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I am a beginner looking to get started with homebrewing. Belgian Ale is my favorite style, so I was wondering if there are any specific problems with trying to do a Belgian-style Ale as my first attempt?

The answers on the what is the best type of beer to brew for a beginner and brewing ease of beer types questions mostly say to brew what you like, but I was curious if there are any specific tough problems with doing a Belgian-style Ale?

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5 Answers

I recently brewed a Belgian Dark ale and was comparing notes with another fellow brewer who brewed a Duvell clone. We compared each others beers and they were nearly identical in taste. What's interesting about that is how different our beers were as far as the grain bill was concerned. Mine had a lot of two row base malts but also a lot of specialty grains (Special B, Biscuit, Wheat, Crystal 60, etc.) but his was nothing but Marris Otter two row. The major thing that made them so similar was the yeast. Both of us used Belgian yeast (I don't know what he used, but I used Wyeast 1214). The yeast makes all the difference. Belgian yeast will add banana, cloves, and other spice flavors (or esters) to the beer. To many, this is the defining characteristic of a Belgian.

If you like sweeter beers you don't need the sugar. A pound of table sugar will dry the beer out and offset the high malt content in most Belgian recipes. Belgian yeasts won't ferment all the malt sugar in the wort (I haven't gotten below 1.010 with Belgian yeasts) so the table sugar is there just so the beer isn't overly sweet. It sounds a bit contradictory, but adding the table sugar will make the beer dryer.

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Very interesting comments about the effect of table sugar. Thanks much for sharing. –  Lanny Jun 14 '11 at 11:44
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I'm fairly new to homebrewing, as I've only done three brews so far, the last of which was a Belgian wit and I can say that nothing extra was required, nor was it any more difficult than the amber and IPA's that I brewed previously.

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For a book-length treatment of the subject, get "Brew Like a Monk" by Stan Hieronymus. But it assumes an understanding of basic brewing, so you might consider also getting something like John Palmer's "How to Brew", which is also available free online.

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Belgian beers are usually cited as being "digestible". That means they have a light body that makes them easy to drink. Most Belgian beers you brew should have around 20% sugar to achieve that. Don't get taken in by the Belgian candi sugar rocks at the brew store. Belgian brewers don't use it. Corn or table sugar works just fine, and if you want a really unique flavor for darker Belgian styles use candi syrup (note: NOT the candi rocks!). That's what the Belgian brewers use. Couple that light body with a Belgian yeast and you've got most of what the beer is all about. Many authentic belgian yeasta are available. For a couple examples, WY3787 is from Westmalle, WY1214 is from Chimay, WY1388 is Duvel, and WY1762 is from Rochefort. There is a persistent myyth that Belgian beers are fermented at high temperatures. In reality, most of them start off at lower temps (mid 60s-70F) and allow the temp to rise after a few days of fermentation to make sure the fermentation is as complete as possible, which again lightens the body.

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Thanks very much. I will avoid the candi rocks and just use sugar or candi syrup. –  Lanny Jun 6 '11 at 3:08
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"Belgian character" comes from yeast, so as long as you use any Belgian strain (i its optimal temperature!), you don't need any special things to do.

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Thanks. I did not realize that the only difference for Belgian ale is the yeast. –  Lanny Jun 5 '11 at 19:15
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It's definitely not the only difference, but it's an important one. –  Jeff Roe Jun 5 '11 at 21:09
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