Unleashing Safbrew BE-256 (Abbaye) | Belgian Blonde Update

Being a big fan of keeping my brew days as simple as possible, I’m a bit of a sucker for dry yeast. I think most of us would agree that options for dry ale strains are pretty reasonable. I mean, who can go past US-05 for its clean profile and fool-proof fermentation?

After much deliberation, I recently laid down my first Belgian Blonde Ale using Safbrew’s BE-256 – a dry yeast. By all reports, this is a pretty clean-fermenting strain, with few Belgian characteristics thrown off. That being said, I wondered whether as a brewing community we were simply taking the wrong approach to the use of this yeast?

Read Stan Hieronymus’ seminal work ‘Brew Like a Monk’, and you’ll find the Belgians often take a unique approach to yeast management that doesn’t really fit in with how most of us brew ales these days. Firstly, for a sure-fire fermentation, we’re generally recommended to:

1. Pitch enough yeast – standard ale pitch rates for fresh yeast are commonly quoted as 0.5 – 1.0 billion cells per liter per degree Plato (one degree Plato = 4 gravity points)

2. Regulate fermentation temperature

Now, I stand by the above mantra for the majority of ales. My US-05 brews come out beautifully clean when pitched at these rates (John Palmer suggests 1 billion cells per liter for dry yeast), especially when held at 18° C during the high-growth phase. However, with this approach to temperature control you’re unlikely to knock it out of the park with your Belgian beers.

Duvel's fermentation schedule somewhat defines the Belgian approach

Given the Belgian ‘Strong Golden Ale’ classification is typified by the famous Duvel, it’s likely worth taking a look at how Duvel Moortgat manage their fermentation:

Primary fermentation: Yeast pitched at 61 to 64° F (16 to 18° C),  rises to 79 to 84° F (26 to 29° C), 120 hours

Secondary fermentation: Cooled to 27° F (-3° C), held below 32° F (0° C) for 3 weeks

Now yes, I appreciate that Duvel’s bottle conditioning is a whole ‘nother matter to discuss, but let’s stick to the matter at hand – this is one heck of a wacky temperature profile! When’s the last time you heard of a brewer letting a yeast go on a feeding frenzy without proper control? The point I’m trying to make, is that Belgian yeast need a little freedom to BREATHE, man. To express their individuality, ya dig?

My Belgian Blonde smelling pretty tasty - high krausen had just subsided
Dextrose was added to the primary once fermentation relaxed-off

Heck, I’m no professional brewer, but how about we use my Belgian Blonde as an example of what I’m talking about? My fermentation schedule went like this:

Day 0: one packet of rehydrated BE-256 pitched to 22° C wort, yeast temperature allowed to rise freely, bubbling furiously < 15 hours post-pitch
Day 2: reached maximum temperature of 24.5° C, high krausen subsiding and CO2 production calming down, so 400g dextrose added to my 19L batch (bringing the cumulative OG from 1.052 to 1.060)
Day 4: hydrometer reading 1.009, chamber ramped to 26°C
Day 7: given ongoing bubbling from airlock, chamber ramped to 28°C
Day 9: hydrometer reading 1.009, therefore cold-crash commenced (chamber set to 0° C)
Day 10: 24 hours later chamber reading 0.0° C to 0.3° C, hence beer fined with gelatin
Day 11: 24 hours post-fining, beer kegged into CO2-purged keg, set to 30 PSI
Day 13: at 36 hours post-kegging, pressure set to 14 PSI and first draught taken – delicious!

 As mentioned in my brew day post, I had hoped that this approach would really ‘bring out the Belgian’ in this beer. Well…

With temperature correction, we hit an FG of 1.009
Voila! The finished product - 6.7% ABV

Getting from grain to glass in under two weeks is always an immense pleasure, but the most exciting aspect of this brew was discovering how very Belgian a beer the BE-256 had produced!

Tasting notes: With a little Saaz on the nose and only a slight hint of fruit, Sophie and I were blown away by the flavour and mouthfeel of this beer. A subtle bitterness and floral note was perfectly off-set by the bready malt backbone, and singing above this all were some excellent Belgian esters, with notes of banana, a touch of hot spice and alcohol, finishing on the dry side. What a thrill! It would certainly seem that this supposedly “clean fermenting” yeast behaves very differently when treated as the Belgians would.

On an interesting side note, from Day 4 to Day 9, there was no detectable increase in attenuation, and I could taste no appreciable flavour change over this extra five days at fermentation temperature. Sounds ludicrous, but we could conceivably have had this beer brewed, kegged, and drinking in <10 days.

