I am writing a recipe for a dark, relatively strong Belgian Ale (think....Delirum Nocturnum). The latest version has about 5% each Special B, Wheat, and Crystal (~50 Lovibond), 21% CaraAmber (~30 L) and the remainder Pils. This is my first attempt at a Belgian and I am not sure about a few things like how much special B is too much and before I go ahead with this Id like to know if these proportions sound about right. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
In my latest incarnation, I brew only French and Belgian style specialty ales. All aged in oak, all bottle conditioned and packaged in 750 ml glass.
The following is just my opinion so please take it accordingly, but I think special B is a load of special B. Whenever I use it, it always imparts a very roasted / burnt character, which only (sometimes) mellows into that raisiny goodness with extended aging of 6 mo- 1 yr. Unless you plan on waiting that long (and even if you do) I would substitute a high quality British crystal malt in the 140 *L range. Way better flavor, and raisiny goodness from the get go. Depending upon your mashing technique, you may find you can use up towards 7 to 10%. Just depends upon your desired flavor impact. As for the Cara-amber, I'm not crazy about the flavor either. If you really want to boost the maltyness try adding a small (10%ish or less) amount of a lighter Munich (20 EBC) malt.
Many Belgian ales are lighter in mouth feel than you might imagine from the color, so to darken past what is contributed by the crystal 140, try adding an amount of dark candi sugar (usually in the 5-10% range). This adds color, extract, and can help to lighten the body substantially.
When I taste many Belgian style interpretations, the problems I most often find come from what I consider (Just one opinion) inappropriate use of specialty malts. Keep it simpler than you might expect. Choose a good yeast, run a good fermentation, allow for proper maturation, and you might be surprised at the results. Some of my most complex beers have the simplest of malt bills.
BTW, Ron -- congrats on the GABF medal for your "Oro De Calabaza", shared a bottle with a pal and it's *fantastic*
Schmohz Brewing Co,
Grand Rapids, MI
Thanks, Ron...thats exactly the info I was looking for!
your dark Belgian
I would also add that you shouldn't be affraid to go in the direction of roasted barley and chocolate malt. From my personal point of view up here in New England I notice that most of the darker "Belgian-style" beers are a soup of crystal malts and candy sugar. I have used very small percentages of equal doses of Chocolate (1%) and Roasted Barley (1%) in the past with great results. Nocturnum is one of those beers IMO.
I would definitely like to second Dann's post! As mentioned above, a common (in my opinion) problem is inappropriate use of specialty malts. Not really just variety, because as Dann mentioned a very small amount of a sometimes overlooked malt can work quite well, but most often in quantity. A small amount can add texture and flavor, a large amount coupled with mashing and fermentation issues can easily lead to an out of balance beer. One thing that can lead to that "soupiness" is an inappropriate finishing gravity. Often these beers are not attenuated enough. Some of these Belgian yeasts can be a little difficult to get to know, and this can lead to higher than desired final gravities. If possible, bug someone you know who makes a beer you enjoy. Find out what yeast they use, and how they run their mash (maximizing fermentable sugars in these types of beers is very important), and fermentation. The "new" Brewers Publication book Farmhouse Ales has some very interesting information on a few typically used Belgian strains, and a few brewer's practical applications. While not exactly what you are after in your dark Belgian, I think you may find it helpful. Definitely worth a look!