Belgian yeast and batch comparison

Eureka, today a report about a comparison experiment of two different batches and Belgian yeasts. And it is one of my longest posts ever….

All further information are in the report below. If you already read the posts about each of the batches (#20 Reason to Live and #39 Another reason to Live) you might skip the first part of the report and get right to the results. The sensory evaluation below is much more detailed than in the posts about the individual batches.

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Comparison of Reason to Live batch #20 and #39

Abstract

Three batches, two yeasts, one style. The following report describes a split batch experiment of a Belgian beer fermented with Wyeast’s #3522 Belgian Ardennes and #3787 Trappist High Gravity yeast. A sensory evaluation of the two beers concluded the #3522 yeast to have a more banana, phenolic (spicy) character and the #3787 yeast to be more subtle and balanced. Other published experiments showed similar results. It could be further shown that a higher fermentation temperature increased the fruity character of the #3522 yeast. This lead to more pronounced banana and bubblegum notes in the beer.

A further comparison included two different recipes fermented with #3522. The difference in the recipes was a different Vienna: Pilsner malt ratio and an addition of Belgian candy syrup. Sensory evaluation detected the beer with a lower Vienna: Pilsner ration to be more watery (low body/mouthfeel) and the candy syrup could not be detected at all.

1. Goal

Compare Reason to Live batches and determine differences and similarities. Comparing yeast #3522 Belgian Ardennes and #3787 Trappist High Gravity.

2. Background

Batch #20 equals the first recipe (without candy syrup). The recipe for batch #39 was lightly adjusted to determine the character of candy syrup in a Belgian beer. Yeast #3522 Belgian Ardennes was used in both batches. One part of batch #39 was fermented with #3787 Trappist High Gravity.

3. Hypothesis

There will be clear differences between the batch with and without candy syrup. Differences detectable due to different amounts of Vienna malt (different body structure?). Slight differences between the two batches with the #3522 yeast, bigger differences between the #3522 and #3787.

4. Experiment

4.1 Recipes

Batch #20 Batch #39
 Planned batch size  42  20
 Vienna malt [%]  46  19
 Pilsner malt [%]  46  74
 Carafa Typ 1 [%]  1.4  1.4
 Crystal 120 EBC [%]  1.8  1.8
 Candy sugar brown [%]  4.6  4.6
 Dark candy sirup [%]  0  6.0
 Raisins [g L-1]  6.6  6.9
 Magnum hops (15% Alpha) [g L-1]  0.8  0.8
 Hersbrucker (4% Alpha) [g L-1]  0.8  0.8

4.3 Proceeding

Mash-in at 35°C (95°F) with 4 L kg-1. 20 min rest at 55°C (131°F) and 60 min at 66°C (151°F). Then mash-out at 78°C (172°F) and fly sparged until gravity was 2°P. Boil: Magnum 60 min boil, Hersbrucker hops at flame-out. Addition of candy sugar, candy syrup 10 minutes before flame-out. The raisins were puréed in one liter of wort and then added 10 minutes before flame-out. Cooled down after a 10 minutes whirlpool rest. Fermentation: Pitched calculated amount of yeast (see yeast calculator by mrmalty.com) at around 20°C (68°F). 7-10 days primary fermentation at 20°C (68°F) and 22°C (71.6°F) for the #39 batch, then transfered into secondary vessel and secondary fermentation for nearly two weeks. Batch #20 was bottled after 13 days after inoculation (no secondary fermentation). Bottled (3-4 vol CO2) and bottle fermentation for nearly three weeks at 20°C (68°F).

4.4 Additional information

Batch #39 was split: One part was fermented with #3522 Belgian Ardennes and one part with #3787 Trappist High Gravity.

5. Results

5.1 Measurements

Batch #20 #3522  Batch #39 #3522 Batch #39 #3787
 Yield [L] 42  20 20
 Original gravity [°P]  15.6  15.6  15.6
 Terminal gravity [°P]  2.6 2.6  2.6
 Alcohol by volume [%] 7.1  7.1  7.1
 Attenuation [%]  83  83  83
 Sudhausausbeute [%]  67  62 62
 Attenuation Wyeast [%]  72- 76 72- 76  74- 78

5.2 Sensory evaluation

The following table is an overview of the sensory evaluation of the different beers. Some characteristics were evaluated by use of a scale from 0 to 7. Zero equals the profile mentioned in the brackets behind the variable as first, seven equals the profile in the brackets on the right. For example, the intensity of the aroma was determined from faint to strong. A zero would describe the intensity as faint, a seven as strong.


