Newbie looking to learn the Belgian ropes

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depecid

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Howdy!

I'm probably a bit of a unique case around here as i don't know many (other than my old man) with a similar beer taste as myself.

My parents spent 8 years in Belgium and i had the opportunity to visit them a couple of times and do some European travelling. I got to try some Westmalle Tripels, Hoegaarden, Leffe Blond etc. and really took to those styles.
Back in Aus I've always gone back and forth with beer and never really found anything i was super impressed with, but used to drink Carlton Cold and Extra Dry, blonde beers etc. back when i was younger.
I've now found an awesome bottle shop near me that sells some truely amazing Belgian beers. Specifically, i love tripels, quads, and strong ales. I only buy a couple a week as at $10-$15 a beer it gets pricey.

I've discovered i really don't like high IBU beers and prefer to keep it in the low 20's, and like a high ABV. I can sit on a single Rochefort 8 for an hour and a half no problems. Now i've finally started looking into brewing my own.
If anyone has any tips or ideas on where to start that would be helpful, but i will trawl the forums tonight and see what i can find. I'm guessing the best place to start is to get a basic plastic 23L drum and a starter kit such as the Mangrove Jacks Traditional Series: Dubbel or Trappist Ale and go from there.

I have been roasting my own coffee for about 10 years and make my own ice cream so i'm no stranger to tinkering and love to learn.

Cheers!
 

3DDD

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Hey depecid - I'm new on here myself. Also a big fan of the Belgian style, so will be trying to crank a few Dubbel and Trappist Ales out at some stage. I've got an all grain HERMS setup which is going to take a bit more time to get figured out than the extract kits but got it for a reasonable price and thought I might as well give it a go. Used to do some extract kits back in Uni days and always anything other than cider was tough work. No doubt they have improved a lot since then though so would be interested to see how you get on.
 

philrob

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depecid, the best advice I can give you is to get in touch with your local brew club.
As it is, there is an active one on the Central Coast, and I know they have some well qualified members, who can give you all the help you need.
Link here: Contact Details
 

MHB

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Biggest problem you will have is focusing on what you want to make. Belgian beers encompasses such a large range of beer that its really misleading to clump them as Belgian. Sounds like you really have a preference for Strong Ales so I would focus on those.
I doubt you are going to get what you want from kits, you will at a minimum need to do some mashing. Were I starting where you are I would look at BIAB with added sugars and malt extract to hit the numbers you are looking for.
Brewing Belgian beers is very much about the yeast, so you are going to have to look at the yeasts you need, dry yeast isn't going to get you all the way there, you will need to get some true to type liquid yeasts and learn how to manage them.
A key part is going to be control of your ferment temperature. Strongly recommend you find a fridge that will hold your fermenter, fit it with a temperature controller and a small fan (heater wont be needed) so you can maintain the right temperature all year.

Visit a mate of mines business The International Beer Collector, give you a chance to drink some seriously good beer while you on the way to making your own.
Mark
 

depecid

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Thanks for the replies guys.

3DDD, i hadn't heard of HERMS before, it sounds a bit beyond me at the moment. I too haven't had a good extract brew from any of my mates, but talking to them about it none of them were that concerned with kepping a stable fermentation temperature or thorough sanitzing... so i'm already ahead of them there.

philrob, i'll look at getting in touch with the brew club, thanks. That will probably be one of the fastest ways to learn i'm guessing, and would be great to see the process from those who know what they're doing.

MHB, i enjoy almost all Belgian styles that i've tried, and agree that clumping them together is a bit generalizing. Typically i like Tripels and Quadrupels, but also like lighter blonde styles. I recently had a Chimay White and didn't really enjoy it, which is interesting because it's supposed to be the benchmark Tripel. Too bitter for my taste.

I do have a temperature controller and a heat mat that i'm using for my first Mangrove Jacks Dubbel extract brew that i'm making. A fridge would be a later investment once i do a few runs and learn the process. I have also read John Palmer's brew book and am now on to "Brew like a monk". I now have a greater understanding for the yeast playing such an important role so will look into liquid yeast for the specific styles i am after once i get through my kits.
 

bduza

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My tastes are kind of similar. I don't care much for the higher abv, but I love a lot of the Belgian beers, taste-wise.

One thing I miss about living in Sydney is the Belgian beer cafe in the Rocks. A bowl of mussels, chips, mayo and 40 or so beers to choose from... heaven. Just don't expect to drive home.

I was supposed to do my first brew today (biab) but had to postpone for a week. If all goes well, next week I'll do an English mild as my first, and IF that turns out well, I'll be planning something similar to a Leffe Blonde for my second brew. Hopefully I'm not being too ambitious.
 

MHB

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I find the recipes in Brew Like a Monk lets say problematic. First half of the book is pretty good.
Try here Candi Syrup, Inc. They are in pounds and ounces so will need converting and only recommend Whitelabs yeast, (Wyeast is just as good), you don't need their brand of Belgian Candi, but I would use Belgian sugar (either liquid or dry), you will never get it quite right trying to make your own (Ok can of worms opened).
After several years of experimentation the best use I found for a heat mat was to wrap a towel around it and let my then aging Siamese cat sleep on it.
Heat mats heat from the bottom, the oldest, least healthy, most stressed yeast sinks to the bottom of the fermenter first, where its getting heated up accelerating any chance of off flavours being formed...

