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.
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?
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…
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.
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!