Friday, August 30, 2013

Belgian Grand / Petite Cru Based on Candi Sugar

I have been planning to brew a beer where the flavor is almost solely based on candi sugar. In the book, Brew like a Monk, Stan explains that this is how many Belgian brewers create their darker beers. This intrigued me because I really like the taste of candi sugar. The only part missing was that I needed to figure out how to make candi sugar. This is a highly debated subject (almost to the level of plastic vs. glass fermenters) on the ingredients and techniques used to create these syrups.

I have done a huge amount of research over the last couple years and have decided Ryan at Ryan Brews knows what he is talking about (he uses science). I read his article and then re-read it (and all the comments). His flavor tasting chart is pretty awesome and makes it convenient to have a point to aim for. Having made candi sugar a couple times in the past, I know it makes a mess. Here is some advice (if you have a wife like mine), go buy your own pot (I got a non-stick one from a thrift store for $2) or use your brew kettle. Also make sure you are outside or at least in a place you can make a mess. I actually went far enough to buy a cheap ($16-shipped) electric burner  which is also get for boiling starters since my wife is not a fan of the house smelling like wort. Sugar is actually pretty easy to clean with hot water, but it gets everywhere.

The flavors in Ryan's "Lime+Nutrient" batch sounded like what I wanted. As he discusses in the article, this is not a recipe but a guideline. For the first batch, I followed it as a recipe so I had somewhere to start. Well, the first thing I noticed is that the times he lists for flavor development weren't even close for me. After 3 hours of boiling, I got something that was pretty close to his "25 min" syrup. I think my issues had to do with the power of my burner and me adding too much water and not allowing the syrup to get to high enough temperature to create Maillard reactions. My second batch I decided to go for it and do a larger quantity in my old brew kettle on the propane burner. This seemed to develop color and flavors faster, but still much slower than expected. And I did get some slight smoking and burning. The resulting syrup had some burnt bitter astringent flavors. According to Ryan this is probably because I let the pH drop too low without adding more lime. I'm going to keep trying and if anyone has suggestions (or can post a video, I'm a visual learner) please send it my way.

My candi sugar wasn't bad, but just not exactly what I wanted. Therefore off to my local ethnic food store to pick up some date molasses and carob molasses. The date molasses is gold and when mixed in 50/50 with my candi syrup it tasted great. I added a little carob molasses to give some chocolate notes (maybe).

As explained above, the grain bill was kept simple to provide enough bready flavors, but stay out of the way of the candi sugar. Hops were just to added for bitterness to balance the sweetness. My mash temp was in the mid range because I like my Belgian beers dry, but I wasn't totally sure how fermentable my candi sugar would be.

The next strange part of this brew session is about 2 days before I was going to brew I saw this post from Modern Times. I decided that I could dilute down some of the wort (4 gals wort, 1 gal water) and also not add first runnings to be able to get a session strength version that could be ready in 8 days. For lack of a better name, a Petite Cru or Belgian Dark Session Ale. This also meant that I would now have 1 gal of wort left over. I had a starter of Maredsous dregs going, so that decision was easy.

Grand Cru / petite cru

IBU: GC ~25, PC ~20       SRM: TBD      Batch Size: 10 gal  (5 gal - GC,  5 gal- PC 1 gal - Mared) 
O.G.: GC ~1.070, PC ~1.045, Mared - 1.055              FG: GC- TBD, PC - 1.005, Mared - 1.008 

Name                            Amount          Color
Pilsner                          15.000 lb         2 L
Munich Malt                    3.000 lb        20 L
Wheat Malt                     3.000 lb          5 L

Grand Cru (5 gals) - 12 oz Date Molasses, 16 oz Homemade Candi Sugar, 2 oz Carob Molasses, All 1st Runnings
Petite Cru (5 gals) - 5 oz Date Molasses, 10 oz Homemade Candi Sugar, 1 oz Carob Molasses
Maredsous (1 gal) - 1.5 oz Date Molasses, 3 oz Homemade Candi Sugar, 1 oz Carob Molasses

Name                 Alpha      Amount      Use      Time         IBU
Super Styrian    9.5%        1.25 oz       Boil     60 min      25.4

WLP 530  - Slurry from Belgian Blonde in 1 liter starter - split in Petite and Grand Cru
Maredsous dregs - built up 50 mls (3 days) then 100 mls (2 days)

Brewing Process 
Mash at 152 grain for 30 min
Took a gallon of the first runnings and boiled until thick
Boil 60 min

Petite Cru was fermented in glass carboys at 63 degrees for 6 days then raised to 68. Kegged Day 8.
Grand Cru was fermented in glass carboys at ~70 degrees and free rise ~75
Maredsous was fermented in glass jug at ~70 degrees and free rise ~75

Big shocker here, but I did not win the Modern Times competition. That beer just did not turn out like I planned. It was done fermenting, but the flavor profile was just weird. I'm thinking that it may take some time for the flavors to come together. Also to note I did not get nearly as much color contribution as I thought I would. (estimating SRM of homemade candi sugar is tough) My plan for next year is to meet in the middle with a balance of specialty grains and candi sugar.

Petite Cru - still has a strange flavor profile and I felt like spicing it. I don't do this often, but I was in the mood. I used 3 twigs of cinnamon, 8 oz golden raisins, 1 bourbon vanilla bean, zest from 2 oranges. So far the flavor is pretty nice, but the raisins added too much sugar so I took the keg out of the keezer and I'm going to let it ferment out a bit. Also the orange is a bit over the top - maybe just zest from 1 would have been better. I'll let this mellow for a month and have it back on for the holidays.

Grand Cru - this got an ounce of Hungarian oak cubes and is sitting in a keg.

Maredsous - bottled

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