test day: BDSA 2013

I try to brew with the weather, harnessing the ambient temps in my unfinished basement for primary fermentation. Late summer means low to mid 70s, so it’s Belgian time; it’s also a good time to use up odds and ends to make room for hop harvest and restocks for the fall brewing roster, so last week’s brew session was a bin-cleaner Belgian Dark Strong Ale.

The yeast was 3822 Belgian Dark Strong Ale (see what I did there?), which I haven’t used in about 8 years and can’t remember distinctly, but is described as “a high acid producer with balanced ester and phenol production.” Toss that puppy into a toasty, Doppelbock-like wort and see what happens.

Seven days after brew day, the beer is at the anticipated TG (1.013) and, despite the extremely tender age and roughly 8.5% abv, it already tastes pretty damn drinkable – rounded, rose-date-peppery, and without the sharp, headachy blast of unresolved booze I expected from a green, strong, warm-fermented ale. Promising!

As far as acid production goes, this was interesting: on paper, my batch is not particularly acidic at this point, but it tastes like it is. The pH of the BDSA-in-progress is 5.18 – almost identical to that of the Saison I have on tap right now, and actually higher than that of the Boat Bitter (which admittedly was brewed with a much different water profile than the other two). However, on the palate, it has a distinct tartness, kind of a sour-cherry upswing at the finish. Complementary!

BDSA 2013
Target OG: 1.077


  • 78% Belgian Pilsner
  • 12% Weyermann Bohemian Dark
  • 2% C-120
  • 1% Blackprinz
  • 7% Dark Candi sugar (I used equal parts D180 syrup and Brun Fonce) – add at end of boil


  • 152F for 75′
  • 170F for 10′


  • First Gold (whole, 8.6% aa) at 60′ to 26 IBU
  • Candi sugars at 0′


  • Chill to 72F, O2 and pitch with large culture of Wyeast 3822.
  • Free rise up to 78F over the course of 36 hours, by which point the offgas aromas had graduated from fruity with light spice to more plainly ethanol-y.
  • Will give it several more days to let things finalize, then dump yeast and let it warm-condition a bit longer before packaging and/or tweaking. Not too much longer, though – gonna need the fermentor space for the Boat Bitter’s bigger, non-helpful-with-hooksets brother.

28 thoughts on “test day: BDSA 2013

  1. Sounds like you’ve got a fine beverage on the go there, Mr Dawson. My last experience with 3822 ended in disaster. A hot iron left on near the fermentor, heated the fermenting wort enough to cause extensive autolysis. Marmite stink and undrinkable repulsive savouriness ensued.

  2. I’m intrigued by your thoughts on this sour presence in this beer. Do you think it’s yeast derived, a result of brewing salt adjustments, or perhaps malt or sugar driven combined with either of the former? I ask as I was lucky enough to try some of Hill Farmsteads Arthur and could not discern whether the sour character from the beer was lacto related, or the result of mastery of the “rustic Saison”. It would seem at 5.18 their shouldn’t be that much sour character.

    • My understanding is that it’s a function of this strain, but again, I haven’t brewed with it in many years. Will keep an eye on it and take better notes this time!

  3. Untreated water (?) vs elevated calcium and magnesium levels in the bitter will, as you all are already aware of, results in lower pH, for sure, for the bitter. Alkaline Earth metal-mediated hydrolysis of phytin drives pH down, but how much does the ratio of [A-]/[HA], where A is one, or many organic acids, affect the “acidness” of the finished beer? In other words, considering pKa’s of the various players in solution, how much does measured pH really play a role in perceived acidity?

    • Good question as usual, DK. The water for this batch got my usual ratio of CaCl to help mash pH and phosphoric acid in the sparge liquor, but otherwise quite soft water with no other treatment. A wort with a Lacto or Pedio load would certainly have both low(er) measured pH and high(er) perceived acidity, but this wasn’t a mixed culture. I tasted it before I measured the pH; I also had a blind taster on hand (who didn’t know the yeast and hadn’t read the strain copy, so was presumably not predisposed to expect acid production from this fermentation, or taste that sour-cherry tart note) to try the sample and he picked up on it right away, so I don’t think it’s purely my imagination.

