Today I decided to (finally) brew a second batch of what I consider the single best recipe I have ever conceived, a jet-black Belgian Dubbel I named “Dark Tidings”. Around my house it became known simply as “the black stuff” – as its combination of delicious flavor, dangerous drinkability, high alcohol content, and general awesomeness led to some rather vaguely recollectable evenings and an overarching sense that we were dealing with a creature whose name was best left unspoken.
This is a fairly complex recipe which I put together based on some research I did on the style (I do not drink that many commercial examples of this style so I felt inclined to rely on the expertise of those more well-versed than myself). Brew Like a Monk by Stan Hieronymous was an especially big help in this regard. Once I felt comfortable with the ins-and-outs of the style I proceeded to bastardize it by adding a few of my own personal touches. First, I added some roasted malts (Carafa III) to give the beer a black hue that as far as I know is rare if not unheard of in a traditional dubbel. Second, rather than using a typical Trappist yeast strain I went with Wyeast 3522 Belgian Ardennes, my personal favorite Belgian yeast strain, which I believe I have used in every Belgian ale I have ever brewed. Finally, rather than using Belgian Candy Sugar – a caramelized sugar syrup which is used in Belgian ales to boost the alcohol content, dry out the body and add subtle toffee or caramel flavors – I used a traditional semi-refined Mexican sugar known as piloncillo. All in all the result was a fantastic beer that received rave reviews from everyone who was lucky enough to try a glass. Also, poured into a snifter, a beer so damn beautiful I made it my WordPress avatar.
So today i woke up to find the weather was almost too appropriate for brewing a beer called Dark Tidings.
But I decided to press on nonetheless, hoping to finish the brewday between downpours. Turned out to be wise choice as the rain didn’t start falling until late afternoon. Regardless I am always hesitant to postpone brewday and I have been looking forward to brewing this beer again so I probably would have taken a lot more than a little rain to stop me from brewing today.
As I mentioned above I used a pound of piloncillo sugar the last time I brewed this, and as happy as I was with the results I did not want to change a thing. To be honest I do not know what (if any) the benefits of using this particular sugar were, as I do not have any basis for comparison. But if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it – I am looking to replicate the previous beer, not improve it or experiment on it. However, when I ran to the supermarket yesterday it turned out that this particular supermarket does not sell piloncillo sugar. So after circling the store and searching high and low I decided I did not want to run all over town looking for it, so I grabbed what I considered to be a pretty safe substitute:
The label said “Panela Hard Brown Sugar” and that it was imported from Colombia. At $3.50 for two pounds I figured it would do the trick. A little research on the internet and it turns out that Panela is what they call Piloncillo in Colombia and elsewhere. How about that?
The nice thing about Piloncillo is that it comes in 8 oz packages so i was able to buy just as much as I needed. The Panela was sold in a two pound package and I only needed one pound for this particular recipe. Which meant I could either (a) save the remaining sugar for a future brewday; (b) chuck it in the trash; (c) stick it in a cabinet and wait for some other reason to use it; or (d) find something else to do with it. As it turns out, as I was reading up on the Panela Wikipedia Page I noticed a reference to a drink called Aguapanela (Wikipedia once again) which is traditional in Colombia and South America and supposedly has health benefits (I am a little dubious on that part but ok). Dissolve panela in water, serve hot with milk or on ice with a bit of lemon juice. Sounded like it was worth a shot so I fired up the stove and gave it a shot. Keep in mind this was first thing this morning as I was prepping for brewing and staring at those ominous storm clouds, So priority-wise a bit strange but whatever I get a bit impulsive with these kind of things.
That is four ounces of panela in about 6 ounces of water. Most recipes I found called for making four or five cups at at time but I decided to make a syrup so I could try it a couple different ways and at different levels of sweetness to see if I could find something I like.
After about five minutes the panela had completely dissolved and the result was a rich, sweet syrup which I poured into a mason jar and stuck into the fridge to cool down.
Then I added about four tablespoons to some water and ice, a squeeze of lime and took a sip. To me it tastes like uncarbonated malta (which is not really a good thing since I am not much of a fan of malta). I also heated some up and added milk and cinnamon to it and drank it like coffee – that was a bit more up my alley. I also used a bit of the syrup to sweeten a cup of Cuban coffee and that was not bad at all. At any rate I think I will find enough uses for the syrup that I will burn through the remaining 12 ounces of panela in no time. Here is a shot of the iced aguapanela – which looks deceptively similar to iced tea.
Once I was finished fooling around with the panela I cleaned up the mess and got back to brewing. I hit a few setbacks including a boil-over but no thunderstorms so I can’t complain. This batch came out stronger than the first batch – so much so that I may consider adding a half gallon of water when it is finished fermenting to keep the ABV around 7.5%. But the sample tasted great so I am very excited to see if this batch will be as epic as the first. In a few more weeks I guess I will find out!
For any who are interested, here is the recipe and stats for the beer:
Dark Tidings Belgian Dubbel
Measured Original Gravity: 1.080 SG
Est Final Gravity: 1.013 SG
Estimated Alcohol by Vol: 7.9 %
Bitterness: 18.4 IBUs
Calories: 275.9 kcal/12oz
Est Color: 27.1 SRM