One of the first Belgian beers I can remember tasting was Chimay Red, a Belgian Dubbel. From the first whiff of raisins and caramel in the nose, to the creamy lingering head and subtle warmth from alcohol in the flavor profile, I was hooked. Since then, I’ve tried many spectacular homebrewed and commercial versions of Belgian Dubbel, so here’s my take on what to expect from the style.
The aroma of a Belgian Dubbel focuses on a complex malty profile, with notes of fruity esters reminiscent of raisins and dried plums, with some spicy phenolic notes usually contributed by the Belgian Ale yeast strain. As with many beers based on pilsner malt, a long boil is usually beneficial to drive off DMS that could remind you of “cooked corn”. The noble hop aroma should be subtle or barely detectable.
The appearance is going to be copper to dark amber, often with a reddish hue and somewhat brilliant clarity. You should see a full, long-lasting head.
The flavor mostly mirrors what you get from the aroma. These beers are usually highly attenuated and should finish dry. The focus is on the complex malt but shouldn’t be sweet. Alcohol can be present but if it’s hot you could’ve fermented it too warm, and again, a noble hop flavor can be in the background.
If you’re setting out to make a Belgian Dubbel, here are some tips that I’ve used and some that I’ve seen on the internet or heard in podcasts. For my personal brewing style, I try to stick to geographically- or stylistically-correct ingredients, but in the end I don’t worry about it and if I have to use domestic 2-row instead of Pilsner malt, so be it. To style? Probably not. To worry about? Not for me.
The bulk of your grain bill should be continental Pilsner malt with some Munich malt to add a subtle malty sweetness and some reddish color. If you use extract, use Pilsner and Munich malt extract. Your specialty grains are usually going to include things like Belgian aromatic malt, some sort of Belgian “Crystal-like” malt like Caramunich or Caravienne, and Special B is almost always there. To add a bit more alcohol, color and flavor, most Belgian Dubbel recipes include some sort of Dark Candi Sugar or Syrup. A very attenuative Belgian Ale yeast should be used.
The recipe below is my Belgian Dubbel recipe that one first place in the Southern California Regional Homebrew Championship and was scaled up and served at Anacapa Brewing Company.
Style 18B: Belgian Dubbel: Toil and Trouble Belgian Dubbel
OG=1.078 FG=1.015 ABV=8.25% IBUs=25 SRM=20
For 10 gallons:
13# Domestic 2-row Malt (46.4%)
9# Munich Malt (32.1%)
1# Special Roast (3.6%)
1# 60L Crystal (3.6%)
1# Special B (3.6%)
1# White Wheat (3.6%)
2# Amber Candi Sugar (7.1%)
0.5oz Magnum (14.4%), 60’
0.5oz Magnum (14.4%), 30’
1oz Czech Saaz (3%), 5’
White Labs Belgian Ale Yeast (WLP550)
I mashed at around 150F and fermented at about 65F.
Like I said before, I brew with what I have on hand and I don’t kill myself to be stylistically accurate. I think I even added paradise seed to this one to give it a mild spicy note, but I didn’t want to include that here as I probably wouldn’t do it again. If you listen to Jamil’s podcast, you’ll notice that he calls for around 74% Pilsner Malt, 7% Munich Malt, 3.5% each of Aromatic, Caramunich, and Special B, and almost 9% coming in the form of Dark Belgian Candi Syrup and Table Sugar. The hop additions at 30 and 5 minutes from flameout add probably more hop flavor and aroma than might be called for, but kill me, I’m a hophead.
Some of the commercial versions to look for include Surf Brewery’s
Dubbel Overhead Belgian Dubbel, Chimay Red, Westmalle Dubbel, La Trappe Dubbel, Affligem Dubbel, Westmalle Dubbel, St. Bernardus Pater 6, Russian River Benediction, and Allagash Double.
Writing this has made me crave a Dubbel. From my first Chimay Red to the Butler boys Dubbel that I judged at the Ventura County Fair, I haven’t grown tired of this amazing style. Use ingredients that highlight a complex malty backbone, dark fruit esters and spicy phenolic notes. Pour yourself a chalice of Dubbel, savor the rum raisin, and thank the middle age monasteries for originating something so tasty. Cheers!