As I discussed in my All Grain Primer, I tend to brew beers that are fairly true to style, or within the box as some might say. I do this because after all my years brewing I have gotten to the point were I can usually take an idea or a flavor profile from a commercial beer, formulate a recipe, and most of the time come pretty close to nailing it on the first batch. This is not to say that all my beers are perfect, but at the same time I rarely have a problem drinking through my 10 gallon batches.
One of my goals last year was to push myself to try and brew more experimental batches that incorporate unique ingredients or non-traditional combinations. In my experience, adding such ingredients tends to make it much more difficult to nail down a recipe on the first try, often times this is due to using unfamiliar ingredients and/or spices. The key to brewing palatable experimental beers is to use moderation with the non-traditional ingredients and/or spices, as too much can easily ruin a batch. Last year I brewed 18 batches, two of which were experimental, the Belgian Table Ale with Tamarind and the Winter Dubbel, and while its not the greatest percentage its a start.
For the Winter Dubbel, I wanted to build on a recipe I brewed two years ago that used raisins, and add to it with the addition of port wine and some pre-brew cooking. Instead of simply adding the raisins to the boil, for this batch I first caramelized them, then completed a port reduction, and finally added that puree to the boil. In addition to the raisin port puree, I added some Weyermann Abbey Malt and corn sugar, to a traditional Belgian Dubbel grist consisting of Pilsner, CaraMunich III, and Special B.
After finally getting around to tapping a keg of this beer a few weeks ago, I must say that the combination has the potential to create a really unique take on a Belgian Dubbel. With that being said the addition of the raisin port puree is definitely the dominant flavor of the beer, and I would reduce the amount slightly if I brew this beer again. While this recipe is off to a good start, for it to become a truly greet beer a few more iterations will be necessary to really nail down the exact amount of raisins and port to get the proper balance. With that being said lets take a look at the tasting notes.
Winter Dubbel Tasting Notes:
Appearance: Pours a muddy brown, shows as a dark copper when held to the light. One finger thick off white head lingers for a while, leaving some lacing on the glass. My beers are usually clear after sitting in the keg for a couple months prior to serving. I’m not exactly sure what’s going on with this batch, but I’m thinking an increase in proteins or other substance from the raisin puree might be the culprit for the cloudiness.
Smell: Sweetness, port, fruit, and raisins are the dominant aromas. Subtle notes of honey, carmel, and vanilla are also present.
Taste: The initial sip is somewhat chewy with a moderate carb bite. Sweet malt and raisins notes transition to a strong port finish. Hops flavors are hard to decipher but bitterness is adequate to balance all the sweetness of the port. Long lasting flavor of port on the finish, while noticeable no overwhelming alcohol flavors are present.
Mouthfeel: Moderately carbonated, semi sweet-
Drinkability & Notes: I really like the addition of the raisin port puree to the traditional Belgian Dubbel, however the port aftertaste is intense and tends to overpower the beer as a whole. When brewing this recipe again I would reduce the amount of port used in the reduction, or drop the reduction entirely and add a small amount of port to the fermentor. The amount of port I started with in my reduction might have been just too much leading to such amplified flavors in the final beer. These are the challenges homebrewers face when brewing these out of the box beers, as the increase in ingredients enters more variables in the brewday.
One alternative I’m going to try on the second keg is a moderate dry hop, in an effort to take off some of the port edge. As currently brewed the beer drinks somewhat sweet, after two to three beers I’m completely satisfied and looking to move on to something else. All in all I think the flavor components are in place, and with some effort this has the potential to be a truly unique spin on the classic Belgian Dubbel recipe.