of aromatic, light Munich, even Belgian biscuit can work. In both versions, you are looking for a drier beer to accentuate the hop profile. To this end, and especially, when making a higher alcohol version of the style, some sort of adjunct sugar is often used. In the case of the Belgian recipes, adjunct sugar is already an important part and can make up as much as 30% of a recipe’s bill. Adjunct sugars can also be used in the American version, often these sugars are already a part of a double IPA recipe, but usually only make up about 10% of the bill. And, if you really want to go off script totally, you could try an English-Belgian IPA. English grains, English hops, and Belgian yeast. For extract brewers, a good place to start is either with a Belgian Golden or Tripel recipe kit, or an American IPA kit. You than would add more hops to the Belgian kit and exchange the yeast in the American IPA kit for a Belgian yeast. It might also be necessary to buy some extra extract, depending on the strength of beer you’re looking to make. Be sure to buy high-quality extract made from the right kind of malt. You might also try a steep or mini-mash with a small portion of the appropriate specialty malts to add more character. Hops: Hop selection is a wide open door on this one. You can base the varieties on your chosen base beer, or veer off on some crazy inspired journey. One thing to keep in mind; certain hop varieties pair better with certain Belgian yeast strains. There’s a possibility of either hops or the Belgian yeast muting the other or clashing in some terrible way. Learn How to Brew Like A Monk Generally speaking, if you are looking at an American IPA recipe you’d use American hop varieties; but think nuanced, think in whispers and not shouts. It is more likely to be the bold intrusive flavors of many American hops muting the Belgian profile or setting the flavors to clashing. There are plenty of hop varieties out there and I’d hazard to say, in most cases, fruity/floral/spicy is going to play a whole lot better with Belgian yeast than piney/dank/pungent. This will be less of a problem if you’re using European hops. Most European hop varieties have something of the noble hop character, which is what’s found in many Belgian Ales. Use the noble hops or other Belgian or German varieties. Overall, you’re gonna be looking to use clean bittering varieties for your early additions and subtle aroma varieties in your later additions. The Mash: The mash is also going to depend on your grain bill. If you’ve gone the American route, you can likely get away with a single infusion mash. You may want to use a lower saccharification temperature to get more body and help with head formation; 145-149°F might be a good target. If you’re using European grains, it is a good idea to do a step mash. European grains are often less modified than American malts and can benefit from the extra temperature steps. Plus, you’re looking for that pillowy head and great body of a Belgian beer, and most Belgian brewers use a step mash to get these signature characteristics. For a multi-step mash, start with a slightly thicker grist 1 quart per pound of grain. A rest at 131-137°F for 20 to 30 minutes will help get some of the longer proteins broken down. Then add enough boiling water to raise the temperature to about 145°F — this will also thin the mash. Hold for another 15 to 20 minutes. Then raise the temperature up to 155°F for 15 to 20 minutes. Mash out at 168°F and sparge. Boil: The boil should range from a standard 60 minutes up to a slightly longer 90 minute boil, if your grain bill is heavy on the pilsner malt. Add any adjunct sugar here. Hop schedules vary widely, just like any other IPA recipe. All will contain at least one bittering addition (60 to 30 minutes), one flavor addition (30 to 15 minutes), and one aroma addition (within the last 5 minutes). Most will contain multiples of some or all of these additions, and many also take advantage of dry hopping. Be sure to maintain a vigorous boil and don’t lid it completely. Also, remember with a vigorous boil, you should expect to lose anywhere from 6% to 8% of your volume per hour. Account for this, so that at the end of your boil you hit your target fermentation volume. Yeast: Yeast is the one commonality across the Belgian IPA style. No matter what the rest of your recipe looks like, the yeast should be a Belgian variety. And again, one of the biggest challenges to getting a drinkable Belgian IPA is finding compatibility between the hops and the yeast. You want a dry fermenting yeast, because you want a drier beer to accentuate the hops. This character isn’t very hard to find among Belgian yeast strains. You’ll also want to look at their ester and phenol productions. You’ll want a more neutral yeast for an American interpretation. Remember though, ester and phenol production can be managed to some extent by pitch rate and fermentation temperature, so don’t completely discount a favorite Belgian yeast just because it’s known for having a high ester/phenol production. In most cases, the more healthy yeast you pitch and the cooler the fermentation temperatures, the more neutral the yeast profile. A few examples of yeasts that would work: Dry Yeast: Safbrew Abbaye (BE-256) or Mangrove Jack’s Belgian Tripel (M31) White Labs: Abbey Ale (WLP530) or Belgian Strong Ale (WLP545) Wyeast: Belgian Ardennes (3522) or Belgian Abbey (1214) Fermentation: Oxygenate your wort once you’ve cooled it down to pitching temperatures and pitch plenty of healthy yeast. Remember, you’re going to a higher alcohol which will stress the yeast more. If this is your first go at brewing this style, I’d suggest fermenting at the cooler end of your yeasts range to get a more neutral character, especially if using an American or Double IPA recipe. If using European hops, you may try going slightly warmer, but I’d still play it cool your first time out. Packaging: Bottle or keg, and carbonate to between 2.5 and 3.5 volumes. The higher carbonation levels should be used for the Belgian-style versions. You want to make sure you have thick bottles if carbonating at these higher levels. The high ABV and hop rate of this style lends itself to some aging, though you also have to keep in mind, hop flavor and aroma will degrade over time. If you have the inclination to let it age — or you made too much — don’t worry, your Belgian IPA can age gracefully for at least 3 to 6 months, if not longer. Cheers!