Belgian & French Ales

Belgian & French Ales

A presentation given by Tom Johnstone at the June, 2013 LAB meeting.


London Amateur Brewers

June 03, 2013


  1. Belgian & French Ales What makes these beers unique? What

    are the homebrew challenges? Tom Johnstone London Amateur Brewers June 2013
  2. Belgian Beer: A History • 530: The rule of St

    Benedict is written, including need for work to be self- sufficient, and to give hospitality to travellers • 750: Charlemagne promotes monastery brewing • 1098: The Cistercian Order is founded - they go on to establish themselves at Orval, Rochefort, and La Trapp (hence Trappists) • 1790: The French revolutionary government suspends monastic brewing and confiscates their property. Monks flee France to go to America, but stop to brew beer in (what is now) Belgium and more or less decide to stay • 1919: The Belgian government bans the sale of spirits in bars, thus creating a demand for strong beers. The monks oblige • Over the next 71 years, the Belgians create the best beers in the world • 1990: Unibroue in Canada, followed by New Belgium and Celis in the USA, start selling Belgian-style beer in North America. This introduces these styles to home brewers, who do what Americans always do: reinvent the beer using completely different, often outrageous, frequently ridiculous, but sometimes inspired ingredients and methods
  3. Belgian Beer What's it all about? • It's gassy •

    It's got weird tasting additives • It's like the English weather: cloudy all the time • There's no hops – where are the bloody hops?! • It's strong!
  4. Belgian Beer Drink it in pints...

  5. None
  6. Yeast & Fermentation • Yeast flavours very much part of

    most Belgian ales. They are not masked with heavy hopping YOU CAN”T HIDE BEHIND THE HOPS • Factors that produce “good” yeast aromas & flavours also produce “bad” aromas & flavours. This is why brewing good Belgian beer places more of an emphasis on great fermentation than for beers with more neutral yeast • Temperature during primary fermentation can range from 15C-27C, though typically tops out around 23C. – Belgian yeasts can crash if the temperature is too high and is suddenly cooled. Brewing in summer this can be a problem, especially with very vigorous fermentations at higher temps, which will raise the temp even more • Trick is achieving the best fermentation temperature profile for the yeast and beer style/characteristics you're aiming for.
  7. Fermentation: “Hot” Belgians No, not that type, Dave Halse...

  8. Fermentation: “Hot” Belgians Wyeast 3522 Belgian Ardennes yeast Pale

    Ale recipe 1.064 OG Two fermentations: 20C and 27C
  9. Belgian Yeast: The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly •

    The Good – High alcohol tolerance – High attenuation – Esters: Fruity aromas, Citrus, Pinnapple, Banana* – Phenols: Pepper, Spiciness, Cloves* • The Bad – Esters: ethyl acetate (solventy), isolamyl acetate (banana) – Fusel alchohols • The “Ugly” – Cloudiness due to low flocculation, protein haze
  10. •

  11. Beyond Yeast: Fermentables • Pilsner malt used as base malt

    in many/most ales • Sugar commonly 15-20% – Plain old sucrose – Belgian “candi” sugar is actually caramelised sugar, NOT candi rocks • Sparing use of darker malts • For Wit: About 50% unmalted wheat
  12. Beyond Yeast: adjuncts • Misconception that spiciness & citrus notes

    come from added spice – often not the case. Most Trappist beers do not have spices added • Some breweries add small amounts of spices (e.g. coriander), but balance is key • Citrus peel (orange, lemon)
  13. Beyond Yeast: hops • Typically Styrian Goldings, Hallertau, Saaz used

    for bitterness, flavour & aroma • Subdued use of hops, particularly flavour and aroma. Bittering used to counter alcohol sweetness • Use of New World hops now becoming more common in small breweries
  14. Beyond Yeast: Wild beasts • Brettanomyces: “Wild” yeast strain –

    introduces funk/barnyard aromas to beer – Can dominate if not careful – Extremely high attenuation: caution – Different strains of Brett with different characteristics • Lacto: Some degree of sourness is sometimes present in Wit beers, due to....
  15. BJCP Category 16: Belgian & French Ales • 16A. Witbier

    • 16B. Belgian Pale Ale • 16C. Saison • 16D. Bière de Garde • 16E. Belgian Specialty Ale
  16. 16A: Witbier • 50:50 malted barley and unmalted wheat •

    Whitish pale and cloudy • Sweet up front with a crisp, dry finish • Sometimes spiced with coriander • Sweet orange peel or Curaçao can also be used • Sometimes has very subtle lactic fermentation
  17. 16B: Belgian Pale Ale • Pislner or pale malt, with

    added Vienna or Munich malt for colour and body/complexity • Sugar often not used due to lower alcohol • Amber/copper in colour, quite clear • Fruity, malty, spicy
  18. 16C: Saison • Season summer beer from Wallonia (French part)

    • Mainly pilsner malt, with a little Vienna or Munich and sometimes wheat • Pale, golden and sometimes cloudy • Often more hopped than other Belgians • Also use of “local” herbs and spices • Sourness and acidity in some examples • Fruity, citrusy aroma, fruity taste, moderate spiciness • Moderate hop bitterness – more so than other Belgians
  19. 16D: Bière de Garde • From the North of France,

    Calais region • “Beer that's been kept” • Strong ale (avg. %6.5) • Can be pale, amber, brown or dark • Aged in barrels prior to bottling • Original version made by Brasserie Duyck now called Jenlain, an amber beer • Unlike many Belgian beers, yeast is fairly neutal/discrete • Medium hoppiness, little hop flavour: Malt dominates
  20. 16E: Specialty • YES – this is where all you

    hopheads go • And BRETT-heads • What you are trying to do should be clearly described • Still an emphasis on balance • Many small breweries now playing with New World hops (e.g. De Rank, Popperings)
  21. Belgians: They LOVE washing up