From Day 4, the attenuation appeared static

That’s it folks – a brief discussion on the Belgian approach to yeast management, and what I felt was quite a ‘Eureka!’ moment with this strain. I’ll aim to discuss pitching rates in a future post, but in the meantime your thoughts, comments, and questions are all very welcome. How weird, wonderful, and satisfying brewing can be!


This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Knut Sandaker

    Hi Ben! Great stuff! Brewed a Westvleteren12 clone today with 2x11g BE-256 and was puzzled by the temperature range Fermentis recommends; 15-20 degC. Your findings just makes so much sense and I´ll adapt this regime since I want som nice spicy esters in this my 2019 Christmas beer. I guess most of the esters will be gone by desember, so I now just have to taste the beer frequently, leaving me with no beer for x-mass…;D I can´t wait to brew a two-week Triple! Thank you!

    All the best from Knut (Norway)

    1. ben.d.mclaughlin

      Cheers, Knut. Keep me posted on how you get on!

  2. Knut Sandaker

    Hi again, here is a schedule from a Norwegian Brewshop that used BE-256 in two different batches:
    Dag 1 og 2: 16°C
    Dag 3: 17°C
    Dag 4: 18°C
    Dag 5: 19°C
    Dag 6-14: 20°C

    Beer #2
    Dag 1 og 2: 16°C
    Dag 3: 17°C
    Dag 4: 18°C
    Dag 5: 19°C
    Dag 6-7: 20°C
    Dag 8-14: 17°C

    The beers where served to a group of people and comments where that Beer#1 is much “cleaner” =low ester profile, while the other is more “ragged” and has tastes of cloves, pepper and other spices, but no off flavors. Still within the 16-20 C temp range.

    My beer is now day2 @20,5C (started @ 19,5C) running wild and free 🙂

    Out skiing in the warm spring sun next.

    All the best from Knut

  3. Mauricio

    Hi Ben! Thats a great post. I’ve been trying to get more info on people brewing with this yeast since I’ve used it a few times to brew belgian blondes but have had mixed success rates. I definitely never let the beer go above 20C since I was going by the package rules and always noted that although I got a clean fermentation, the higher the temperature went, the more fusela I got to the point where if I didn’t let the beer sit in the fermenter for at least another week or so, it was undrinkable. I’m wondering if I am pitching enough yeast. How much dis you pitch for you batch?

    1. ben.d.mclaughlin

      Hi, Mauricio!

      I pitched a single packet of re-hydrated BE-256 for this batch. OG was 1.052 and from memory there was around 22L in the fermenter. I assume 220 billion cells per 11g packet of Fermentis dry yeast (Mr Malty agrees – 20 billion cells per gram). I personally feel that 0.5 billion cells/L/°P is optimal for Belgian ales where you’re trying to stress the yeast slightly, encouraging character development. At an OG of 1.052, that equates to around 7 billion cells per liter. My pitch rate worked out at 220 billion cells/22L = 10 billion cells per liter, more around the 0.75 mark. This is absolutely fine – conventional ale pitching rates vary from 0.5 – 1.0 billion cells/L/°P as per John Palmer. Ultimately, unless you’re pitching very old (dead) yeast packets, or brewing with very high starting gravity, you’re probably pitching enough yeast.

      What temp are you pitching at?

  4. Knut Sandaker

    Fast&furious Blond with BE-256. I used your recipe and pitched 25 liters on top of the yeast cake from my x-mass brew (2xBe-256). I use a temperature controlled chest freezer and set the temp for 25.
    Here is my log:

    Day temp time
    0 19,5 15:10 fermenting like a volcano after 3h.
    1 25 21:15 added sugar
    2 26 09:00 heat on, set to 26
    3-4 26
    5 26 18:15 to cold crash 123h after pitching!
    6-10 0
    11 0 Kegged @ 30PSI
    12 0 tasted: dominated by banana flavor, not much spice, very clean with NO off flavors, great mouthfeel and possible to drink as is.
    28 3 Banana flavor faded to give room for nice floral and subdues sitrus flavors with hints of clove. VERY enjoyable and equally dangerous beer 😀

    For the first time I had to count hours, not just days when brewing 😀
    Thank you for sharing your recipe and the inspiration to try this!

    Brew on and brew strong!

    All the best from Knut

    1. ben.d.mclaughlin

      Excellent work, Knut. I wonder whether the overpowering banana flavour initially was due to pitching onto a yeast cake? Regardless, sounds like you’ve ended up with an excellent beer, and a fast one at that! All the best with your brewing, and feel free to subscribe to my blog – I’ve recently been posting about a few more Belgian styles.


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