Monday, August 8, 2016

Belgian Dark Strong Brewday - Step Infusion & Schluss Decoction

So Saturday the team was back together in John's Garage for a Belgian Dark Strong Brew Day.  And we were joined by Mark Anthony's college friend Brian (who I refer to as Steve).  This was Brian's first brewing experience and probably not the best first brew to learn the craft.  After all we were brewing a multi step Belgian Dark Strong Ale, loosely based on Dogfishhead's Raison d'etre.

To brew this beer and to really get the maximum expression of flavors, you have to step mash.   And since we do not have a big fancy electric system capable of step mashing 10 gallons of beer at a time at full  water volume... we have to do infusion step mashing.

For those of you who are not aware, infusion step mashing is the process of adding boiling water to your mash in order to raise the temperature.   By adding a certain amount of water you can raise the temperature to your next rest.  This was a really big beer, over 27 lbs of grain in the mash.  Plus two sugar additions, Dark Candi syrup, and 2 lbs of brown sugar With a really big beer you tend to run out of water before you reach mash out temperatures.  .   But, have no fear, when this happens you can just pull a Schluss Mash Decoction and add it back in to get to mash out.   And that is what we did.  We rested at 103 F,  Then at 113 F,  134 F, 146 F, 156 F, and then we were out of water.  Now by this point we are literally 2 hours into the mash.  (Yes, two hours... and don't judge till you try it.   Nothing compares to the flavors created by a small batch step mash.)  So to get to mash out, we pulled 2.25 Gallons of wort and brought it to a boil, and then added it back into the mash.   Easy, but time consuming.  The volume was right on the money.  The gravity was a tiny bit low.   We were shooting for 1.081 we got 1.074.  Not too worried about it.  Should still be a great beer.   Don't sweat minor misses like this.   They have no impact on your beer.

Now, I am the first to admit that infusion step mash brew days are complicated.  I spend most of one of these brew days on the computer, calculating and recalculating our water additions.    I will be the first to admit that it is not always necessary.   If you are brewing anything other than a big Belgian ale, or a German lager you do not really need to step mash.  But if you want to make a world class BDSA,  you have to step mash.   And believe me,  I have had all of the worlds great BDSA/Quad/Monastery beers. Ours is as good or better.  So, is a 7 hour brew day worth it... yes for us it is.   The satisfaction that comes from having other brewers taste your beer and say, "Oh my God, how did you do this?" is all the justification you will ever need for that kind of brew day.

So my advice, learn about step mashing.  Learn the sciency stuff.   If you want to make world class Belgian beers this is the key.

UPDATE:   The BDSA is as we expected it to be.   It is delicious.  But we are getting adventurous and with 5 gallons, we are adding bourbon soaked oak chips, and bourbon soaked cherries.   That should be pretty fantastic.   We will keep you posted.

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