Brew Day! … “Pursuit of Abbeyness XII”

With an odd 3.7kg of my last batch of Weyermann Pilsner malt in my cellar and a three-month-old pack of Wyeast 1762 Belgian Abbey II in my refrigerator, I decided it was time to brew up a small portion of the beer style that I return to most often, with the most variable results – the Strong, Dark Abbey Ale.

This was my fifth attempt to realise this style. My first three resulted in an excellent bière de garde; a strange Abbey Ale-Stout hybrid (one of which still sits in my cellar, waiting to be consumed on its third birthday in a month’s time); and an excellent Tripel which, to this day, perhaps remains my homebrewing masterpiece.

As you may be able to tell from that list, colour has been the big challenge. Achieving the authentic, lustrous bronze of a Rochefort 10 through caramelised sugars rather than roasted malts, while avoiding an overly-dry or fusel-soaked flavour, is an exceptionally accomplished art.

Para Break Logo 2

My fourth attempt, created to sell at a friend’s charity fair, was good enough to be the thumbnail icon for the Pursuit of Abbeyness website – and, incidentally, to sell out at the fair. Here is what I wrote about it back in June last year:

I tweaked the malt colouring up slightly with 200g of a mix of Special B and Caramunich III, and 100g of Chocolate malt; I added some wheat to encourage a nice fluffy foam; and I went for broke with the sugar, caramelising 2.5kg of brown unrefined cane sugar for almost 90 minutes, until it was a profound, sticky bronze.

This was a qualified success. I was now approaching the right colour, and the flavour was showing more of the rum and figs characteristic of a dark abbey ale. Some of the elegance of the “Tripel” had been sacrificed to get there. Time will tell whether this beer’s youthful infelicities can evolve into well-rounded adulthood: after nine months in my cellar, it will soon be time to try a little more. In any event, I feel that any further steps that I take towards Trappistes Rochefort 10 will now be improvements upon this recipe, rather than entirely new directions, and that is why I gave it the name “Pursuit of Abbeyness XII”.

We tasted some a couple of weeks ago and it is indeed approaching well-rounded adulthood. Its slightly metallic aroma now softens into almond and marzipan as it warms in the glass, and the flavours include rum, figs, almond and a hint of orange zest. The subtle spicy and dry finish is quite reminiscent of Chimay Bleue. As you can see, the foam sits like a huge cloud on top of the beer, powered by its wheat proteins and chaptalized sugar.

Pursuit of Abbeyness XII (Sept 2016)

Approaching well-rounded adulthood

The fifth iteration, brewed this weekend, was really a bit of a practice run for a planned open brewhouse at Pursuit of Abbeyness in March, with a few friends from work. Stay tuned for that! I wanted to have one more go at deepening the colour, but also achieving a slightly higher level of residual sweetness to counteract this style’s dry chaptalisation flavours.

To that end, I brought the overall proportion of caramelised sugar down a little, but substituted some of the brown unrefined cane sugar for black, sticky molasses. I slightly increased the proportion of Chocolate malt and added a touch of Roasted Barley. For residual sweetness I used Crystal 100 malt and allowed the starting gravity to creep up to 1.108 degrees.

Sugars for Pursuit of Abbeyness XII (February 2018)

Sugars for chaptalisation

The wort certainly has the right colour, now, although background coffee bitterness makes me concerned that I may have taken it back over the Stout threshold again.

As always, time will tell!

