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We made the highest ABV beer allowable by law in NC. Known for its signature rich, malty flavor, and medium bitterness, and high ABV, the Belgian quad is a subcategory of Belgian strong ale, the quad or “quadruple” has a long history and very palatable flavor profile. So this Belgian Quad recipe is the beer to brew to push the boundaries of the NC legal alcohol limit.
What is a Belgian Quad?
According to the Brewers Association, a Belgian quad (or quadruple) is an amber to dark brown beer. Hop aroma and flavor as well as bitterness are very low to not present. The perception of alcohol can be strong. And the overall flavor is often quite complex, especially as the beer ages. Aroma and flavor include notes of caramel, dark sugar, and malty sweet flavors as well as raisins, dates, figs, grapes and plums. The body is full with a creamy mouthfeel.
The benchmarks for this style include the following:
Original gravity (OG) - A measure of post-boil liquid density, which can be used to calculate pre-fermentation sugar levels. This beer should have an original gravity of 1.092 - 1.120. That's a LOT of sugar.
Final gravity (FG) - A measurement of post-fermentation liquid density. When compared to the OG this can be used to determine the amount of sugar that was consumed by the yeast and calculate alcohol by volume. It's also a measurement of the amount of sugar that was not consumed, which gives an indication of how sweet the beer will be. This beer should have a final gravity of 1.014 to 1.020.
Alcohol by Volume (ABV) - This is a measurement of the percentage of alcohol relative to the volume. The ABV for this beer should be 10% to 14%.
International Bitterness Units (IBU) - An estimate of how bitter the beer will be, based on the amount and type of hops added and the length of time they were boiled. The IBU should be 25-50, which is on the low end of the scale, especially considering how prominent the malt character will be. So, this beer will not be perceived as being very, if at all, bitter.
The Standard Refrence Method (SRM) - This number corresponds with a the hue or color of the beer. Color generally ranges from pale straw to almost completely black. this beer should be on the darker end of the scale. The SRM for this beer should be somewhere between 16-36 which means it could be anything from light amber to ruby brown.
Making Beer at Home
Making beer at home is fun, rewarding, and with the right instruction and brewing equipment, it's easy. It's also legal to do in all 50 states, so long as you stay within the limits, as we've done here. The beer making process involves four simple steps:
If you're more of a visual learner, we've got you covered. We filmed the entire process for making a belgian quad.
To make this beer, we're using the 20 gallon brewing kettle. Brew in a bag (BIAB) brewing systems are the absolute best systems for making small batches of beer. Typically we'd use a 10.5 gallon brewing kettle for making 5 gallons of beer, but this beer is so "big" we need a larger kettle. Essentially, to make the beer as strong as we can we'll need a LOT of grain. This much grain and water simply will not fit in a 10.5 gallon kettle, so we've opted for the 20 gallon kettle.
Belgian Quad Ingredients
- 8.2 gallons of water
- 20lbs pilsner malt
- 5lbs Munich malt, Germany
- 1lbs aromatic malt
- 10.4oz special B
- 2 lbs. D-180 candi syrup
- 2 lbs. cane sugar
- 2 ounces Hallertau hops
- 2 ounces East Kent Goldings hops
Belgian Quad Brewing Procedure
The process for brewing Belgian Quad is not unlike any other typical ale. However, one difference is the addition of candy sugar which is added increase the alcohol by volume. The procedure is as follows:
- Mill grain
- Add grain to kettle
- Adjust pH
- Mash grain
- Complete a mashout
- Boil and add hops
- Bottle or Keg
The defining feature of a Belgian Quad is its strength and this beer will top out as high as 15%. For it to be this strong, it's imperative that as much sugar is extracted from the grains as possible. To improve our mash efficiency and maximize sugar production we double crushed the grains in a mill set to .025" before mashing. This gives the grain a flour-like consistency, which increases surface area, improves efficiency and maximizes starch to sugar conversion.
Note, crushing grain this fine works very well when using the brew in a bag method to make beer. However, if brewing on a three tier system, it's probably not wise to crush the grain this fine, as you will risk a stuck sparge.
Add grains to kettle
Because there is a ton of grain in this recipe, it will be important to make sure they are fully incorporated into the brewing water. Slowly add all of the grain to the kettle while constantly stirring. Make sure all "dough balls" have been broken apart.
