Most experts and beer connoisseurs agree that Belgian beers are some of the finest in the world. Whether it’s a Belgian Pale Ale, a Blonde Beer, a Tripel, or a Trappist Abbey-style beer, Belgian brewers pay the same care and attention to all their styles of beer.
Fortunately, most of these beers are easy to brew for the budding amateur home brewer. However, some of the higher-gravity beers can be more challenging to brew.
As well, recreating a lambic beer is virtually impossible without the unique airborne bacteria and wild yeasts native to the Zenne valley near Brussels. (You can try making a lambic-style beer using similar wild yeasts though!).
As well, officially, you cannot label a beer as Trappist unless it’s brewed in one of the seven officially recognized Trappist breweries (six of which are in Belgium).
What Makes an Ale Belgian or Belgian Style?
The most obvious answer, of course, would be a beer that is brewed in Belgium by Belgian brewers. A Belgian-style ale is one that is brewed anywhere else but in a style derived from Belgium.
Think Blue Moon – a classic drink of the American craft beer movement born in Denver, Colorado from a love of Belgian beers, particularly the Belgian witbier style.
Belgian beer styles can be briefly broken down into the following categories:
- Belgian pale ales – commercial examples include De Koninck and Palm/Palm Speciale
- Belgian strong pale ales, including beers such as Duvel, La Chouffe, and Delirium Tremens
- Trappist beers – these are tiered as Singel, Dubbel, Tripel, and Quadruple according to their strength. Classic commercial examples include Westmalle Trappist Dubbel/Tripel, Chimay Tripel, and Trappistes Rochefort 8, 10 & 12
- Saison – A farmhouse beer; the most famous example is Saison Dupont
All the beers above are quite straightforward for the amateur home brewer to recreate and only require a basic single infusion mash. You just need to focus carefully on the flavor and balance of the ale.
More complex Belgian beers to brew include the following:
- Lambic ale – uses a spontaneous combustion fermentation process
- Gueuze beer – mixes different ages of lambic ale
- Witbier – uses a high proportion of wheat as its main grain.
What Ingredients Should You Use for a Belgian Ale?
One of the best things about Belgian beers is their simplicity with most only using a handful of ingredients. Getting the balance of malt and hops right is the difficult part when trying to brew a Belgian-style ale.
Perhaps the most crucial ingredient when brewing a Belgian ale is the Belgian yeast strain you decide to use.
Yeasts play a huge part in Belgian ales, so don’t underestimate their importance to the finished beer.
The most widely used malt in the majority of Belgian beer styles is pilsner malt or Belgian pilsner. Munich and Vienna malts are also featured heavily in Belgian ales with their caramelized varieties, such as Caramunich and Caravienna.
These are used in some of the heavier Quadruple/Tripel beers, adding specialty malts like chocolate in smaller quantities for those darker colors.
Pale ales in Belgium, influenced by other European brewers, especially the British brewers, often swap out the Pilsner malt for some pale ale or two-row malts.
Although the grain bill of some beers such as a Saison or a Witbier will also include wheat and maybe even flaked oats, the majority of the grain bill will be made up of pilsner and other aromatic malts for most Belgian ales.
Styrian Goldings, Saaz, and Tettnang are used in all styles of Belgian ales. Hops local to Belgium or the vicinity, including the German noble hops like Hallertau are used but frequently used hops also include East Kent Goldings and Fuggles too.
Some American hops, those with European ancestries such as Mt.Hood or Williamete, can be good substitutes as well.
The hops are mainly added to Belgian ales to balance the beer and shouldn’t be as overpowering or too aromatic as is found in some more modern IPAs.
Typical IBUs of Belgian beer styles are:
- Saison 25 – 45
- Belgian pale Ale 20 – 30
- Belgian Strong Golden Ale 25 – 35
- Tripel 25 – 40
- Dubbel 15 – 25
Sugars also play a key role in the development of Belgian-style ales. Beers with a higher gravity will often make use of caramelized sugar, which makes it easier for the beer to hit those higher gravities.
Most Belgian brewers including the monks would use the cheapest sugar they could find, and rock sugar is often used in the darker styles like a Tripel or Quadruple Trappist beer to give that extra dryness to the finish.
Although some Belgian brewers would use honey, Belgian Candi Sugar or the “rocks” is most commonly used, and most home-brew shops now sell Belgian Candi Sugar to use in your hombre Belgian ales.