“Pursuit of Abbeyness XII” (February 2018)

In the mash:

  • 3.7kg of Pilsner malt
  • 130g of Wheat
  • 180g of Crystal 100 malt
  • 100g of Chocolate malt
  • 30g of Roasted Barley
  • 90 minutes of rest
  • Note: Wort volume of 15 litres

In the boil:

  • 1.0kg of caramelised brown unrefined cane sugar for 90 mins
  • 500g of caramelised molasses for 90 mins
  • 30g of Perle hops for 60 mins
  • 1 tsp of pepper for 20 mins
  • 1 tsp of coriander seed for 20 mins
  • 30g of Perle hops for 15 mins
  • 90 minute boil

Fermented with Wyeast Laboratories 1762 “Belgian Abbey II”

Starting Gravity: 1.108 / 26° Plato

Finishing Gravity: 1.020 / 5° Plato

ABV: 11.5%

UPDATE: March 25, 2018

This brew went perfectly to plan. After a week of primary fermentation specific gravity had dropped to 1.022, and a further five days of rest gave the beer a finishing gravity of 1.020: an ABV at 11.5% with some good residucal sugars left for sweetness.

The beer had three weeks of bottle conditioning before the first taste, and I am pleased to say that the result is exactly as intended. There are virtually no dark-malt flavours or aromas; molasses and rum predominate, with a hint of isoamyl acetate that I am confident will evaporate and oxidise out relatively quickly; the finish is boozy and sweet, with a hint of warming spice, but the alcohol is well-hidden and has no harshness at all, even at this early stage in the beer’s storage life. As noted in the comments section below, I may experiment with adding the spices at flame-out with my next batch, but, essentially, I think I have finally arrived at my favoured recipe for Strong, Dark Abbey Ale.

PoA XII

Abbeyness achieved

7 thoughts on “Brew Day! … “Pursuit of Abbeyness XII”

  1. I don’t know if you’ve seen Suregork’s website (not sure if you accept links but Google Suregork Gallone) but DNA sequencing implies that WLP540 (supposedly from Rochefort, and hence presumably similar to 1762) is almost uniquely among Belgian yeasts actually part of the British yeast family rather than the Belgians and saisons – and probably POF- as well, which is fairly unusual on the Continent. I suspect that’s why I like it!

    I don’t know if you’ve seen Brewstouter’s blogpost about a Rochefort clone, but there’s a passing comment there that Brew Like a Monk says the real one is 1.096 and 11.3% (implying 1.011 FG and 89% attenuation), 27IBU from a hop bill of Hallertau and Styrian Goldings, 90EBC from pilsner and caramel malts with “wheat starch” (other sources say just wheat flour), and white and dark sugar. My software reckons you’re getting 15IBU from your late addition (assuming 7.2% alpha), so you’d need to cut the bittering addition down to 12g? I would have thought residual sweetness isn’t a problem, given any kind of normal-attenuating yeast? Or just up the grain:sugar ratio, or mash higher? I’d tend to add the spices at flameout, they’ve got some delicate flavours that will be lost in the boil, maybe use a bit less.

    Have you thought of partigyling? I’d have thought you could get a nice little mild from the second runnings?

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    • Hello, and thanks for the comment & pointers!
      I should update this post, as I have now had the first taste of this beer – I am very pleased with the result, albeit it is still a very young brew.
      On your points:
      It wouldn’t surprise me if Wy1762 / Rochefort has British roots. It certainly has a different profile from other Belgians and Abbey yeasts. None of the clove phenols, a certain amount of phenyl ethyl alcohol and phenethyl ethyl acetate that fits with the rose and honey notes one sometimes gets from cask ales. My brew shows isoamyl acetate just above the taste threshold, which is not unpleasant but which I am also confident will fade and oxidise away fairly quickly.
      I am sceptical about the Brew Like a Monk recipe, which was indeed my starting point 4 years ago. I suspect this beer starts at more like 26 Plato and finishes at about 5. When I have started at 23, I get attenuation all the way to 2.5-3.0 and the result is very, very dry. It takes a year to become approachable. As you say, one can up the grain:sugar ratio, but I find the challenge, if one is trying for authenticity, is to achieve the dark bronze colour without giving the beer too much of a malty flavour profile – to do that requires caramelisation of dark sugars. So to avoid an over-attenuated dryness I prefer to up the Pilsner malt and allow fermentation to finish at the 5 Plato mark.
      On the bitterness… I tend to think that my beers could do with a little more, if anything. In this case the bittering hops I used were quite old, so maybe that accounts for it. I use Perle just because I like the minty tang it delivers – I don’t really seek to “clone” beers, but rather capture something of their essence with tweaks to match my preferences (or just whatever I have in store to use up!)
      Your advice on the spices is probably good. I always worry about adding at flame out… Sometimes the flavour just explodes all over the beer! In this one I aim for barely perceptible, just a slight warmth in the finish.
      Thanks again – Martin