Really! get a fridge/fan/controller set up, temperature control is more important than almost anything other than hygiene.
Mark
 

depecid

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Wow thanks, that website looks awesome! La Trappe Blonde here i come.

I do have a heat belt on the way to replace the mat, but it got stuck in Victoria during the lockdown i think....

bduza, i did find a site with a Leffe Blonde clone kit available (Australian home brewing)... unsure of what it contains though as it had very litmited description.
 

Vini2ton

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Brewing and cooking are so similar in the way that you learn a simple recipe that can then advance to a myriad of things. Start with a basic brew, pay attention to detail, then expand once you are confident of your abilities. Only recently did I have a fair dinkum crack at a belgian blonde and it turned out bloody good. Balance and grace with a lovely lace. Should of loaded more hops into it maybe. What the f.
 

bduza

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bduza, i did find a site with a Leffe Blonde clone kit available (Australian home brewing)... unsure of what it contains though as it had very litmited description.
There's a couple in this site's recipeDB, along with comments etc following. I found them while browsing for an easy brew to start out with, though as I said, I've settled on an English mild as my actual first. The KISS principle. Plus, it IS winter.

The blonde recipe doesn't look too hard, and are maybe even a little forgiving. But I may be totally wrong.
 

depecid

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Thanks Willigofasta, more good resources to search. One question with the recipes on Candi Syrup for example; say the recipe quotes amounts for a 5 gallon batch, is that my total starting liquid or what i'm aiming to end up with after the boil?
 

philrob

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Batch size is usually understood as after the boil and chill, and into the fermenter.
 

Willigofasta

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Yep. Also, volume-wise, the candi syrup doesn't amount to much volume anyway.
 

Vini2ton

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Yep. Also, volume-wise, the candi syrup doesn't amount to much volume anyway.
They are easy to make. If you've ever made toffee you're half way there. You're dead right about the volume. 500gms of sugar inverted is f-all. Don't lick the spoon, seriously.
 

depecid

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Just an update:

After much reading and pondering i bought myself a 35L Robobrew today so i can try some BIAB. I went back and forth with the larger 65L system so i could fit in a higher grain bill that is required for these high gravity styles i want to make, but i don't have 15amp and am not prepared to fork out the $400 or so for a sparky to put one in. You can use it in a 10amp and just run 2 elements... but i'll never be doing double batches so i thought the size was overkill.

So i have found a few recipes to start out that use extract as a base with specialty grains to "mash" in that i am going to attempt. I have picked two similar beers with slightly different recipes. One is a "Trappist-Style Quad" that uses Pilsen DME and Dineman's special b malt, with dark and dark2 candi syrups, Premiant hops and Tettnang hops, then Lallemand Abbaye yeast.

The other is a "Belgian Dark Strong" that is similar, but uses pale and Munich LME with crystal malt and chocolate malt, dark candi syrup, brown sugar, and Saaz and Styrian Goldings hops. I'll have a crack at some liquid yeast with this one and use WLP500. I wont attempt liquid yeast for the first one as they would require 4 packets so i'll most likely i'll buy 2 and make a starter to keep the cost down a bit. I thought i should start with the dry for my first run though.

When it starts warming up i'll look into a fridge, but for now keeping at 18-22 is easy enough in winter.
 

bduza

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A friend with the equivalent size guten (similar to robobrew) recently gave me a bottle of an imperial stout of some sort that he'd brewed. I think he said it was 11% abv.

Said it was a bit tricky on that unit but there are techniques for getting the higher efficiencies needed given the volume constraint.

He didn't say what they were, but I've read about people splitting the mash into two (mashing the second half of the grain bill in the wort from the first half).

Not sure of other techniques as I don't really want to brew high abv beers myself so I haven't researched how. But my point isn't to tell you how you can do it, just to say it's definitely possible, and pretty yum too...
 

depecid

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Whoops i said robobrew, i meant i bought the digiboil. Same size unit though.

I have read a few methods to achieve the high gravity, i think the easiest would be to simply reduce the grain and supplement with some extract after the mash. I will cross that road when it comes but it's good to know there are workarounds. I don't go through a lot of beer so a bit of stuffing around now and then isn't a big deal.
 

Morgz

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I'm new here too mate, but welcome to crafting your own beer! You'll love it. I love the flavour of high ABV, but they put me to sleep, maybe I drink em too fast. Enjoy.
 

Morgz

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What I should have added, yes, kits are the way to go to start off with. There are a few steps to learn first. I think it helps to not have to think about too much to begin with. But, by the sound of your taste buds, you will end up going down a steep path of steeping grains, partials and finally all grain. 1 step at a time and enjoy. There are plenty of people on here that know what they are doing!
 

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