I don’t think I can remember the first Belgian Dubbel I ever had, but my guess would be that it was either a Chimay Premiere (Red) or New Belgium’s Abbey. I can actually remember the first time I had New Belgium’s Abbey. I was on a road trip with my friend Dave from San Diego to Chicago, making several stops in between. One of the those stops was in Fort Collins. We stayed at a hotel in town and borrowed bicycles from the front desk to ride to the New Belgium brewery. At this time in my life, I was still living in Chicago, and Fat Tire was held in the same regard as Coors was in Smokey and the Bandit. The didn’t distribute east of the Mississippi yet, so being able to drink Fat Tire, as well as all their other beers at the source, was an anticipated highlight of the trip. We sat down at the bar, ordered a sampler, and registered for the tour. I remember every beer being so different and unique, experiencing flavors that I had never really experienced in beer before. The Abbey and the Tripel were especially eye opening for me, having never really experienced the nuances of Belgian yeast before. I remember coming back to Chicago and letting everyone know that Fat Tire at the source was great, but there were other fantastic and delicious beers in the repertoire as well.
If New Belgium was where I was introduced to the Belgian Dubbel style, it was with Westmalle where I fell in love. In fact, it is a top 3 all time beer for me, and depending on my mood, can sometimes be listed as my number 1. It was so eye opening for me to taste a beer with a 7% abv that managed to pack so much flavor in yet finish so dry. I was mesmerized by the higher carbonation and the mouthfeel that accompanied it. There are plenty of other Dubbels out there, but for me, Westmalle is the standard.
Being as it’s such a favorite beer of mine, it should be no surprise that we brewed a Dubbel. We brewed this once last year, and since I was happy with it, we brewed the recipe again. The only changes I made were that I reduced sugar additions by a bit, which lowered the alcohol by volume, and changed the hops. For me, a fantastic Dubbel needs to have three things: a complex yeast profile that leans to the fruity side, high carbonation and a dry finish. I’ve experimented with several different Belgian yeast strains and really like the one we use due to the balance between the fruity esters and the spicy phenols. Some of the other yeasts will be too fruity or too spicy. This one is juuuust right. We used a yeast that originates from one of the Trappist monasteries in Belgium, and after reading this blog, you should be able to figure out which one.
The fruit characteristics I’m looking for are dark cherries, figs, raisins and plums. In order to coax more ester production out of the yeast, we turn off the glycol jackets on the fermenter 24 hours after we pitch the yeast. Fermentation produces a significant amount of heat, and the tank got up to about 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Because of this, the yeast did kick off a slight banana like ester, but it is not overpowering by any means.
To help the beer finish dry, as well to add extra complexity, we added dark Belgian Candi Syrup to the boil, as well as Dextrose at high krausen. These simple sugars are easily gobbled up by the yeast, increasing the alcohol percentage without increasing the body.
The malt bill, as is typical for us, is pretty simple, with 4 Belgian malts. We use Pilsner, Munich, Biscuit and Special B. The Munich adds an enjoyable toasty background, while the Biscuit and Special B play real nice with the fruity esters and spicy phenols from the yeast, as well as the flavors from the candi syrup. It adds to the complexity of the flavor profile, but the percentages are low enough that the majority of the flavors are still coming directly from the yeast. For bittering, we used two additions of Hallertau to provide about 25 IBUs.
Once in the serving tank, we carbonated Defiance to 3.3 volumes of CO2. Because of the higher carbonation, it makes filling growlers extremely difficult, as well as wasteful, so we do not offer growler fills. The higher carbonation helps scrub your palate clean and prepares it for the next sip or bite, which makes the Belgian Dubbel one of my all time favorite beers to pair with food. Even though the beer finishes dry, the carbonation provides a mouthfeel that is fuller and more luscious than anticipated.
Final stats on this beer are 6.55% abv, 25 IBU and 18 SRM. We serve it in our 16oz Belgian glass.
Aside from being fun to drink, Belgians are also fun to brew, and we hope you enjoy drinking Defiance as much as we enjoy brewing it. Hop On!