Batch #20 #3522 Batch #39 #3522 Batch #39 #3787
Aroma:
Intensity (faint-strong) 5 5 3
Balance (sweet-sharp) 3 1 2
Impression (off-nice) 6 6 5
Description Spicy, banana, no hop aroma or malty character, sweet Sweet, fruity, spicy, caramel, banana and bubblegum Caramel, malty, less intense aroma than #3522
Appearance
Clarity (brilliant-cloudy) 1 1 1
Head (poor-persistent) 7 3 6
Description Copper color, nice carbonation, creamy tan colored head Brown-amber colored, little carbonation, less persistent head and carbonation than #3787. Brown-amber color, nice carbonation, one finger frothy tan colored head. Darker colored than #3522
Flavor
Intensity (faint-strong) 5 4 3
Balance (sweet-bitter) 4 3 3
Impression (off-nice) 5 4 5
Description
Spicy, peppery (phenolic), no hop and malt character, dry Light sweetness, fruity and bubblegum, quite watery (no real backbone) Caramel notes, more taste than #3522. Watery as well
Mouthfeel
Body (light-full) 4 3 2
Carbonation (faint-excessive) 3 3 4
Length (short-long) 3 3 2
Intensity (faint-strong) 3 3 3
Balance (sweet-bitter) 2 2 2
Description l. warming sensation (alcohol) Dry finish Dry finish
Overall impression
Craftsmanship (boring-excellent) 7 6 6
Freshness (off-fresh) 7 6 6
Personal taste (disliked-liked) 6 5 5
Description Nice Belgian beer, huge frothy head! A lot of ester notes (maybe fermentation temperature too high?) No real body (watery sensation) Less ester than #3522 (as expected). No real body (watery sensation)
Wyeast Yeast description Delicate fruit esters, spicy Delicate fruit esters, spicy Nice balance of complex fruit esters and phenolic notes

6. Discussion

6.1 Measurements

Both batches showed similar original gravities, terminal gravities and attenuation levels. Both yeasts (#3522 and #3787) finished with a higher attenuation than stated by Wyeast. This may be due to the addition of sugar which can be fermented completely. Comparing the Sudhausausbeute (= efficiency) showed a better yield for the first batch.

6.2 Sensory analysis

Batch #20 vs. Batch #39 (#3522): Batch #39 had a more fruity, spicy and sweet aroma than batch #20. Batch #39 had a less persistent head and lower carbonation but similar color. The flavor profile of batch #39 was sweeter and less spicy. The mouthfeel was very comparable between the two batches.

The biggest differences were between the bodies of the beers. Batch #39 showed nearly no backbone and lead to a watery sensation and was more fruit accentuated.

One explanation of the more profound fruit character of the second batch could be due to higher fermentation temperatures in comparison with the first batch. Most Belgian yeasts tend to produce more fruit character (like a German wheat beer) as the fermentation temperatures rise.

Comparing the recipes of the two batches shows a clear source of the watery sensation. In the first batch the ration between Pilsner and Vienna malt was 1:1, in the second batch the ratio increased to 4:1. As Pilsner malt tends to lighten the body and Vienna malt tends to increase the malt body of a beer, it is really simple to explain the watery character of the second batch due to the lack of the Vienna malt character. It is therefore advisable to use a Pilsner: Vienna malt ratio of 1:1 to avoid a watery character.

Batch #39 (#3522) vs. Batch #39 (#3787): The Trappist High Gravity yeast (#3787) led to a more fragile character relative to the more ester accentuated #3522 yeast. One difference between the two beers was the higher carbonation in the #3787 and therefore a more persistent head. The color of the #3787 seemed to be a little bit darker comparing to the #3522 beer. In summary, the #3787 yeast lead to a less fruity and more malt and caramel pronounced beer in comparison to the #3522 yeast. This is consistent with the fact that Wyeast declares the #3522 yeast to be more fruity and spicy, the #3787 to be more balanced.

