Monday, March 7, 2011

Homebrew Tasting: Belgian Golden Strong

This review is a bit more involved than most tastings. The reason is because when this beer fermented out it went down to 1.002! I planned this beer to dry out by mashing in at 149 and this beer is all Pilsner with .5 lb of Flaked Barley. The starting gravity was 1.078 with 20% coming from the table and Turbinado sugar (maybe a bit high but I wanted to make sure it would dry out). At first I thought I had a Brett infection, but the beer tastes pretty clean (for a Belgian). The big concerning point was that it has a ton of alcohol warmth because it is now a 10% beer instead of 7.5%.

I asked around my brew club, QUAFF, and most of the experienced homebrewers and pro brewers said that this is pretty normal and just to let it age out. Actually, some of our clubs best brewers try to finish in the 1.004-1.006 range for their Golden Strongs.
Jim Crute from Lightning Brewery commented, "...age and waiting makes nearly all beers taste better, to a point.  You should loose a lot of the fusel taste (alcoholic/warming character) as the residual yeast takes up the longer chain alcohols and uses them as a low-grad carbon source.
My impression is that most Belgian breweries blend their beer, so you could brew another batch, have it finish less dry and blend.  Although I don't do it, I have heard from a number of reliable sources that blending is the way to win medals.

I think my inexperience with big beers like this made me nervous about the beer having so much alcohol warmth. So against better judgment I decided to blend with wort to sweeten and dilute the alcohol. I did bottle some of the beer without dilution (not enough in hindsight) then I diluted 8 bottles with 2 oz 1.045 Pilsner wort down to 8% and F.G. 1.009 and another 8 bottles with 1 oz of 1.090 wort down to 9% and F.G. 1.009. I also put a gallon into a carboy with a couple pounds of "champagne" grapes (which are not used in Champagne but usually appear next to them in pictures).

Now, fast forward 5 months and I decided to taste the different versions before entering one into America's Finest Homebrew Contest put on by QUAFF. I poured the 4 versions during the brew session for the Scottish 60/-. Wow, the difference between the versions is remarkable. So here are some quick notes about each and then I'll let you see what the experts said (see score sheets below).

8% - cloying sweet with a big sweet banana aroma/flavor but also very easy to drink. No alcohol warmth.

9% - pretty sweet still and a bit more complex. Still a sweet banana aroma/flavor but some spicy phenols to help balance. Because of the sweetness it would fit the Tripel style much better than Golden Strong. Very little to no alcohol warmth.

10% or Original - Nicely complex aroma with many different fruits (pear, banana, apple) and a touch of spicy phenol. And still a bit of sweetness (this must be alcohol sweetness and not from residual sugars). And the alcohol warmth is barely noticeable. With even a little more age this beer could be fantastic.

Grape - Big grape aroma/flavor like Welch's not as in wine. The gravity is down to 1.002 but it still has sweetness. The grape flavor really hasn't melded with the other fruit flavors. This beer might need more age or I might need to spike it with some Brett

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