The Golden Strong beers of Belgium are complex but have always been made with simple ingredients. A single base grain, one hop variety and some sugar - that’s it. It’s the process and care that goes into brewing, fermenting and conditioning these beers that makes them special.
A DEVIL OF A BEER
After WWI, the Moortgat Brewery brewed a beer they named Victory Ale to celebrate the end of the war. At the time, this beer was a dark brew that was inspired by the beers that were being brewed in the UK. In fact, Albert Moortgat, son of the original owner, acquired a bottle of McEwans scotch ale on a trip to Scotland and planned to isolate yeast strains in this beer. Moortgat called upon Jean de Clerck to assist with this endeavor. De Clerck was a professor and author on the subject of brewing. He is considered the most influential scientist of twentieth century brewing and was responsible for rebuilding the beer industry in Belgium. A single yeast strain was isolated and used in their Victory Ale. The same strain is still used today! It was around this time the brewery decided to change the name of the beer after someone at a tasting called this “a devil of a beer”. Victory Ale was now Duvel, a bastardization of the Flemish word for “devil.”
Another war brought on more change for Duvel. After WWII, golden lagers from Eastern Europe were all the rage. In order to survive as a brewery, Moortgat had to tweak their recipe. They called upon Jean De Clerck once more. Jean and the Moortgat brewers worked hard to create a strong ale similar to what they currently produced but with a pale, golden color. In order to do this they began to malt the grain in-house and adjusted the fermentation and cellaring processes. The result was the now famous version of the beer with its crisp malt profile, herbal hop notes, spicy yeast character and dry finish. This would be the beer that started the style: the first Belgian Golden Strong.
THE DEVIL IS IN THE DETAILS
Beer Hunter Michael Jackson gave this style its name when he called Duvel a “strong golden ale” in his book New World Guide to Beer. While this is its most common title, some refer to this beer as Belgian Strong Pale or a Strong Blond.
The Golden Strong is similar to other Belgian pale beers but with some subtle differences. What are these differences? This is a question I have asked myself many times. After a lot of research (drinking) I realized the answer is actually pretty simple. It’s the yeast. Golden strong ales have more of a peppery, spicy yeast profile whereas Tripels, blondes and pale ales tend to be fruitier. The perceived fruit notes of a golden strong are often described as apple or pear as opposed to orange or lemon. The yeast also attenuates higher resulting in a drier beer.
The Golden Strong is still a popular style worldwide. Nearly every American brewery has made their own version and most likely gave it a devilish name paying homage to the original. Russian River has Damnation, the Lost Abbey has Inferno and The Bruery has Mischief. I guess I better start thinking of a name for my newest recipe. Is Possession taken?
THE HOME BREW - Possession Golden Ale
We’ve established that yeast selection is extremely important. Make sure you choose a high attenuating Belgian yeast that will allow for some spice character to come through. Fermentation temps will have to be dialed in for both of those to fall in place.
I chose the Yeast Bay’s Dry Belgian Ale strain. This strain was actually isolated from a golden strong and is described as a balanced mix of apple, pear and light citrus fruit with mild spicy and peppery notes. I brewed a test batch so I could see what I was working with. I fermented at 68F (the low end of the suggested temperature range) and found the finished beer to have substantial bubblegum notes, which I love! However, for the second batch I decided to raise the temperature to the higher end of the suggested temperature range to see how the results would differ. I started at 70 and let it naturally ramp to 72F finishing out at 74F. As far as dryness, it finished at 1.001 – that’s 98% apparent attenuation!
The grain bill is simple: pilsner malt and sugar. That’s it. I’ve done that a few times so like most home brewers, I wanted to experiment and try something different. First, I nixed the sugar addition since this yeast doesn’t seem to need any help and I’m glad I did. The final gravity was 1.001 – that’s 98% apparent attenuation! Instead of pilsner malt I chose American 2-Row (Breiss) for a subtle and less grainy base malt. I had some Vienna malt on hand and used it for a bit of a complexity. Finally I added rolled oats to enhance the body of the beer, especially since I plan on using brettanomyces at bottling, although that’s not even close to style! Like I said, I like to experiment.
Most recipes call for noble hops but I didn’t have any on hand and I’ve been itching to use some of my newer hops. For my bittering addition I used the Polish hop Junga. Junga is celebrated for it’s balanced bitterness and spicy flavor. They have an alpha acid of 9.9% and have spicy, blackcurrant and grapefruit characteristics.
For aroma and flavor I chose First Gold hops. These are dual-purpose hops from the UK with a medium alpha acid content with high levels of farnesene oil. Farnesene oil is known to add woody and herbal character to beer as well as floral and citrus notes. Sounds good to me! Note to self – use this in a farmhouse ale as well.
Boil Size: 8.52 gal
Post Boil Volume: 7.02 gal
Batch Size (fermenter): 6.00 gal
Bottling Volume: 5.50 gal
Estimated OG: 1.077 SG
Estimated Color: 4.8 SRM
Estimated IBU: 38.0 IBUs
Brewhouse Efficiency: 70.00 %
Est Mash Efficiency: 78.8 %
Boil Time: 180 Minutes!!!!! (darken the color and sweeten that juice)
14 lbs Brewers Malt 2-Row (Briess) (1.8 SRM) 77.8 %
3 lbs Vienna Malt (Briess) (3.5 SRM) 16.7 %
1 lbs Oats, Flaked (1.0 SRM) 5.6 %
1.25 oz Junga [9.90 %]
Add at Boil 60.0 min (28.5 IBUs)
2.00 oz First Gold [7.50 %] - Steep/Whirlpool 5 (3.8 IBUs)
Single Infusion, Medium Body, Batch Sparge
Add 5 gallons of water at 160.1 F
Added to mash:
2.5 tsp Gypsum
1.5 tsp calcium chloride
1 tsp lactic acid
Hold at 150.0 F for 60 min
Batch sparge with 6 gallons of 168.0 F water
Added to sparge:
1 tsp lactic acid
1 tsp gypsum
Chill to 68F, pitch yeast. Ferment at 70F naturally rising to 72 F and finishing at 74F.