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      • It’s interesting to think about the history, as Rochefort is meant to have kept the same yeast since 1595 or something daft, and yet genetically it seems to be somewhere between Ringwood and Guinness. Is it the ancestral British strain, or is it not quite as historical as the tourist books make out?

        I must have some Rochefort kicking around the cellar somewhere, so it would be easy enough to sacrifice one to check FG, I might be able to chat someone up to check EBC and IBU.

        Fair enough, I just thought BLAM was worth a mention as you seemed to have evolved a way away from it. Thinking of traditional methods, do we know how long they boil for? An all-day boil (with flame not electric) is one way to get lots of caramelisation going on – or maybe use something darker than pilsner as a substitute? If you could come up with a perfect clone by June or so, that would be great.

        If you really wanted dark, you could cold-steep some patent malt?

        Coriander is stuffed full of geraniol and linalool, like Citra, which are very volatile so the best use for it is flameout onwards, and just reduce the quantities if necessary. Fuller’s used the equivalent of 1g/5gal of black pepper at flameout in their recent imperial stout, I quite fancy trying Szechuan pepper – this is a good review : https://beerandbrewing.com/a-dash-of-pepper/

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      • Interesting!
        I think BLAM is a great book, and really inspiring. It was there that I learned how central the chaptalisation sugars are to the colour of traditional dark abbey beers. I just toss sugar into my kettle with a dash a water and let it bubble away for an hour or so before adding the wort – effectively making my own candi syrup. I am going to use this recipe again at the weekend, with some mates over for a brew day, so I think I will try a flame-out addition of 1g each of black pepper and coriander.
        At some point – perhaps while those mates are over – I must also do a side-by-side tasting of this POA with a still youngish Rochefort 10.

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  2. As an update – I’ve just come across beertourism.com’s history of Rochefort, apparently they pretty much started from scratch after WWII and ended up getting yeast from Palm, which explains a few things. They also make the comment that the spring water they use is very high in “calcium” – I’ve not looked at the geology, I assume that means they’re on the same chalk as SE England.

    I also saw somewhere that the brewer reckons the coriander is pretty much undetectable, so 1g sounds about right, but it might be fun to up the dry-coriandering in other beers.

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    • Thanks, I will check that out.
      I know that St Sixtus Water is very similar to my SW London stuff (i.e. bicarbonate off the scale), but I have to assume that they treat it just as I do.
      The comment on low detecability of the coriander in Rochefort comes from BLAM. I get the feeling from that book that the St Remy brothers play things pretty tight to their chests!
      It’s funny how people assume these abbeys have been brewing for centuries. They almost all started in the late 19th or early 20th centuries, it seems.

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  3. Can’t blame them though, can you?

    Rochefort is a bit of an exception, they do claim a brewing history since 1595, but there’s been various interruptions thanks to eg the German Army nicking their kit. So the last time that happened they started by getting advice from Chimay and using their yeast, but then got a consultant in who also worked with Palm, and replaced the Chimay yeast with their current one.

    In case you’d not seen Michael Jackson from 1981 : http://www.beerhunter.com/documents/19133-000019.html
    “The beers are brewed from two Pilsener malts and one Munich type, with dark cane sugar added in the kettle. The hops are German Hallertau and Styrian Goldings, added twice. Two strains of yeast are use in primary fermentation an bottle-conditioning. White crystal sugar is used as a priming in the bottle.”

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