<P> I was running late…so as I sat in my car waiting for a train, I gave Garin Wright of the Buckeye Brewing/Brewkeeper Brew On Premise, in Bedford Heights, Ohio a call. I had previously arranged to meet him at 5 pm and it was after 6:30 already. I asked if it was too late to come over and brew a Belgian ale? “Of course not!” was his response. “Come on down and I’ll get set up for you…” was all I heard before the train broke up our connection, and I was off…
<P> It was May 10th 2001, I had made my decision to leave “home” (Ohio) and come to California to get a job with the Stone Brewing Co. I had about 6 weeks left before my leave date, and I wanted to make something to leave behind as parting gifts for my friends. I decided on a Belgian strong ale, and had something similar to the Rochefort 10 in mind. Rather than mess with everything while I was packing up my life to move, I decided to go the Brew On Premise (or BOP) route. I had never used one before, and it seemed to be the opportune time to do just that.
<P> I finally arrived around 7:20 pm, found Garin inside, and we got right into discussing the style, grains and the yeast he had started for me. He handed me a copy of the then recently released book Beer Captured by Tess & Mark Szamatulski (Maltose Press). In it, I found a clone recipe for the Rochefort 10 that I wanted to make, and I adjusted it to meet my own expectations. Next he turned me over to his sister Stacey, who took me through the weighing and milling of my specialty grains. I would be doing a partial-mash, using 3.5lbs. Munich, 10.5oz. Chocolate and 6oz. of Belgian Biscuit malts. They had me set up with hot water in one of a number of small-batch, steam-jacketed brew kettles they have for aspiring brewers to brew their own. It reached a temperature of 153°F quickly and I put the milled grains in mesh bags in, letting it rest there for 35 minutes from 7:30 to 8:05 pm. At that point, I removed the grains, squeezing as much of that liquid gold out through the mesh bags as I could manage. I reserved these spent grains aside, later drying and attaching small bags of them to the individual bottles I gave away.
<P> I added 11 liters of Munton & Fison liquid pale malt extract as I was bringing the temperature up, as well as 10lbs of amber Belgian candy sugar (stirring slowly to dissolve and not scorch it). When I was sure the sugar was completely dissolved, I brought it up to a low boil, took a starting gravity of 1.092 and simmered the wort for about 10 minutes. I was shooting for an OG of 1.110 and the aroma was wonderful. I made the bittering hop addition of 6oz Styrian Goldings (4.0AA) and 6oz of Hallertau Hersbrucker (4.9AA) at 8:30 pm. After it had settled back and I had a good rolling boil, I had a look at the yeast starter that Garin had prepared for me in advance.
<P> It was WYEAST 1214 -Belgian Ale yeast. A high-gravity tolerant Abbey-style, that he had started in ¾ of a gallon of plain, un-hopped wort. It was a happy, very active culture, giving off wonderful esters. After checking my boil again, I wandered over to the bar and had a sample of Garin’s “HoHoHo Magic Tincture”, a Belgian ale, in which he used the same yeast that was waiting to be added to my brew. He had used Maris Otter Pale malt for the base, some Special B, Crystal 120L and Chocolate malts along with Belgian candy sugar (white I think?) and a single hop addition of Challenger. It was very good, with the yeasty esters coming through the aroma as well as in the flavor. I became more excited for my own brew!
<P> While keeping a watchful eye on my boil, I enjoyed a pint of Celebrator Dopplebock and then a couple of Bell’s Two Hearted ales from Kalamazoo Brewing Co. Both were on tap! At 9:20, I made a second, flavoring hop addition of .75oz each of the Styrian Goldings and Hallertau Hersbrucker hops. I held my face over the kettle to breathe in as much of that awesome aroma as I possibly could, and it was great! It smells so good around a brewery on a brew day. I let the boil continue for 15 minutes before calling it at 9:35 pm. I stirred it rapidly to whirlpool, then let it settle for another 15 minutes .
<P> It was around this time we sampled a bottle of Saison from Fantôme and were very impressed. It was very citric in the nose, grapefruit, mustiness and more citrus in the flavor and an awesome tart finish. It was also 8% abv, and un-available at that time under the “old” Ohio law. We even tested the ph. level and it was 4.11...WOW! What an interesting brew. Next we had a bottle of the Belgian Red from New Glarus Brewing in Wisconsin with a pound of cherries in every bottle. It was superb, as it is every time I have had the pleasure of drinking that or their Raspberry Tart. Rich in fruit, evident not only in the nose and flavor, but the head’s faint hint of color as well. A brew and brewery I would recommend to anyone. We also shared a bottle of N´Ice Chouffe 1998 from the Brasserie D´Achouffe. A seasonal that carried a malty nose with plum, cherries, other dark fruit flavors and a dry finish. Another fine ale.
<P> We transferred 15 liters of my wort into a large plastic fermenter at 62°F, aerating it with oxygen and took a gravity sample. I hit my target, and then some…reaching a whopping 1.112 or 27.8°Plato! We pitched the yeast and put it to bed in a fermenting room kept at a cool temperature, and awaited the results. Mission accomplished, I retired back to the bar for a cheeseburger and some more of Garin’s beers.
<P> I returned a couple of days later to find my batch fermenting madly. Some very happy yeast were at work turning all that sugar into alcohol and CO2, creating wonderful esters that tickled my nose. I had Garin chill it for me after 10 days and went back about 4 weeks later to bottle it. I got 70-22oz. bottles out of the batch. It had finished out around 5.0°P, making it in the 11-12% abv range. It was big and raw…with a huge alcohol warmth and amazing aromas from the malt as well as the yeast.
<P> I named this beer “Exit Stage Left…” to commemorate my leaving Cleveland for the “Left Coast.” Bottles were shared with friends and family over that last week in Ohio, and many others were given as gifts.
<P> Now it is 2 years old and has mellowed with time. Those sharp edges have smoothed out, giving it a luscious, velvety quality. I was down to my last 2 bottles and decided to share one, on the eve of it’s 2nd birthday to get some opinions. I gathered 5 people to sample and write down their impressions. These people are not professional beer judges and here are some excerpts from what they said…
On the 1-10 scale it received three 9’s, one 8 and one 7.
<P align=center>“Belgian yeast” “ Wine-like, with caramel” “Apple” “Banana” “Soft” “Loved the smell”
On the 1-5 scale it received it received one 9 (!), one 6, one 5, one 4 and one 3.
As you can see, some were already intoxicated by its aroma alone!
<P align=center>“Brownish Red” “Desert sunset Red”
<P align=center>(I’ll add that it was clear and clean . It had the appropriate carbonation and had a nice pressure release when the crown was lifted, that produced no gushing .)
On the 1-10 scale it received two 9’s, two 7’s and a 6.
On the 1-5 scale it received one 9 (!), one 5 and three 4’s.
<p align=center>“Smooth” “Mellow” “Starts oily and finishes dry” “Well balanced” “Low bitterness is very subtle” “Warming Alcohol after glow”
<P align=center> All in all, everyone seemed to enjoy the brew. Some additional comments were…
<P align=center>“Very drinkable” “Flavorful, but not overpowering”
“Very good Belgian Ale” “I really liked it…” “Unique” “Nice hop finish” “Gave me chills!”
“Good balance of sweetness, alcohol warmth and bitterness”
<P><P> I do believe I should make this again! If you decide to try it, be prepared to let it age. It starts to mellow after 8-9 months, but has only improved with age. I’m saddened that I have but a single bottle left. I will need to sample it next to the Rochefort 10 to see how close I came…