Unfortunately, Candi Sugar isn’t always the cheap option here in the US but using normal table sugar can sometimes leave finished Belgian beer feeling watery and cidery.
Turbinado or piloncillo sugar, as well as brown sugar, can lend its own twist to a Belgian-style ale, and you could even make your own caramelized sugar for that authentic finish.
Yeast is, without a doubt, the most important factor when brewing a Belgian ale and is what contributes to many of the beers of Belgium their complexity, often giving them their fruity and spicy notes.
Belgian ale yeasts are renowned for the multitude of flavors and aromas they can give to a fermentation. There’s even been scientific research published about the medieval “super yeasts,” which are used to produce classic Belgian beers.
Esters and phenolics are produced in abundance with Belgian yeast strains, the esters giving those fruity characteristics and the phenolics bringing spice to the party.
The fruity characteristics may include hints of pears, plums, citrus fruits, bananas, roses, and other berries, while the spicy phenolics often add notes of black pepper or clove to the ale.
Many styles of Belgian ales will often have their own strain of yeast to bring out the character of the beer, such as Wyeast Labs 3724 Belgian Saison ale yeast.
Both the major producers Wyeast and White Labs make individual yeasts for the majority of Belgian beer styles, which are widely available here in the US.
Try to hunt down whichever yeast a recipe recommends to use; it will make a difference, despite what some skeptics may tell you!
The Belgian Ale Recipes
It would be quite easy to write a full book of Belgian beer recipes, as there is such a wide range of beer styles to choose from.
I have tried to choose my favorite four recipes, which are simple enough for homebrewers of all levels. Witbiers and the more advanced Lambics or sours will need their own post, as they are such a complex brew.
Traditionally, each Belgian monastery would create its own unique style of high-quality beer. This example has a complex malty flavor with spicy alcohol notes.
Trappist ales can often nearly reach double figures in ABV, especially the Tripels and the Quadruples.
However, Abbey beer is a more approachable 6.4% alcohol by volume and what would be classed as a Belgian table beer.
This is something the monks may have had around their communion tables and drunk as an everyday beer, with the higher ABV beers saved for special occasions.
|YIELD||23 LITERS (APPROX 6 GALLONS)|
Ingredients – The Mash
- 10 lb (4.5kg) Belgian Pilsner malt
- 2.25 lb (1kg) Vienna Malt
- 1 lb 2 oz (500g) Biscuit malt
For the Boil – The Hops
- 3/4 oz (21g) Perle 8% Alpha – Add at the start of the boil
- 3/4 oz (21g) Styrian Golding 5.5% Alpha Acid hops – Add for the last 5 minutes of the boil
- 1 tsp Protofloc – Add for the last 15 minutes of the boil.
Wyeast 1214 Belgian Ale and one packet of dry yeast
Heat 4 gallons (15 liters) of water to 149ºF (65ºF) and add to the grains for a sixty-minute mash.
Sparge with 7.5 gallons (28 liters) of water at 171ºF (77ºC). You’ll want to collect 7.1 gallons (27 liters) of wort in the brew kettle before bringing it to a boil. The total boil time is 1 hour and 15 minutes.
Add the bittering hops at the start of the boil, the Protofloc at the one-hour mark, and the final aroma hops five minutes before the end of the boil.
Once the wort has cooled to 72ºF (22ºC), you can pitch the yeast. Use one packet of Wyeast 1214, which has been made into a starter according to the package instructions.
Ferment at 72ºF (27ºC) for seven days or until the yeast has cleared. Wait for the lees to drop before leaving the ale without any pressure to age mature for two further days.
Rack into a bottling bucket (Trappist beers are traditionally bottled rather than kegged) and add priming sugar before bottling. The finished beer should be aiming for a volume of 2.4 CO2. This normally takes about 6 oz of white sugar or turbinado sugar for 7 gallons. For a more authentic Belgian style, you could always substitute 7.9 oz of Belgian candy sugar for the traditional table sugar or turbinado.
Bottle condition the beer in a cool (54ºF or 12ºC) dark place for 6 weeks.
Belgian Blonde Beer
This Belgian beer recipe is fairly simple and traditional, which produces a moderately strong golden ale that showcases the subtle fruity yet spicy complexity of the Belgian yeast used.