      • I guess what I was really getting at is the language associated with “acidity.” The perceived acidity of lactic acid must certainly be different than the acidity of, say, tartaric acid. The flavor profile must be further complicated when pH is taken into account because chemical speciation is dependent on pH. For instance, carbonic acid, H2CO3, is the dominant species at low pH; bicarbonate, HCO3-, dominates at moderate pH; and carbonate, CO3(2-), dominates at high pH. The parent acid (i.e. carbonic) certainly is perceived differently than the corresponding conjugate bases (i.e. bicarbonate and carbonate). I tell my students that acids are “sour” and bases are “bitter,” but I sometimes wonder if I’m telling them the whole story. So, this begs the question: Do we as brewers need to invent new adjectives to better describe acidity in beer?

        • First off a big congrats to MD for your first BYO article!

          Next, DK, I’m intrigued by your ideas and would like to subscribe to your newsletter. However I should issue a disclaimer that I only have a rudimentary understanding of said chemistry. MD couldn’t be perceiving the small amounts of carbonic acid in non carbonated beer could he? It’s not a lactic culture so it shouldn’t be lactic acid… I guess this could only leave a fermentation by product, perhaps aided by the presence of darker killed malts?

          • BYO article by MD! Woah, congrats dude! It was only a matter of time before some of the better known rags tapped (see what I did there…tapped) MD for his brewing insights.

          • Thanks Chuck!

            I took pains to degas the sample for the hydrometer reading, and it was warm enough to begin with that it couldn’t hold too much dissolved CO2 – so I don’t think carbonic acid is a culprit, but anything is possible. The cherry character I was getting could be a function of the dark malts/sugars – I do sometimes get a dark fruit note from very highly roasted grains, but usually at percentages higher than what I was using in this batch.

        • I’d also subscribe to that newsletter! The perception of acid in sour (and sour-ish) beers I’ve had runs the gamut from lemony and yogurty to acetic to kind of bilious, and I recently saw online a new flavor wheel for Brett beers, so it seems like if one isn’t already made for sour beers it’s an idea whose time has come.

  4. All I heard was “doppelbock-like wort”, and then I saw dark candi sugar… Now all I want is a doppelbock all adulterated and non- Reinheitsgeboted with some dark candi sugars.

  5. I am sure that your sanitation is impeccable, but could it be that this time of year just has more of a brewhouse funk retention potential? I had a little lingering lacto/pedio (from a prior Flanders Red with Roselaere) on my last batch, much to my surprise (and actually quite tasty FWIW). PBW has (hopefully) destroyed those guys on my plastic from that batch (now dedicated to sour batches only). Not sayin’, just sayin’.

    • Anything is possible, and this time of year would be the most likely time for that to happen, since warm temps = higher levels of airborne microbes. None of the equipment this batch has been in contact with thus far is shared with my sours, and if it were Lacto/Aceto/Pedio I would have expected a lower pH reading. Will keep an eye on the numbers and taste it again to see what’s been developing the past few days.

  6. hey there,
    I know i am a little late to the game in regards to this post but would 3822 work well in a belgian single type wort (20ibu 70% pils 25% wheat 5% sucrose) with the idea of building that culture up for a belgian dark strong.
    Cheers any advice would be awesome.

    • Yes, I think it would work great. My batch is about 3 weeks old, so the tasting notes are highly preliminary, but it’s very balanced, low-key red fruit esters and clove phenols, and really lets the malt bill come forward (gave a sample to my wife without telling her what it was, she compared it to a very young Oktoberfest). It seems like it would be a solid general purpose, do it all kind of Belgian yeast like the Ardennes or Leuven Pale strains.

      • Cheers for the info, just picked up a pack, looks to be one of the last packs available in nz! will hope fully be able to re-culture it from the bottles of single if it is good and use it as a pseudo house strain!
        p.s. the Belgian dark strong is about 35+- ibus 70% pils, 18% wheat and 6% each dememera sugar and special B.
        Thanks again for the awesome info!