7. Overall discussion

This comparison showed the effects of the ratio of base malts with more residual character like Vienna and less residual character like Pilsner. The comparison showed a more watery beer as the Pilsner: Vienna ration increased from 1:1 to 4:1. This implies that a higher amount of residual sugars is important for such beers as the yeasts have a relatively high attenuation and thereby thinning a beers body/mouthfeel. An addition of easy fermentable sugars like candy sugar or candy syrup, may as well explain the high attenuation of the yeasts and therefore lead to a more watery character as well. In the first batch, the addition of sugars was around 5%, in the second batch already around 10%. This amount should be decreased as well to avoid a high attenuation and a thin beer.

The character of candy syrup could not be tasted. This may be due the fact that the watery effect was too overpowering and thereby overwhelming the effects of the candy syrup.

Both batches fermented with the #3522 Belgian Ardennes strain showed similar sensory results. Although the second batch showed a more pronounced fruit character, the detectable fruits were still the same. Only the bubblegum character could be detected in the second batch. This may be due to the higher fermentation temperature. This implies that a reduction of the fermentation temperature could decrease the fruit flavors. The #3787 strain showed a more balanced character as expected.

8. Next steps

To further improve the character of the beer, the following steps seem advisable:

  1. Decrease the fermentation temperatures to avoid overproduction of esters.
  2. Bring the Pilsner and Vienna ratio back to 1:1 to prevent a watery backbone.
  3. Avoid a higher addition (< 5%) of easy fermentable sugars like candy sugar and candy syrup to avoid over attenuation of the yeasts.

One attempt could be to increase the original gravity to around 19- 20°P to have a solid malt backbone because the terminal gravity would be higher, and additional alcohol to improve the flavors. Increase the original gravity by further addition of Pilsner:Vienna malts and not by addition of sugars.

Keeping the whole recipe in mind, I would suggest that the #3787 could be the better strain for this kind of recipe as the recipe has a subtle raisin and candy sugar character. The #3522 tends to overpower these subtle flavors with production of esters.

Therefore, repeat the first batch and add #3522 & #3787, ferment at lower temperatures and compare the sensory results. Then in a second attempt, add the candy syrup to determine the character of the candy syrup. Maybe increase the raisin amount or maybe add raisins in the secondary fermenter to increase the raisin notes.

To summarize, Use a Pilsner:Vienna (1:1) ratio and keep candy sugar addition at around 5% of the total grist. Keep the other malts at the same procentual addition. Split the batch and ferment with #3787 and #3522 at around 18°C (64°F) to prevent overproduction of esters and other spicy notes. Compare the yeast profile again.

9. Comparing results with other sources

I did a lot of experimenting and often write a kind of report for myself to keep my knowledge. I just had a small homepage before this one where I published some projects I did, but did not had any reason why to publish any of my reports. The reason why I uploaded this report was an interview and a report of Christopher Owen who compared different Belgian yeasts. The interview was published as a Basic Brewing episode on the 26th of January 2012 named “Kentucky Belgians”, the report from C. Owen can be found on the corresponding page. And there is yet another page (Grain and grain) where the author compares different Belgian yeast strains.

It is now possible to compare my results with others. Christopher Owen’s results are labeled as CO, results from Grain and Grain as GG, and mine as EB. One difference between these experiments is that we all used different recipes. And CO and GG used White Lab strains. I used mrmalty‘s page to find the corresponding Wyeast strains.

The beers of CO were fermented at a temperature of 20°C (68°F) for 48 hours, then raised 1°F every 12 hours up to 26.7°C (80°F). GG fermented the beers at around 21°C (70°F) and EB at around 22°C (72°F).

