Brewing the Belgian Single

by Mike Retzlaff

In a far away land, long, long ago, beer brewers were taxed on the volume of their mash tuns.  In 1885, the Belgian Government changed that by taxing the brewers on the original gravity (OG) of the wort X volume as was being done in Britain.  The brewing degree system in Belgium, would record an OG of 1.082 as 8.2 degrees, 1.063 as 6.3 degrees, and so on.  The numbers were rounded off for labeling purposes; not for taxes.

There are a number of Belgian beers produced by or in the style of Trappist monks.  Several beers carry these numbers on the labels such as Rochefort 6, Westvleteren 8, Corsendonk 10, and St. Bernardus Abt. 12.  The numbers refer to the old Belgian brewing degree system which has since been replaced by degrees Plato.  The numbers remain on the labels as a nostalgic link to the past.

Now we get into the concept of Single, Dubbel, Tripel, and Quadrupel.  A Single is a basic daily drinker.  A Dubbel would have double the amount of malt and is a darker beer.  A Tripel would have triple the amount of malt but remains a light, golden color.  The Quadrupel first arrived on scene as a commercial product by La Trappe in 1991.  It is a Dark Strong ale.  Single, Dubbel, Tripel, and Quadrupel monikers are not mathematically accurate in regards to malt quantities in the grist bill but simply illustrate the thinking.

The Single or patersbier (father’s beer) began as a monk’s daily ration, a table beer, for use with meals in the monastery.  Most of these smaller beers, now being brewed, remain in the monastery but a few are being bottled and offered to the public.  When these beers were commercialized, they were labeled as “Extra”.  Some carry that name while others don’t.  Examples include St. Bernardus Extra 4, Westmalle Extra, and Westvleteren Blond.  They are closer in character to a Tripel than to the Belgian Blond ale.  They are generally hop centered and run from 1.044 – 1.054 OG and finish at 1.004 – 1.010.  Think of them as a hoppy Kölsch with a fruity Belgian yeast character.

I use 100% Belgian or German Pils malt with fairly soft water although the water profile isn’t really critical.  If your water tastes good, just watch the mash pH and you’ll be fine.  The only thing I add to my water is a tiny amount of kosher salt to adjust the Sulfate/Chloride ratio along with lactic or phosphoric acid to adjust for the pH.

I mash in at 140oF and rest for 30 minutes.  I then raise the temp to 152oF and rest for another 30 minutes.  I then raise the temp to 158oF, insulate the kettle, and rest for 2 hours.  I then raise the mash to a mash-out temp of 170o, rest for 10 minutes, and start the lauter and sparge with 172oF water.  The sparge water is acidified to 5.8 pH so I don’t have to worry about astringency.

My intent is to make a low gravity Tripel style beer but since the OG is fairly low, there is no purpose in adding sugar to the kettle.  My target is 1.050 OG.  I boil for 90 minutes and add my first dose of hops with 60 minutes left in the boil.  Another dose with 15 minutes left and the last with 5 minutes left.  I aim for 32 – 34 IBUs but the range is a bit wider (25 – 45).  I have used a number of hops over the years but have settled on Hallertauer Tradition and Sterling.  Styrian Goldings and/or most noble hops would be fairly traditional for this style of Belgian beer.

After chilling and aeration, I inoculate with a starter of Wyeast 3787 (WLP530).  Wyeast 3522 (WLP550) or Wyeast 1338 (WLP570) would also be good choices.  I usually ferment at 72o F until flat and bottle or keg @ about 2.5 vol.

This is a wonderful little beer, easy to brew, and a welcome change from any sort of Pale Ale.

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