It has a slightly malty and sweet flavor yet a dry finish, an easy-drinking beer for those who don’t like the more complex brews of the craft beer scene.
|YIELD||6 GALLONS (Approx 23 LITERS)|
Ingredients -The Grain Bill
- 10 lbs (4.5 kg) Belgian Pilsner malt
- 2 lb (approx 1kg) Munich malt
- 1 lb (0.5 kg) table sugar
For the Boil – The Hops
- 1 oz (30 g) of East Kent Golding hops 5% Alpha – First wort hops (FWH) – add at the start of the boil
- 1/2 oz ( 15g) East Kent Goldings 5 % Alpha – to be added at the 30 minutes stage of the boil.
- 1 tsp Irish moss or another kettle-clearing agent.
White Labs WLP550 Belgian Ale Liquid yeast
Add the grains to your mash tun with 4 gallons (15 liters) of water at 150ºF (66ºC) in a sixty-minute single infusion mash.
Batch sparge at 171ºF (77ºC) and aim to collect approximately 7 gallons (27 liters) of wort in the brewing kettle. You will need about 7.5 gallons of water heated to this temperature to sparge.
Boil for one hour, adding the FWH and table sugar at the beginning of the boil. After 30 minutes, add the remaining hops, which will act as the flavor addition hops in this beer. About 10 minutes before flame out, gently stir in the Irish moss or any other kettle fining ingredient you wish to add.
Once the wort is chilled, I tend to use a copper immersion chiller, to 70ºF (21ºC), you can pitch the yeast. Although White Labs state their Belgian liquid yeast has a preferred temperature range of 68º-78ºF (20º-25.5ºC), you will find the wort temperature goes up once fermentation begins.
I sometimes encourage a warmer fermentation temperature towards the top end of the 78ºF, as I find a higher fermentation temperature in this style of beer can show off the yeast’s natural flavors, esters, and phenolics better. It also helps ensure a complete attenuation for a drier finish to the beer.
Ferment for seven days at anywhere between 70 – 78ºF (see above point) or until the yeast clears and the lees drop. Once the sediment has settled, leave for a further two days before bottling.
Rack off into a bottling bucket, add priming sugar to attain a medium carbonation of 3.4 volumes CO2 in the beer, and leave to secondary ferment for a minimum of four weeks.
Belgian Saison Recipe All Grain or Extract
Once a seasonal beer that the farmers used to show off their latest harvest, Saison beers are now produced all year round.
With moderate alcohol levels, a Saison was produced to be consumed in the summer months and would typically feature spices like orange peel and coriander to make it a more complex fruity beer than your usual farmhouse beers.
Feel free to swap out the orange peel for lemon grass or other adjuncts for your own twist on a Saison. I find floral additions like rose hips, lavender, or chamomile work particularly well.
|YIELD||5 GALLONS (19 L)|
Ingredients – The Grain Bill
- 9 lbs (4kg) Two-row malt
- 1lb (1/2 kg) Caramel 20L malt
- 4 oz (113g) flaked oats
- 1 lb (1/2 kg) brown sugar
For the Boil – Hops and Other Adjuncts
- 1 oz (28g) Kent Golding hops (add at 60 mins)
- 0.5 oz (14g) Kent Goldings hops (add at 30 mins)
- 0.25 oz (7g) freshly crushed coriander seed (add at 20 mins)
- 0.5 oz (14g) Kent Goldings hops (add at 10 mins)
- 0.25 oz (7g) dried orange peel extract or zest of 1 bitter orange (add at 10 mins)
- 1.5 tsp yeast nutrient (add at 10 mins)
- 1.5 tsp Irish moss (add at 10 mins)
- Dry Hopping for secondary fermentation
- 1 oz (28g) Kent Goldings hops
Lallemand’s Danstar Yeast: Belle Saison Ale – a 2-liter yeast starter is recommended.
Mash the crushed grains in moderately hard water at 148º – 150ºF for 60 minutes. The brewing water chemistry can be important in Belgian-style beers, and mineral-rich water can help make your season a drier beer typical of this beer style.
Sparge at 171ºF (77ºC) to collect 7 gallons of wort.
Mix in the brown sugar well while aerating the wort and bring to a boil for 60 minutes, adding the hops and additives as detailed in the recipe above.
