Brew Day: Commonwealth vs. Chalifour (Belgian-style Tripel)

It has been a long time since I have brewed anything. My last brew day was Summer Somewhere 2016. That batch is still in the secondary because I have been both busy and lazy.

Andy’s younger brother AJ usually stops by when we brew all-grain batches at Andy’s house. AJ is turning the big 3-0 at the end of July and wanted to brew a birthday beer. He thought a Belgian-style tripel would make sense. Thirty, tripel, get it?

A tripel is a high alcohol, yet light-bodied beer. The grist is pale and/or pilsner malt, with sugar used to lighten the body and increase the amount of alcohol. Traditional examples do not exhibit a ton of hop flavor. Most of the flavor in the beer is produced by the yeast and the alcohol. The margin for error is very small without the presence of dark malts and/or dry hops to cover up any flaws.

When working on the recipe it became clearer how difficult the beer would be to brew.

  • We would need to use Lactic Acid to lower the pH of the mash because the lighter malts in the beer are less acidic than darker malts. 
  • The beer would need to mash for 90 minutes to ensure the wort would be as fermentable as possible, and the beer would finish dry.
  • The boil would also need to be 90 minutes for several reasons: minimize DMS which Pilsner malts can be more prone to, this would allow us to sparge for longer and get more fermentable sugars from the grain, while boiling down the extra wort produced.
  • We would need a big yeast starter to ensure the fermentation is as complete as possible. If the beer has too much body it won’t be as drinkable as it should be.
  • The beer would have to ferment in the mid 60s, at least initially, to make sure the alcohol in the finished beer isn’t hot, harsh, and solventy. We don’t have a temperature controlled fridge or freezer, but Andy’s basement should be cool enough.

AJ threw this out there at the end of May. To have any chance of having the beer be ready for AJ’s birthday it would need to be brewed sooner rather than later. We tried to figure out a day in late May or early June where we could brew, but there wasn’t a day that could work for everybody. Ultimately Andy and AJ brewed this one without me, while I was at Sierra Nevada Beer Camp in Boston.

To make the brew day as easy as possible I printed the instructions, pre-measured the water salts, gave Andy a crash course on using the pH meter and adjusting the mash pH with the lactic acid, and made a yeast starter the night before.

I asked Andy how the brew day went. They mash temperature may have been a little low. Andy was using a digital thermometer, and his cat ate through the cord which connected the probe to the display. They ended up pulling off some of the wort, heating it up, and adding it back to the mash to try and compensate.

I’m sure I’ll be there when it is time to rack and bottle. The beer should be ready for AJ’s party, but it will probably improve with more time to mellow in the bottle. I will probably bring a couple of kegs to the party to share as well.

Click here for the recipe.

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