  7. Dear MD,
    So I brewed this recipe couple weeks ago, and just wanted to shout world wide that I ain’t a white belt no mo!
    I just racked this drank to secondary after a bubbalicious 10 day primary, after a flawless brew day (except for the stainless nut from my wort aerator that fell into my fermenter…I got that back now.) Anyway, my system must have gotten a good night sleep cuz efficiency was off the meat rack, and my OG was about 1.081. Grav is at 1.030 but she ain’t chillin there. Nah, she bout to drop a few points then condition and then dry the F out son!
    Fermented at 70F for about 10 days so far (Dont have the means to push it up higher)
    Color is a maple syrup/brown tea/amber.
    The nose is ALL yeast. But I could tell that at the first whiff of my yeast starter. I smell a cherry, maple syrup and citrus that is bright like a hefe or saison, but also deep musty orange peely on the other end, even down to a brown sugar sweetness.
    Again…this is a hydometer reading at about 10 days, so she’s sweet, but like you said above…pretty damn near drinkable. Very Bock-like, with some sweet tea, again the musty orange peel, cinnamon, some dark fruit from the candi sugar, and a nice subtle finish of malt.
    No bitters, no hops as planned. It may be the sweetness at the moment (or palate fatigue from the other “drank”) but I’m not identifying the acid as much. Maybe im getting it in the citrus
    I’m thinking carbonating relatively high? What would you say?
    Can’t wait to see what you guys do in secondary on Chop & Brew!
    P.S. Let me know when I will receive my purple belt.

    • Right. On.

      CO2 level – I find higher generally acceptable for high-grav Belgian styles. Helps belie the abv%.

      C&B secondary alterations forthcoming!

  8. Michael,

    I’m curious how your fermentation with Wyeast 3822 compares to a BDSA I’m currently fermenting. Brewed on 11/10, it went from 1.090 to 1.045 over the course of a week while slowly being raised from 64F to the low 70s. I aerated the wort prior to pitching a healthy starter as well.

    • Mine attenuated out quite quickly – although I started warmer than yours, and let it go even warmer still during the first few days of primary, and your OG was a good bit higher.

  9. MD, I have a question on your syrup experience. I’m attempting to put together a BDSA recipe and I’m noticing two main schools. One uses up to three pounds of syrup and the other uses about a pound or less along with a handful of caramel/roasted grains. Your 2011 BDSA is very much like the former and your 2013 BDSA is very much like the latter. Strictly speaking of flavors produced by the respective sugars and specialty grains. Which has been your favorite and why? Does the recipe with more syrup always produce more dark fruit flavors? Cheers!

    • I don’t know if I can give a pat answer. Intellectually, I really like the simplicity of just base malt plus sugar, and I think I have a prejudice for the flavor and thinner texture of the dark syrups over the heavier, candy-like character of some caramel malts; but in practice I’ve been pleased with the results of both (should have some extended tasting notes on the finished, carbed product of this batch via Chop & Brew sometime fairly soon).

      The yeast strain is (or can be) a really big driver of those flavors, too, so I think it’s as much about matching yeast character and body/mouthfeel/attenuation/ferm temp with the character of the color malts and/or syrups. If I had to generalize, I think I’d use a higher percentage of sugars for a really austere, leaned-out beer with a more subtle (Belgian subtle, so all things relative) yeast character, and maybe opt for more caramel/color malts for a more Dubbel-like, rounder beer, or to stand up to a really robust yeast.

      Hope that helps – let us know what you try and how it goes.

      • That’s a huge help, and thanks for the insightful (and delightful) response. I’ve decided to go with something quite similar to this 2013 recipe, substituting Special B because I love the stuff (call me weird). I’ll also be adding a touch of wheat in some form for head retention. Yeast is still TBD but I do love 1214.

  10. Hey MD,
    When brewing with Belgian Candi Syrup, how do you account for the SRM addition? I found a Belgian Dubbel recipe that calls for a pound of Belgian 60, but all I can find at my homebrew store is 45 or 90. Is it as simple as adjusting the amount in my brewing software to hit the specific SRM? If I use 90 and add less, would I then make up the remaining sugar addition with cane sugar?

    • Hey Adam,

      My personal bias is that the primary reason to use darker shades of candi syrup/sugar instead of plain ol’ sucrose is for the flavor, so I’d try to match character more than color; if it’s only a question of color, you could just use the same % of table sugar and make up the SRM deficit with color malts. I don’t think I’ve ever used a candi rated at 60, but I’d guess the 45 syrup would taste closer to it than the 90.

      Thanks for the question – good luck with your Dubbel!

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