After 60 minutes, remove from the heat and whirlpool and cool the hot wort to 70ºF (21ºC).
Pitch the yeast starter and ferment for 7 days at 70º – 75ºF (21º – 24ºC). When the yeast is clear and the lees have dropped, transfer to a secondary fermenter and dry hop for a further 7 days.
Finally, bottle or keg the brew, and aim for a 2.5 volumes CO2 level of carbonation.
Extract/Partial Mash Option
Use the same ingredients as above for the all-grain version, but swap the 9 lbs (4 kg) Two-row malt with 6.6 lbs (3 kg) of Extra Light liquid malt extract.
Put the caramel malt and flaked oats into a muslin bag, don’t pack too tightly, and steep in 2 quarts of water at 150ºF (65ºC) for 30 mins. At the end of the 30 minutes, carefully remove the bag from the wort and rinse before allowing it to drip into the boil kettle. At the same time, add the liquid extract malt and enough water to make a 3.5-gallon boil.
Boil for 60 minutes, adding the hops and additives to the boiling wort as detailed in the recipe above.
At the end of the 60-minute boil, remove the kettle from the heat and mix in the brown sugar.
Whirlpool, chill the wort, and add enough cool bottled water to make 5.5 gallons. You should be aiming for a temperature of 70ºF (21ºC) before pitching the yeast.
Pitch the 2-liter starter, preferably prepared the night before, and leave it to ferment for seven days at 70º – 75ºF (21 – 24ºC).
Once the yeast has cleared and the lees have dropped, transfer to a secondary fermenter and dry hop with the Kent Golding hops addition for 7 days.
Bottle or keg the brew, aiming for a carbonation level of 2.5 volumes CO2.
Rochefort 8 – Dark Trappist Ale Clone Recipe
The Abbaye Notre-Dame de Saint Remy is home to one of the world’s most highly regarded Trappist breweries, the Rochefort brewery, which has been brewing ale since 1595. If you like your beers a bit darker or browner in color, then Rochefort beers are for you.
Although they do a rarer weaker Rochefort 6, they also produce a super strong Rochefort 10 (11.3% ABV), which is one of the most robust Trappist ales they produce in Belgium. It has spicy, earthy, and chocolate flavors, almost like a porter.
Instead, we have focussed on the mid-range Rochefort 8 at a more approachable 9.2% ABV, which has a deep brown color and a dry rich flavor often described as like figs.
|YIELD||5 - GALLON (19 L)|
Ingredients – Grain Bill for the Mash
- 10.5 lbs (4.8 kg) Pilsner malt
- 1 lb 9 oz (0.9 kg) Caramunich malt
- 1lb 3 oz (0.6 kg) Dark Candi Sugar
- 8.4 oz (240 g) Special B malt
- 8.4 oz (240g) Flaked Corn
- 2.5 oz (70.g) Carafa II
Hops and Other Adjuncts for the Boil
- 1 oz (28g) Styrian Goldings hops – add at 75 minutes (4.2 Alpha Acid Units)
- 0.67 oz (19g) Hallertau hops – add at 30 minutes (2.35 AAUs)
- 0.33 oz (9g) Hallertau hops – add at 5 minutes (1.16 AAUs)
- 0.33 oz (9g) crushed coriander seeds
2 packs of Belgian beer yeast made into a 2 L starter
Wyeast 1762 Belgian Abbey II ale yeast
Make up the 2L yeast starter at least 12 hours prior to brewing.
Mash the grains in 3.5 gallons of water. Hold them at 140 – 144ºF (60 – 62 ºC) for 30 minutes before raising the temperature to 154ºF (68ºC) for a further 60 minutes.
Raise the temperature again to 167ºF (75ºC) for the mash out before sparring with water at 172ºF(77ºC) to collect about 7-gallons of wort.
Stir in the Belgian Candi Sugar and bring it to a boil. Boil for 90 minutes, adding the hops and crushed coriander seeds according to the schedule outlined in the ingredients list.
Cool the wort to 70ºF (21ºC) before pitching the yeast and ferment for 7 days at 69 – 74ºF (20 – 23ºC) or until the yeast has cleared.
When the lees have settled, rack them off into a bottling bucket. Add corn sugar to prime to a carbonation level of 2 volumes CO2. Bottle condition for 2 – 4 months or longer.