10 minutes into the 60-minute mash check the PH with a high quality pH meter. We recommend aiming for a PH of 5.2-5.4. If pH needs to be dropped, add lactic acid to the mash in order to bring the PH down. Remember, a little lactic acid goes a long way. More lactic acid can always be added, but it can't be removed!
Belgian Quad Mash
Higher mash temperatures (152 - 158) result in longer sugar chains. Because yeast have a difficult time "eating" longer sugar chains, less sugar gets converted into alcohol during fermentation and the beer is less strong and more sweet. Low mash temperature (142 - 151 F) results in shorter sugar chains, which are more easily consumed by yeast. This results in a higher AVB beer that is less sweet.
We recommend mashing for 60 minutes at 148F to make this beer. This temperature is on the higher end of the "low mash temp" scale. The thought is that this temperature will produce slightly more fermentable sugar, but it will leave some residual unfermentable sugar to provide sweetness in the finished beer.
A mashout is a procedure where kettle grain is heated to 170F and held for 20 minutes before being removed from the brewing water. The additional heat will loosen the grain bed up a bit, allowing more sugar to be extracted. We don't always complete a mashout but recommend it when making a Belgian Quad.
Boil, Hops, and Sugar Additions
After the 60 minute mash and mashout are complete, pull the grain basket and switch the controller to 100% of power to start heating the wort to a boil. Make sure to elevate the grains over the kettle for at least 10 minutes to allow as much liquid to drain out as possible. We actually "squeezed" the grain for this beer, which extracts even more liquid. Some folks will say that this risks extracting tannins from the grain and imparting it into the beer, but in our experience, this hasn't been an issue.
This Belgian Quad recipe requires a 90 minute boil. Once the initial boil is achieved set a countdown timer (from 90 minutes) and add the hops to a hop silo - 2 ounces of Hallertau and 2 ounces of East Kent Goldings.
With 60 minutes left in the boil it will be time to add the additional sugars. Turn off heat completely and add 2 pounds of D-180 Candi Syrup as well as 2 pounds of cane sugar. Turning off the heating element before adding these sugars will prevent them from sticking to the element and scorching. Once the sugars have been stirred in and are fully dissolved, the element can be turned back on and the boil resumed.
The sugars from the candi syrup and and cane sugar additions will increase the alcohol by volume of this beer by quite a bit, so don't forget them!
Once the boil is complete, cut the heat and begin chilling to yeast pitching temperature. In this case it will be somewhere around 70 degrees. We prefer to chill using a plate chiller. However, if you want to be fancy, a counterflow chiller is also a good option.
Belgian Quad Fermentation
Fermentation is the step in brewing where the alcohol is actually created, so it's pretty important! Without fermentation, beer isn't...well, beer. Fermentation happens when yeast is added to the sugary liquid created in the preceding steps and the fermentation process looks something like this:
Chill to yeast pitching temperature
As mentioned above, we chilled this beer to 70F. And that's roughly the temperature we'll be fermenting at as well. However, sometimes yeast pitching happens at a higher temperature to allow things to kick off and the temp is dialed back down with the help of glycol or a fermentation temperature. In other cases yeast is pitched at a cooler temperature and is allowed to warm up slowly, so the desired fermentation temperature isn't overshot. Again, for this Belgian Quad we're pitching at 70F.
The yeast have their work cut out for them as far as this beer goes. There is a ton of sugar. They're going to need some oxygen to get the party started. At the homebrew level, there are a couple of options available to impart some oxygen to the wort. The first, and easiest, is to simply transfer wort to the fermenter, put a lid on it, and shake for a couple of minutes. We've done some testing and this method increases dissolved oxygen to about 8 parts per billion. For a beer with gravity this high, a bit more oxygen may be ideal, but we aren't worried.
To bost oxygen even higher, a tank of pure oxygen combined with a "gas stone" will do the trick.
Pitching rate is very important for high gravity beer. You want to make sure there are enough yeast cells to get the job done without causing stress. To calculate the pitching rate, either read the directions on the back of the yeast package or use a yeast pitch rate calculator. To ferment this beer we're using WLP500 by White Labs and we recommend pitching 3 packages.
Because pitching 3 entire packs will be a bit pricey, this beer is actually a good candidate for a yeast starter. This will require only once package of yeast, a bit of dry malt extract and an additional day (the yeast starter needs to be made before brewing). Read this article if you want to learn how to make a yeast starter.
We plan on fermenting this beer for at least a few weeks due to how strong it is. It's going to take a bit of time for yeast to eat up all the sugar and produce alcohol.
Fermentation is generally pretty hands off (assuming everything goes as planned). We'll covering the fermenter with a blanket to avoid light exposure and plan on fermenting this beer at room temperature (70F). However, always make sure to read the directions on the back of the yeast package you are using. The directions for WLP500 state that fermenting this beer at a lower temperature (65-67) will result in a more earthy and less fruity beer. However, that's not the vibe we're going for, so we're going to stick with room temp (70F+) and plan on embracing the fruit.
One tip for this beer is to avoid using an airlock and using what is called a "blowoff tube" instead. A blowoff tube is a tube that runs out of the top of the fermenter and into a large container of sanitizer solution. Because there is so much sugar in this beer the potential for yeast to become so active that they spill out of the top of the fermenter and make a mess is pretty high. Using a blowoff tube will contain the mess if this happens.
After fermentation is complete, this beer needs some time to settle before being transferred to a keg. The last thing we want is to serve something that looks like carbonated gravy. Because we though we were having trouble hitting terminal gravity this beer actually sat for many weeks before we determined that fermentation was complete. Once it was we "cold crashed" it by chilling to 33F and leaving it sit for four additional days. This step helps drop any remaining yeast or debris out of suspension, further clarifying the beer.
Once cold crashing was complete we were ready to package. We opted to keg this beer instead of bottling it. Now that the beer is finished and tastes good, we want to make sure it stays that way. So one of the most important parts of packaging, whether that be in bottles, cans or in a keg, is making sure to clean and sanitize everything.
Before kegging we cleaned our keg and siphon with PBW which is essentially unscented OxiClean. The most important part about using this particular cleaner is to make sure it is fully dissolved, which requires warm water. An equally as important is making sure it gets fully rinsed from the equipment after cleaning is complete, again, using warm water.
Once cleaning is complete, we sanitize all equipment using StarSan. This is an acid based cleaner that kills 99.9% of bacteria in 30 seconds. To use it, dissolve 1 ounce per 5 gallons of liquid and make sure everything gets fully coated. Note, it makes a lot of bubbles. There is no need to rinse them, as they are harmless.
After cleaning and sanitation, siphon liquid from the fermenter to keg. The key here is to not get greedy. Only siphon "clear" liquid into the keg. Try not to suck up any yeast or debris from the bottom of the fermentation vessel.
After transferring beer to a keg we carbonated it. The three most important elements of carbonating beer in a keg are temperature, pressure, and time. First, cold beer absorbs carbon dioxide more easily. Second, higher pressure will force gas into liquid more quickly. And the longer the beer sits cold and under pressure, the more carbonated it will become.
We recommend using the "quick carb" method to carbonate beer. Most importantly, the beer must be very cold to do this (as close to cold crashing temperature as possible). After filling the keg, it must first be purged, which is done by pressurizing the keg with co2 and then pulling the pressure relief valve to allow all gas to escape. Do this 3 or 4 times which will expel all of the oxygen and replace it with co2. Next, pressurize the keg to 50psi and gently shake it for 2 minutes. Slowly depressurize to serving pressure and pour a sample. If it is carbonated to your liking, it's ready to serve. If it needs more carbonation, pressurize to 50psi again and shake for another minute. Repeat until the desired level of carbonation has been achieved.
After carbonating and reducing to serving pressure, we transferred to our kegerator and served.
A beer like a Belgian Quad benefits greatly from a big of age. A fresh quadrupel is going to taste a bit sharp and rough around the edges. Our beer, in our opinion, tasted undeveloped and overly sweet. After leaving it sit for many months, rich plumb and raisin-like flavors began to develop that balanced out the sweetness in a way that made the beer taste much more complex.
This beer had a very active fermentation, so our efforts definitely paid off. However, fermentation stalled out at 13% and never quite made it to the 15% that we were shooting for. What happened? Did we miss something? You'll need to watch the Belgian quad brewing video to find out.
Although the beer didn't turn out exactly as planned, it was a 10 of 10 banger. We 100% recommend that you brew this beer if you're looking for something dark, strong an delicious. It's very boozy, but has a sweet and balanced vibe that developed into a very complex beer featuring notes of plumb, raisin, cherry, and tobacco.
If you brew this and also want to cook a meal to pair it with, make sure to check out our beer and food pairing guide.