Monks, Malts, and Mouthfeel + Dumaguete Dubbel

The final member of our flagship series of core beers is our Dumaguete Dubbel, and as part of our continuing series of blog entries where we introduce our beers and also wax philosophical/didactic on some aspect of beer history, culture, or production, our Dubbel really gives us a great case study on malts—those grains that give beer its body, sweetness, and fermentation potential.

First, a little bit about the style and the history, to illustrate why it’s a perfect beer to explain how this ingredient (again, one of only four ingredients that make up beer, along with hops, water, and yeast) leave their mark on our final product.  Dubbel as a recognizable style originated sometime around 1850 at the Westmalle Trappist Abbey in Malle, outside of Antwerp in Belgium.  This Abbey, formally known as Abdij van Onze-Lieve-Vrouw van het Heilig Hart, or the Abbey of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, belonged (and still belongs) to members of the Cistercians of Strict Observance, and was founded by monks fleeing France in the wake of the French Revolution, and who, like many other monastic orders, had been prohibited from practicing in France during that tumultuous period.  The Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (we’ll call them the OCSO for short) themselves were a Cistercian monastic offshoot that adhered to the Rule of St. Benedict, written in the sixth century to describe the ideals and values of a monastic life – pursuit of a life of stability, fidelity to monastic life, and obedience.  In addition to discouragement of idle talk and other characteristic that have entered the public consciousness about strict monastic living, most OCSO monasteries produce goods that are sold to provide income in adherence to the 48th chapter of the Rule of St. Benedict – “for then are they monks in truth, if they live by the work of their hands.”  Many abbeys produce foodstuffs such as cheese or bread, and others still produce wares ranging from clothing to coffins.  Fortunately or us, however, the OCSO monks who were invited to settle down in Antwerp on an old 1770s farmhouse (as they were making their way to Canada by way of Switzerland) decided to adhere to the regulations of Abbot Armand Jean le Bouthillier de Rance, which permitted monks to drink the popular local beverage with their meals (in lieu of water).  Following papal approval by Pope Gregory XVI in 1836, the monks served their first home-brewed beer at lunch on 10 December 1836.

Now, lest you get the image of a bunch of drunk monks stumbling around a mid-19th century monastery, it must be remembered that beer was often produced during this time as a healthy but still hydrating alternative to water – very few harmful bacteria can persist in an alcoholic environment, and low gravity beer (say, between 3% and 5% abv) when consumed in moderation kept monks (and farmers, and other laborers, etc. etc.) hydrated, healthy, and still relatively sober.  The original beer produced by Westmalle fit this bill – pale in color, low in alcohol, and sweet so as to provide carbohydrates during periods of fasting (they don’t call beer “liquid bread” for nothing).

What has become today’s dubbel was designed as a strong brown beer, approximately twice as strong as their pale table beer (if it needed to be mentioned, “dubbel” is Dutch for “double” – mind blown, I know), very mildly hopped, using darker malts and easily fermented Belgian candi sugar to boost the alcohol content, and a characteristically Belgian yeast strain to tie it all together.  The recipe was perhaps based off an older recipe that had been popular during the Middle Ages, but had waned and was no longer produced when Westmalle “rediscovered” it.  The beer was originally sold beginning in 1861, and though the recipe would be modified slightly in the early 20th century, what is sold today as Westmalle Dubbel—as well as the countless homages sold at other Trappist monasteries and produced by breweries worldwide—is stylistically very similar to the original beer created by Abbot Martinus Dom over 150 years ago.  The popularity of Dubbel and other Belgian styles took off after World War II, and today there are over 650 commercial examples of this style brewed globally.

So, as was mentioned above, the style is characterized by a complex and rich malty sweetness – hints of caramel, toast, and chocolate intermingle with dark stone fruits such as raisins, plums, and cherries, as well as lighter fruits like bananas or apples.  Spicy and floral notes may include clove, white pepper, rose hips, or perfume-esque notes, and the alcohol is present, but never hot or solvent-like.  The body of a Dubbel should be thicker, but never cloying or heavy due to a high level of dissolved carbon dioxide and a well attenuated, dryer profile.  Hops aren’t the star of this show either, providing only a moderate amount of restrained balancing bitterness and noble, spicy character.  Sounds pretty complex, right?  It is, and tasting a well made Dubbel, one would think the ingredient list would be in the double digits with how many nuances and subtle tastes and flavors you can get out of a beer like this.  Our Dumaguete Dubbel showcases all of the above notes – and is made with only six ingredients.  A trio of malts, some local sugar, one hop variety, and a single strain of Belgian yeast from a Trappist brewery.

