Nick Carr on June 6, 2017 3 Comments Table of Contents The History of the Style Style Profile & Characteristics Award-Winning & Popular Examples How to Brew Belgian Strong Golden Ale History of Belgian Strong Golden Ale The Belgian golden strong ale is a trickster, a wolf dressed in sheep’s clothing. It looks unassuming, even innocent, dressed in the pale colors of a fine, easy-drinking pilsner. It draws the unsuspecting ever closer with enticing aromas and playful, spritzy columns of carbonation until, tentatively, the thirsty traveler takes a leisurely sip and the trap-spring of drinkability trips shut. The drinker falls for the ruse locked within the golden liquid, feels the first playful nips and tickling warnings of seductive inebriation. Too late they see their blunder. Too late they see the pleasant golden maiden striped of the trick and the devil waiting, hidden in secreted alcoholic strength, teeth bared and claws grabbing. This is Belgian golden strong ale. Golden strong ale may share the same wildly branching tree, rooted deep in the middle ages, as all other Belgian styles, but compared to some of the older branches it’s an adolescent, barely approaching 100 years old. The impetus of its creation is a mix of innovation and desperation, with just a smidge of possible pilfering thrown in to make things interesting. Moortgat Brewery in Breendonk was founded in 1871 by Jan-Leonard Moortgat. He came from a family of brewers and the idea of starting his own operation, no doubt, appealed to his sense of family tradition. At first, the brewery did little to stand out among the 4,000 other breweries in business at the time; operating much like any other farmhouse brewery with an eye toward the dark farm ales. Over time though, Jan-Leonard gained a following. Victory Ale In 1900, he handed over the brewery operation to his sons, Albert and Victor. During the First World War the door was opened for English beer styles to leave their mark on Belgium. Seeing the popularity of the English ales, Albert decided to take advantage and began to concoct a plan to create his own beer based on the English ales. In 1918, the brewery released a dark beer influenced by English brewing. They named it Victory Ale to commemorate the end of the war. That same year Albert traveled extensively in the UK searching for a yeast source that would bring him that much closer to his aspiration of a perfectly inspired English ale. This search, it is said, did not sit well with many of his Belgian compatriots or the suspicious UK brewers he went snooping around. He finally got a break in Scotland where he was able to procure a bottle of McEwan’s Scotch ale. The circumstances surrounding his procurement of the bottle are unclear. It’s possible, and hinted at in some references, that he took the bottle without the breweries knowledge and it certainly wouldn’t be the first incident of plundered brewing secrets. Other references, including this one by Michael Jackson, say McEwan’s was simply being imported to Belgium at the time and that’s how Albert got his bottle. This tends to contradict this statement from the Duvel website though, “…at first he encountered a lot of resistance from local brewers. It was only after a real odyssey among local breweries that he eventually got his hands on the coveted sample.” Whether on the up-and-up or not, he ended up back home with his precious yeast sample. The Devil Is Named He enlisted Jean de Clerck, a famed Belgian brewing science pioneer who would go on to write the two volume text, Textbook of Brewing in 1947, to help tease apart and analyze the yeast. The sample turned out to contain somewhere between 10 and 20 different strains. Through the painstaking process of isolation and testing a single strain was finally chosen as having the most potential. This strain is still used in the brewing of Duvel today. The new strain was put to work in the Victory Ale. The new creation was still strong and dark, but now carried with it a noticeable and unique fruitiness. A new beer deserves a new name and Victory Ale was about to get its famed rebranding. The story goes that in 1923, during a tasting session of the beer, a local shoemaker named Van De Wouwer, was so taken with the beer he shouted out “Dit is een echte duivel!” (This is a real devil); no doubt, referring to the beers fine 8.5% dropkick. The name stuck and the beer gained so much popularity over the years that, in 1960, the brewery even invented a new beer glass, the Tulip, specifically for the enjoyment of Duvel. Making The Devil Golden More changes came for the beer in 1970. Tastes in Europe had been slowly shifting for some time toward the new pale lagers. More and more of these novel, beautifully clean brews were dotting cafe tables and bar tops like shimmering splashes of gold. Sales were dwindling for Mooregot and other such breweries, still brewing dark colored “rustic” ales. Something had to be done. To cater to the changing whims of the buying public, Moortgat decided to dress their devil in the same golden finery that was bringing their new rival such acclaim. Once again the brewing company looked to Jean de Clerck to figure out how best to make the change. To make the beer light colored, but keep it at its original strength was no mean feat. In his book, Brew Like A Monk, Stan Hieronymus explains that they did it by experimenting with the malting process in house, — the brewery preformed its own malting until 1980 — until they were able to make a pilsner malt light enough to do the trick. Along with this change in malt came the addition of dextrose to help strengthen the beer without adding unwanted color. The brewing and maturation process was also adjusted, becoming longer and quite elaborate. These changes took time, but finally culminated in the style defining rendition we know today. The process used to create this devilishly good beer has changed very little in the last 55 years. According to Brew Like A Monk, the brewery starts with pilsner malt obtained from two suppliers in Belgium and two in France. All the malt is made from French barley. They use three different suppliers for the dextrose which is added during the boil and to the bottle for a secondary fermentation. After a traditional step mash the collected wort, with dextrose added, is boiled for 90 minutes. Styrian Golding and Saaz hops are added; 2/3rds at of the total charge at 25 minutes into the boil, and the remainder for aroma. The same yeast, isolated all those years ago, is pitched. Primary fermentation temperature rises slowly from a start of 61 to 64°F and can top out after 5 to 7 days at between 77 and 84°F. Attenuation is high, at or above 90 percent. The beer is then lagered for three weeks below freezing. Its temperature is then raised to 68°F and the beer is bottled with a second charge of dextrose. Secondary fermentation takes place at 74°F over the next 10 to 14 days. After secondary is complete the beer is lagered a second time at 41°F for six weeks. The whole brewing and maturation process takes 90 days start to release. They say imitation is the highest form of flattery. If so, Duvel is well complemented. Many breweries have copied the style, often even co-opting the original’s association with devils and misdeeds to color the branding of their own examples. But, no matter the number of great beers patterned after Duvel, there will always only be the one original. Style Profile & Characteristics The guidelines for the Belgian Strong Golden Ale style are set by the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) Style Committee. The below details are a summary of what a Belgian strong golden ale should represent. Quick Characteristics Color Range: 3 – 6 SRM Original Gravity: 1.070 – 1.095 OG Final Gravity: 1.005 – 1.016 FG IBU Range: 22 – 35 ABV Range: 7.5 – 10.5% Appearance: Yellow to light gold with great clarity and spritzy carbonation. Tall, long-lasting white head. Aroma: Complex aroma profile. Malty with fruity esters and notes of spice or floral hops. Flavor: Fruity, spicy, and warming alcohol flavors with malts lingering in background. Dry finish and residual bitterness in aftertaste. Mouthfeel: Smooth, light to medium body. Lots of carbonation with fizzy mouthfeel. Slight alcohol warmth, but never overwhelming. Serving & Storage Temperature: 40 – 50°F Shelf Life: 1-2 years Suggested Glass: Tulip Food Pairings: Pairs well with many dishes, from salty appetizers to salads to hearty meats. The BJCP classifies the Belgian Golden Strong Ale style under category number 16, “Strong Belgian Ale” and it can be found in the guidelines as sub-category (25C). Other beer styles under this category include: Belgian Blond Ale (25A) and Saison (25B). Appearance: Beer should be yellow to medium-range gold with good clarity and spritzy carbonation. A long-lasting, tall-standing, rocky, clean white head should grace the surface. As it drops away slowly it will leave a clear and intricate framework of Belgian lace on the glass. Aroma: Overall aroma is a complex combination of subtle malt, fruity esters, notes of spice, and floral hops. Fruity esters can be significant showing as orange, apple, and pear. A low to medium floral hop character, often verging on perfume-like can be present. Spicy and peppery phenolic notes can range from a low-medium to medium. Malt character may be the least distinguishable, ranging from a subtle sweet grain character to an almost unnoticeable neutral. Alcohols should never be perceived as hot or solvent-like. Instead, they should be subtle, spicy, slightly perfumy, soft and range from low to moderate. Mouthfeel: A light to medium, smooth body, often belying the significant gravity hidden within. Carbonation is high creating a spritely, fizzy mouthfeel. There should be some slight warming from the alcohol presence, but this should never be solvent-like or hot. Taste: Malt plays a softly supporting, background role to a combination of spicy, fruity, and warming alcohol flavors. Peppery phenols present at low to medium levels, merging well with slightly higher levels of fruity esters including apple, orange, and pear. Bitterness is usually moderate to high and is often made up of a combination of hop bitterness and phenolics produced by the yeast. Carbonation can contribute to higher perceived bitterness. Hop character, if present, will be spicy and range from low to moderate. Alcohols appear as a soft spiciness and can also range from low to moderate. High carbonation and hop bitterness create a dry to very dry finish with a light residual bitterness in the aftertaste. Food Pairings: This style’s clean flavors, thirst quenching feel, and high carbonation make it a solid partner to many dishes. It works well as an aperitif, accompanying the fatty and salty foods that often make up before dinner snacks. Think cured meats, crackers, and triple cream cheese. Having something spicy for dinner? Break out the Belgian Golden Strong. From salad plates made with spicier greens such as arugula, mustard greens, or dandelion to light Cajun, Indian and Tai cuisine, this beer finds an appreciated place alongside. Fish and other sea food also work incredibly well. It will heighten the flavors of lighter fish dishes, while lifting away the oiliness of fatty fish. Try battered shrimp too, preferably with a spicy cocktail sauce. When it comes time for dessert the sugar/fruit elements of desserts like cobblers made with lighter fruits (pear, peach, apple), baklava, or bread pudding accentuate the fruity qualities of this style. Serving & Storage: For best presentation and greatest appreciation a Belgian Strong Golden Ale should be served at 40-50°F in a tulip glass. They are best stored at cellar temperatures away from light and enjoyed within 2 years. *Reference: The 2015 BJCP Style Guidelines Recent Award-Winning Examples of the Style Old Split-Foot from Broken Bow Brewery — Great American Beer Festival Winner, Gold, 2016. Available: Limited. Treachery from 12O Brewing Company — Great American Beer Festival Winner, Bronze and World Beer Cup Winner, Silver, 2016. Available: Rotating. Sanctuary from Gemini Beer Company — World Beer Cup Winner, Silver, 2016. Available: Year Round. Deceit from Funkwerks Brewing Company — World Beer Cup Winner, Bronze, 2016 and World Beer Cup Winner, Silver, 2014. Available: Seasonal. The Cannibal from Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant — Great American Beer Festival Winner, Silver, 2015. Available: Rotating. Devil’s Thumb from Rock Bottom Brewing Company — World Beer Cup Winner, Gold, 2014. Available: Seasonal Limited. Thor’s Hammer from Bastone Brewery — World Beer Cup Winner, Bronze, 2014. Available: Seasonal Limited. Popular Examples to Try Duvel from Brouwerji Duvel Moortgat (Belgium) Delirium Tremens from Brouwerij Huyghe (Belgium) Brooklyn Local 1 from Brooklyn Brewing Company (Brooklyn, NY) PranQster from North Coast Brewing Company (Fort Bragg, CA) Damnation from Russian River Brewing Company (Guerneville, CA) Mélange à Trois from Nebraska Brewing Company (Papillion, NE) Confluence from Allagash Brewing Company (Portland, ME) Horny Devil from AleSmith Brewing Company (San Diego, CA) Duvel Rustica from Ommegang Brewing Company (Cooperstown, NY) Inferno from Lost Abbey Brewing Company (San Marcos, CA) How to Brew a Belgian Strong Golden Ale When compared to many other styles, brewing a Belgian golden strong ale may look deceptively easy. The grain bill is simple. The brewing processes used are common and straight forward. But, as with any high alcohol brew it brings with it its own set of particular considerations and unlike some other bigger beers, such as barely wine and old ale, there is very little to hide missteps behind. Grain Bill: The grain bill is very simple. Find the best quality pilsner malt, preferably of Belgian or at least European origin. Both the Belgian malting companies Castle and Dingemans have good pilsner malts. You can even get organic pilsner from either of them if that is something you look for. Another great thing about these two companies is they provide online access to a malt specification sheet for each of their malts, making it easy to get the full information needed for recipe calculations. Duvel is known for being brewed with only pilsner malt and dextrose sugar. Though many recipes are brewed only with pilsner malt, there are a few that will add wheat, pale, Aromatic, Vienna, or Munich malt. All of these and other malts are possible options, but they will have a tendency to make the beer heavier, chipping away at the light crisp mouthfeel this style is known for. So, if you do decide to use specialty malts stick with ones that bring a bready characteristic to the beer (aromatic, Munich, biscuit, etc.). Crystal has been used in these beers, but I wouldn’t recommend it. The caramel flavors in light crystal don’t belong here. Keep each specialty malt addition between 2 to 3 percent tops. As Stan Hieronymus points out in his article on Belgian golden strong ale for Brew Your Own Magazine, “If you can taste the specialty malt in the beer, it is too much.” Extract Brewing This is a good style for extract brewers. The simplicity of the grain bill makes it a shoe-in for those looking for a strong style that can competently be produced with extract. Look for a high quality European pilsner extract. If you decide to add specialty malts follow the advice given above on amounts and simply steep the grains you choose. Adjunct Sugar Belgian golden strong is always brewed with adjunct sugar of some sort. Cane, corn, or beet sugar may be the most common, but some light honeys might also work well and bring subtle character. Whatever adjunct sugar you chose, make sure it is light-colored and can ferment out completely. Using adjunct sugar increases the alcohol content, but doesn’t add color. All-grain brewers can add anywhere from 5 to 20 percent sugar, while extract brewers can get away as high as 25 or 30 percent. Hops: This style is known to have some assertive bitterness to it. Duvel uses Styrian Golding and Saaz. You could also use the other nobles: Tettnang, Hallertau, or Spalt. And a case could be made for any mid-alpha variety with the earthy spiciness noble hops are known for; Mount Hood, Northern Brewer, and Liberty to name a few. Even some of the UK varieties, such as Fuggles or East Kent Golding may work. You’ll be looking at a bitterness to starting gravity ratio between 0.25 to 0.5. The best bet, especially for your first attempt is to target somewhere in the middle range (0.3 to 0.4). Remember, bitterness will be perceived at a higher level in this beer because of its dry finish and high carbonation. A single bittering addition and smaller aroma addition are most common, but you could also get away with leaving out late additions all together. Water: Soft to moderately soft water is usually used to brew this style, that being said, I’d only mess with your water if it is extremely hard or if you are trying to get the style spot on for a competition. The Mash: Though a single step infusion mash can be used for this style, almost all Belgian brewed beer goes through a step mash of some kind. So, it may be worthwhile to consider a step infusion with at least a pause for a protein rest at 122°F for 15 to 30 minutes. Not only will this help reduce haze (the lagering will also help with this), but the process of a step mash will likely help your extraction rates. In either case, your saccharification temperature should be a little low in the brewers’ window (around 149°F) because you want to boost fermentables as much as possible. Mash times can increase at lower temperatures. To get full