Each year during the dog days of summer, the doldrums of winter are the furthest thing from most of our minds. In spite of that, as a homebrewer it is often rewarding to think far ahead.
Some styles require a bit of patience and long-term commitment; at the very least a commitment of space, tucked away in a cellar or closet for several months. One such style is the Belgian Dark Strong Ale, otherwise known as a Quad.
Made famous by Trappist monks, it’s a rich, boozy marriage of malt and dark fruit flavour.
Why wait to stumble upon the rare example that makes it to your local liquor store when you can roll up your sleeves and take a stab at it yourself?
Of all the Trappist beers, the most elusive is likely Westvleteren, which is sold exclusively at the gates of the monastery where it is produced. Since few Canadians are likely to ever try it without visiting Belgium, it’s a fun beer to try to clone.
The first thing to note is that it’s got a lot of fermentable sugars, so a yeast starter (or two packs of fresh yeast) is a must. A blow-off tube is also recommended.
The malt bill for the beer is mostly made up of standard malts, of which Belgian origins are preferred. Dark Belgian Candi Syrup is a little pricy, but the authenticity it provides is worth it.
Northern Brewer hops provide the bitterness, while Hallertau and Styrian Golding provide a mild spicy element to emphasize the yeast character.
Both recommended yeasts are the authentic strain used by several Trappist monasteries. If possible, build a 2L yeast starter 48-72 hours before pitching with 7oz of dry malt extract to provide the necessary boost.
Belgian Dark Strong Ale (BJCP Category 26D)
(all-grain, 5.5 gallons)
9G tap water (treated w/ campden tables) or spring water
Add ¼ tsp Gypsum and ¼ tsp Calcium Chloride to mash
11lb Pilsner malt
2.5lb Pale malt
1lb Chocolate malt
1lb Special “B” malt
1lb Brown Sugar (add during boil)
1lb Dark Belgian Candi Syrup D-180 (5min)
1oz German Northern Brewer (60min)
1oz Hallertau (15min)
1oz Styrian Golding (10min)
WLP530 (Abbey Ale) or Wyeast 3787(Trappist Style High Gravity)
Brew Day Instructions
Mash-in grains at 148F (64.5C) and hold for 60 minutes. Infuse with boiling water or use direct heat to reach 168F (76C) and sparge with 168F water until you have 7.5 gallons of wort in your boil kettle.
Bring to a boil for 90 minutes, adding additional sugars and hops as laid out in the recipe above.
Chill 5.5 gallons of wort to 68F (20C), transfer to fermentation vessel and pitch yeast.
Beyond Brew Day
Once active fermentation begins, allow ambient temperature to rise to 72-74F. Temperature inside the vessel will likely approach or surpass 80F at this point to promote the creation of desirable yeast character and allow the beer to reach high attenuation.
After 2-3 weeks, when terminal gravity is reached, transfer to a secondary vessel and lager at 50F (10C) for 10 weeks so that the beer can clear and mature. If you are unable to perform this step, skip straight to bottling and age at temperatures as cool as you are able (think garage, cold room, beer fridge) for 10-12 weeks after beer is sufficiently carbonated.
To bottle, dissolve 3.5oz of corn sugar (dextrose) in treated water and add to bottling bucket before beer is transferred so it will mix well as the beer flows slowly into the bucket. Pitch a packet of dry yeast into the bucket early in the transfer, and then bottle and sit at room temperature for 2-3 weeks or until beer is carbonated (open a bottle to test).
Whether you lagered before or after bottling, the beer should be ready for mid-winter enjoyment!