First, let’s talk a little bit about the malting process.  Brewing, unlike a lot of food and beverage production, really is all about science, and nowhere is that more evident than the malting process.  First thing you need to know is that most fermentable sugars – the things that yeast turn in to alcohol – in beer come from malted grain.  Grains—predominantly barley, but also wheat, rye, oats, spelt, corn, rice, etc.—are malted by a process in which they are wetted so begin the germination process and then dried abruptly to halt the same process.  After all, grains are just seeds, and when you get seeds wet, they begin to grow.  This process begins to create enzymes that break down long-chain, complex sugars in the seed to provide simpler sugars that can be used as energy for what the seed thinks is a growing barley, wheat, or rye plant.  The halting of this process—usually utilizing hot, dry air—“freezes” the germination process in a place where the seeds are full of enzymes needed to break these complex molecules down in to simple sugars … the same simple sugars that yeast can consume and turn in to alcohol and carbon dioxide during the fermentation process.  This process and the variables at play within it gives the maltster and the brewer enormous control over the final product.  Kiln-drying malted barley during the malting process at higher temperatures encourages the promotion of certain chemical compounds that gives beer produced from these malts roasted and toasted notes, such as caramel, toffee, biscuit, cracker, toast, chocolate, coffee, dark fruit, and even burnt or charcoal-like flavors; these sugars are formed from a process that renders them unfermentable by yeast, so they and the flavors and aromas they produce remain present in the final product.

Our Dumaguete Dubbel is made from three malts along this spectrum, and the use of each contributes color, aroma, flavor, and mouthfeel nuances.  Simple Belgian pilsner malt provides a grainy, crisp backbone and most of the simple sugars for the yeast to consume.  A sizable addition, though – 20% or thereabouts – of caramel and Belgian specialty malts give this beer a deep ruby, garnet-like hue, a thicker, fuller mouthfeel to offset the high carbonation often imparted by Belgian yeast strains, those dark bready flavors, and that cornucopia of dried fruits we mentioned earlier: cherries, plums, figs or dates, raisins.  These chewy, full bodied malt overtones intermingle with apple, banana, peppery, and spicy notes produced by a Belgian yeast strain still used in one of the original Trappist monasteries in Belgium … but we’ll leave a more detailed discussion of the role that yeast plays in the beermaking process for our next article!

Longer chain, unfermentable sugars provided by roasted malts also tend to make a beer feel chewier or fuller – we say that they enhance the mouthfeel of a beer, which is a craft beer word that somewhat intuitively refers to how a beer feels in your mouth.  Longer chain and “branched” sugars are large molecules, and their presence in a finished beer tends to make it feel thicker, though the overall mouthfeel of a beer is influenced by a slew of other factors: how well attenuated it is (did the yeast consume all the available simple sugars, or did they leave some behind after the party was over?); how oily and slick it is (hops contain a lot of oils, after all); how well carbonated it is (is it heavy and flat or crisp and effervescent?).

Traditionally, Belgian Dubbels were fortified with candi sugar – that is, pale or darkened sugar that has been chemically modified to make it easy for yeast to ferment it, so as to add alcohol strength without adding body or much flavor.  We reproduce this effect with a twist, though, using Visayan-produced muscavado sugar that we invert and darken ourselves in house, using nearly 5 kg per barrel to give our Dumaguete Dubbel an extra kick and layer of flavor that’s equal parts tradition and local.

We think our Dumaguete Dubbel encompasses everything that’s great about craft beer: adherence to and respect for history while also incorporating new techniques and local ingredients; utilizing a handful of both local and imported high quality ingredients in simple ways to produce a multitude of complex flavors; and harnessing chemistry and biochemistry to create something unique and artisanal that’s more than the sum of its parts and straddles the temporal and geographic divide between tradition on the other side of the globe and the burgeoning craft beer scene here in the Philippines.  Pair it with heavier cheeses, fruit, sweet desserts, or red meats, and serve it at 10 degrees Celsius in a room temperature goblet or other wide mouthed glass (a red wine glass will do in a pinch) to let the aromatics evolve properly – we guarantee it will be a near-religious experience.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *