Saturday morning I began cleaning out the garage, after years of procrastination and excuses. I made a false start two years ago and got through a dozen boxes of memorabilia before other demands took over and the job was abandoned. The room that theoretically is supposed to be a place to park the car soon soon reverted to its wild, primordial state of recycling bins, lawn care equipment, bicycle parts, and cardboard boxes upon plastic bins of the detritus of family life: all those items you have no need for today or this season or anymore but aren’t ready to part with, not yet.
This beer was an experiment that turned out well. The basic idea was to brew an ale that mimics a lager. Lagers are not in the repertoire of most homebrewers and craft brewers – their need for controlled, lower temperatures for fermentation and conditioning than are needed for ale requires the acquisition of dedicated refrigeration equipment in most cases. Here’s the story of how I brewed an ale at home that is close in profile to a German pilsner – a “mock-pilsner”.
Celtic Ale is my “house beer”. It’s a malty, copper-colored ale with a thick, creamy head that lasts to the bottom of the glass, and at around 4.6% ABV it’s a great session beer. I first started making this as an attempt to make something like Highland Brewing’s flagship Gaelic Ale, which is my wife’s favorite commercial beer. After the first couple batches however, I started experimenting with aspects of the recipe, using the constant extract and specialty grain bill as a background to try different yeasts. The last couple batches I settled on a Scottish Ale yeast, which seems to suit the character of this beer well.
Today I am making my Christmas beer. Like many brewers (home or otherwise), I like to make something strong and special for the holidays. As a general rule of thumb, the higher the gravity a beer has (yielding a higher ABV), the longer it takes to ferment, condition, and mature. I try to schedule my brewing to take into account the varying amounts of time involved for each batch. Generally speaking, quickly maturing beers take around 4-6 weeks, medium-term beers 2-4 months, and long-term beers can take anything longer, up to and over a year! Last year I didn’t get my act together early enough to brew a strong ale for Christmas, and ended up making an Oatmeal Stout – it turned out great, but it was only 5% ABV.
This year I decided to try to make a copy of Chimay Blue “Grande Reserve”. I am following a recipe from the book Beer Captured by Tess and Mark Szamatulski. Often I will try to brew a clone of a commercial beer I like, adjusting or changing the recipe to suit my tastes or the ingredients available; just as often I concoct new recipes on my own after scouring through the books I have and postings on the internet for ideas. I’ve never brewed a Belgian Tripel before, although I’ve made several Dubbels, so I thought it safe to follow a recipe. In any case Chimay Blue is not called a Tripel by them – they call their “Cinq Cents” their Tripel – the Blue was originally brewed as a Christmas ale, in fact. From what I understand, it is basically a Tripel with a slightly heavier, darker malt profile, and the addition of “grains of paradise”, a spice. It will be the strongest beer I’ve made, with a target original gravity of 1.086, and around 9% ABV.