 #3522 (= WLP 550) #3787 (=WLP 530)
Attenuation by CO 87% 87%
Attenuation by GG N/A N/A
Attenuation by EB 83% 83%
Profile by CO  Phenolic (clove), banana  Phenolic (clove, pepper), grape character
less spicy than WLP 550
Profile by GG  Spicy nose, subdued than
the WLP 530
Spicy nose, not much fruit, clove
nutmeg
Profile by EB Banana, bubblegum,
phenolic (peppery, spicy)
 Well balance between fruit
and phenolic notes, less phenolic
than #3522
Favorite strain by CO  X
Favorite strain by GG  X  X
Favorite strain by EB  X

The experiments showed, that the yeasts had the same attenuation levels, although we used different recipes. White Labs specifies the attenuation of the WLP 550 to be between 78- 85%, WLP 530 between 75- 80%. Wyeast specifies 72- 76% for the #3522 and 74- 78% for the #3787. The attenuations in all experiments were higher than specified by the yeast suppliers.

The evaluated sensory characteristics of the yeasts are very similar. Both yeasts seem to produce some kind of spicy/phenolic notes. The #3522 (WLP 550) might produce some banana notes as well. Comparing the level of phenolic notes leads to inconclusive results. The #3522 (WLP 550) was evaluated two times to be more phenolic-pronounced and one time less phenolic-pronounced than #3787 (WLP 530). These differences may occur due to different recipes or due to different pitching rates. Indeed GG mentions to have used a higher pitching rate than normal. It has been reported that a higher pitching rate decreases the production of esters. This might explain why GG did not tasted any banana notes. I will not compare further characteristics because of the difference of the recipes.

Further differences on the favorite strain. It has to be mentioned that these are no objective results and we all defined the favorite strain from different points of view. Christopher’s goal was to find a typical Belgian yeast strain out of six different strains and he mentions the WLP 550 to give a beer a classic Belgian character. Hence the WLP 550 (#3522) is his favorite strain. Thats a statement I can definitely agree on. The reason why I preferred the #3787 over the #3522 is the banana character in the #3522 beer. For me banana is no typical Belgian beer character and thats why I preferred the #3787 strain. But as already mentioned, I will use the #3522 again at a lower fermentation temperature and hopefully get rid of the banana flavor. And then the #3522 is definitely my favorite strain as well. GG prefers both strains out of five different Belgian yeast strains.

To summarize, the author of GG mentions cases where the two yeast would be best suitable for their flavor profile. I guess this is a point where we would all agree on that it is important to find a recipe where the yeast fits best. If someone would brew a German inspired wheat beer and likes banana flavors, why not use the #3522 (WLP 550) and ferment it at higher temperatures to get more banana? A further possibility to increase banana flavors would be to decrease the pitching rates.

10. End

Well, thats it. In my opinion this experiment was very informative and I am quite pleased that other persons found out similar results as I did. The key message from this experiment is that pitching rates, fermentation temperatures and the yeast strains can influence a beer profile. Changing these variables might change the character of a beer. But knowing how these variables work now, it is now possible to adapt a yeast strain to a particular recipe. And this is the main message for me here. One thing that is still not clear to me is whether the phenolic notes change with temperature as well.

I will upload some pictures of the beers after another tasting.

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3 thoughts on “Belgian yeast and batch comparison

  1. Thanks for taking the time to post this. I have a Quad in my fermenter with wyeast3787. It’s been 2 weeks now and I’m only at 65% attenuation. OG 1097 & current gravity is 1032. I followed a temp profile similar to CO mentioned above. Assuming my pitch rates are correct and I have closer to 15% candy sugar I would think I should be further along by now. Do you remember how long it took your beer to reach FG? There is still some signs of fermentation taking place but probably not enough to lower it 7 more gravity points which would equal an attenuation closer to the manufacture’s suggested.
    Thanks,Mark

    • Hi Mark,
      thanks for your kind words. I can’t really recall how long the fermentation lasted. Most of my fermentation finish within one to two weeks depending on the OG I brewed.

      Judging from your OG, you needed a lot of yeast to pitch! And since you hit ABVs now greater than 9%, it might take longer to finish the beer. It is however hard to tell why your fermentation takes that long based on your lines. Then again, attenuation levels heavily depend on your grist composition, mash schedule and fermentation temperatures & pitching rates. In your case, try to increase the fermentation temperature above 68°F (20°C) and give your fermenter a shake to get the yeast back in suspension. If you have yeast nutrients at hand, add one tablespoon. This should help the yeast going further as well.

      All the best, Sam

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