conversion might take an hour and a half or more. Mash out at 168°F and sparge slowly with 170°F. The Boil: A 90 minute boil is standard for the style because of the high use of Pilsner malt. The longer boil time helps get rid of more S-Methyl Methiomine (SMM), which is present in larger quantities in the lightly kilned malt. SMM is a precursor of Dimethyl Sulfide (DMS). Add your bittering addition. If you are not doing an aroma addition using a large addition of lower alpha hops as soon as your wort is boiling will contribute a light hop character to the finished beer. If you decide to go the route of Duvel and add a small aroma addition, throw in the bittering hops at the 60 minute mark and then add the aroma hops somewhere between 15 minutes and flame out. At about 15 minutes before the end of the boil, throw in your adjunct sugar. Adding it late in the boil helps with hop utilization. A second option is to keep a portion of the adjunct sugar back, adding it to the fermentation once fermentation has started to slow. This option is especially significant if you are having trouble getting full attenuation. Once boiling is complete, use an ice bath or wort chiller to get the temperature down into pitching range as quickly as possible. Yeast: A Belgian yeast is a must for this, and every other, Belgian style. There just isn’t another way to get the unique character so well known in Belgian beer. Look for a yeast that is highly attenuating (at least above 75%) and tolerant of high alcohol. Also, look for a yeast that will slightly emphasize fruitiness over spiciness, though understand this can be just as much a factor of the fermentation conditions (pitch rate, temperature, etc.) as it can the chosen strain. A few suggestions: Dry: Mangrove Jack’s Belgian Ale (M41); SafBrew Abbaye (BE-256) Wyeast: Belgian Strong Ale (1388); Belgian Ardennes (3522); Trappist Style High Gravity (3787) White Labs: Belgian Golden Ale (WLP570); Belgian Ale (WLP550); Abbey IV Ale (WLP540) Another possible and interesting looking option is “Dry Belgian Ale” from The Yeast Bay. Because you are dealing with a higher gravity wort. you will either have to pitch multiple packages of yeast or make a yeast starter. Work of the assumption that you want between 0.75 and 1 million yeast cells per milliliter per degrees plato. You can find several pitch calculators online to help you figure out the appropriate pitch rate. Fermentation: Once you’ve gotten it close to pitching temperature (between 61° and 64°F), pitch the yeast, and aerate or oxygenate your wort. If your starting gravity is higher than 1.090 it is unlikely you will be able to get enough oxygen into the wort by aeration alone. You will need an oxygenation system of some kind. The wort needs to be well aerated for healthy yeast growth, which is incredibly important for the high attenuation sought in this style. If aerating it is impossible to overdo it. On the other hand, if you are using oxygen, use a rate that keeps the bubbles small, and only oxygenate for about a minute. Over-oxygenating can lead to excessive esters, fusel alcohols, and contribute to off flavors. Let the fermentation temperature rise slowly over the next several days, after about day 3 you want to be in the mid 70s to low 80s to help with attenuation. The fermentation should be complete within 5 to 7 days. Again, fermentation is what makes this beer, so it is likely you will have to play around with temperature over several test batches to get the ideal combination of correct temperatures and temperature rise over time. Once primary fermentation is complete, you have some choices. You can follow in the footsteps of Duvel and rack it into a secondary and lager it below freezing for up to a month before either kegging it or bottling it with some priming sugar and a new charge of yeast. You could also bottle the beer straight after fermentation is complete and allow it to lager at close to freezing for a couple months. Whether one of these gives better character to the beer than the other is up to you to decide. Carbonation should be to about 2.5 volumes. If bottling, and especially if going for a secondary fermentation in bottle, be sure to use thick bottles. If you’ve practiced good sanitation and brewing techniques, the beer can age in the bottle for 1 to 2 years. Though, I’m sure you’ll be well into sampling long before you get anywhere close to 2 years. Cheers!