Brewing Better Beer – My Belgian Dubbel/Tripel

by Daniel on February 5, 2012

Relax, don’t worry, have a hombrew!

What can you do to make a beer better that you’ve made before?  It took me some time to decide what I wanted to brew for my first batch, but I landed on a Belgian Dubbel that my friend and I had made once before that was at the time the best home brew beer I’d ever made.  I decided to do it because I’ve nearly run out of this previous and very delicious batch, especially now that it has been bottle conditioning since March 2011.  Out with the old and in with the new!

Aspects of the first batch recipe that I wanted to improve upon:

  1. Hops schedule
  2. Wort chilling time (this one was easy)
  3. Yeast pitching rate
  4. Minor recipe tweaks

Probably the most important thing a home brewer can do, besides sanitation, sanitation, sanitation…is to keep good records of everything he/she does.  Fortunately, I kept very detailed notes from the last batch, and wrote down any “mistakes” or things that I thought could be improved immediately after brewing, so that I could improve upon it the next time.  If you are interested, send me an email, and I can send you my excel file I have made to keep track of every detail in an easy to read & systematic manner.

So if you want the highlights of the “special” things I did in this batch that I hadn’t known about or tried prior to this attempt, keep reading:

  1. “First Wort Hopping” – I took this from John Palmer’s How To Brew book (link in sidebar) – in a nutshell, rather than adding all of the hops during the boil, this calls for taking about one third of what had been planned for finishing hops and steeping it for 30mins or so at the grain steeping temp of 150F prior to the boil.  The idea is that at the lower temperatures, the oils released react better with the wort to create a more balanced bitterness flavor & aroma than only adding hops during the boil.
  2. Using a wort chiller – this is the first time I had one available to use.  Let me tell you it makes more than just a world of difference!  Rather than the previous 2hrs or so of cooling in an ice bath, this puppy cooled my wort to pitching temperature (from 212F down to 69F) in just 20mins.  Talk about shortening the length of your brew day – and reducing risk of contamination.  I highly recommend you bite the bullet and purchase one.  It’s worth it’s weight in gold…or copper.
  3. Making a yeast starter – Again, props to John Palmer for this one, plus a variety of people on YouTube demonstrating their version of the process.  Because this is a “Big” beer, with an original gravity of 1.080-1.085 (thankfully I knew this number from the last batch), it requires more yeast to start than your typical ale (OG 1.040).  Whereas a WYEAST bag of 100 billion cells is adequate for most, this batch needs closer to 280 billion cells to get a good start.  Sure, the beer turned out fine (in fact great) last time I pitched just the 100 billion, but I wanted to make this even better.  By making a 3 qt starter with 3 cups of amber DME (OG 1.040) 2.5 days before, I was able to increase the cell count up to my goal (or so I hope).  More details to come, with photos, in a future post on how I went about this.  To learn how to do a yeast starter, see my post here:
  4. Minor recipe tweaks – My last recipe used 1 lb of plain old sugar (among all the extract & grain).  I substituted this with another 1 lb of amber DME.  Also I decided to add an additional 1/2oz of hops.  Remember, good notes are everything.  Also, I don’t want to change so much in this batch that if something tastes off, I have no idea what to blame or how to fix it next time!

Remember that one of the most important aspects of brewing is temperature control – through your mash if you’re all grain, and equally if not more important: your fermentation temperature.  Check out my posts on my garbage can fermentation heater chamber and my keezer temperature controller for ways to maintain a precise fermentation temperature.  If you have any questions about any of these parts, or any other portions of the brewing process for this beer, feel free to post a comment and ask.  For other information about the brewing process, see my categories in the sidebar “My Brewing Attempts” and “Brewing Process.”

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