August 27, 2010


I started brewing last July. My first brew was an extract kit of a Belgian Ale. Not knowing much about brewing – or beer – I thought I was getting something along the lines of Chimay White. I did not. Upon further research, I discovered it was supposed to be like something called “Leffe” or “Duvel”. I had no idea what those were. I later figured out that they were a Belgian blonde and a Belgian golden strong ale, respectively. It was a good choice for a first beer. It had a lot going on in the boil: DME, LME, three rounds of hops, and candi sugar. Not knowing much about the importance of fermentation temperatures, I fermented this one in the bucket, right in the middle of my kitchen in a hot Texas summer. Temperatures easily reached the 80s in the bucket. Beer came up through the airlock of the 7.9 gallon bucket. In spite of my ignorance and very amateur efforts, it came out pretty good. Not really like Leffe or Duvel, but still very tasty. I was hooked.

This summer I wanted to do some Belgian beers, so one that I really wanted to do was a sort of anniversary tribute to that first kit. So I whipped up this golden strong ale recipe and gave it the name of the original kit: Swordfight. Why the name? Well it’s very estery which gives it a fruity taste…so you either understand or you don’t. =p

Brewing in Texas heat requires one of two things: (1) a fermentation chamber capable of consistently maintaining temperatures below 70F; or (2) brewing styles (and with yeast) appropriate for the temperature. I guess if you can afford it, you can cool your entire house below 70F, but that is seriously expensive when it’s 105F out. Fortunately, most Belgian styles benefit from the esters produced at higher temperatures. So my desire to brew Belgians came at the appropriate time to brew them. Brewing a high alcohol beer in summer means it should have properly conditioned by the beginning of winter, so that will make for a nice winter warmer.

Ok, back to the beer. My vision was for something Duvel-like, but with more fruit flavor and a little less hoppy. I had read one feller’s attempt to make a Duvel clone adding pears in the secondary. I don’t think he quite hit an accurate clone, since Duvel is not brewed with fruit to my knowledge, but he was very happy with the beer. I haven’t had an opportunity to work with pears, so I wanted to add that into the mix. Ultimately I decided on this recipe:

Swordfight – 3 gallon batch
*Grain bill:
7.75lb pilsner malt
.15lb wheat malt
.10lb aromatic malt
.10lb munich malt
*Boil additions:
.5oz Styrian Goldings at 90 min
.5oz Styrian Goldings at 60 min
1lb table sugar at 15 min
.5oz Saaz at 10 min
.15tsp coriander at 5 min
Yeast nutrient in primary
*90 min boil, 4.5 gal boil volume
*Decoction mash at 95/122/148/158 and mash out at 168
*Ferment with WLP575 for 2 weeks
*Secondary with 1.5lb of pears for 4 weeks

ABV: 9.15%
SRM: 5.5
IBU: 29.2
OG: 1.089
FG: 1.019

Good stuff. I tasted it prior to secondary, and it was tasty but very hot. At bottling I also gave it a little taste, and it was still hot, but even tastier. I have very high expectations for this beer. I plan on letting it bottle condition for at least three months, possibly longer before I break one open. I considered adding fresh yeast at bottling to speed up the process, but I would rather let this one do its thing and see how it turns out.

I did wash yeasts from this batch, although it is argued that you shouldn’t wash yeast with such a high OG. I can see why. I tried to get a starter going of the washed stuff for another Belgian and faced considerable difficulty. It took two mason jars of washed yeast, twice as much wort as anticipated, four different containers, hours of aeration, and yeast nutrient before I finally found a few eager yeasts willing to multiply. I was able to grow up a very hungry group of yeasts that were seriously underpitched (I had planned to pitch containers in step in case the first one failed) but took off like a rocket on some 1.098 OG quad. Fortunately, I still have two jars of starter left, so one is getting fed slowly to preserve for a future batch and the other will go into a parti-gyle Belgian blonde I’m going to brew this week.

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