September 1, 2011

Notes on a Brewday: St. Edhar 8

Ah, the middle ages.

What is it about monastic beers that's so evocative of older times? The time capsule-like nature of Old World breweries in cloistered communities? The romance of a religious order living outside the flow of secular time, preserving the traditions of brewing, manuscript illumination, healing, and so on and so forth, intact through the centuries?


Much like Dennis in the above clip deflates the notion of watery tart-mandated governance, a clear-eyed assessment shows that Tripel is a modern invention (Stan Hieronymous dates Westmalle Tripel, the "first pale Trappist beer," to anno domini 1934), the brothers of Abbaye de Scourmont who bring us Chimay were quick to embrace Dr. DeClerck's 20th century brewing science, and operations in many of the surviving Trappist breweries are sophisticated setups.

For my money, whatever magic lives in these ales comes from the alchemy that seems to take place somewhere in between the straightforward bills of ingredients and the labyrinthine flavors and aromas of the finished product.

But that doesn't and shouldn't stop us nerds, steampunks, foodies, miniatures painters, RenFesters, Medieval Literature degree-holders, trebuchet builders, Belgophiles, blacksmiths, choral singers, and Neal Stephenson readers from rhapsodizing about them. Or brewing them.

The plan: imitate that elementally simple bill of ingredients, force the yeast and time to create the complexity. Pale like a Pilsner, hop-bitter palate like suckin' on sackcloth, like a beer from a monastery with its own hopyard should be. Strong like a provision for the head abbot's table, age-worthy like a reliquary.

Huzzah? Huzzah! Huzzah:

Foreground: yeast. Background: time.
St. Edhar 8 (Tripel)
10 gallons, target OG 1.080

  • 18.5 lbs Franco-Belges Pilsner malt
  • 148 for 75 min
  • 170 for 10 min
  • 2 oz Magnum @ 60 min
  • 5 lbs table sugar @ 15"
  • 0.75 oz Styrian Goldings @ 15"
  • Chill to 68 F, O2, and pitch
  • Wyeast 3787 Trappist
  • O2 again at 24 hours
  • allow fermentation to free rise up to 76-77 F
  • rack, a few weeks in secondary, prime & bottle, then try to forget about it for a while

But wait! There's more! This one's going to take so long to get good, and there's still some sugar in that mash tun ...

St. Edhar Slinebeer (small beer)  
After preboil volume for StE 8 is achieved, divert the last couple-or-so gallons of runnings from the mash tun to another kettle. Boil for 20 minutes with 0.125 oz Magnum. Do not take a gravity reading. Pitch it with leftover yeast from the big beer. Ferment it for 3 days, then keg it. Then drink it.

Tasting notes: straw gold, not-quite-bright but not very yeasty either; super-lean body, dry with a husky malt character, gentle pear ester and a hint of plastic-like phenol. I am guesstimating it's in the neighborhood of 1% abv and not long for this world.

But it's just what I would want to have a couple earthenware tankards of after a hard day of working the filth in my commune and being repressed by King Arthur.


  1. My favorite scene from Holy Grail...

  2. Keep 'em coming MD. BTV tomorrow Hallelujiah!

  3. Just another post that confirms that this is one of the best blogs on the 'net. Period.

  4. How can you not love a post that features a reference to Anathem? Once again, Dawson, nicely done.

  5. Ha! Cheers, guys. @Mark - no point in stopping partway with OG or references: this weekend the yeast cake from this batch plus some D180 candi syrup is going to get harnessed for a quad: First Among Equals.