Up to 40% (3/7) of grist may be made up of adjuncts. Trappist and Lambic are controlled terms in Belgium, though the definition for the latter is quite broad.
Pale to brown. Bitterness, hop flavor and aroma should be noticeable, with noble or classic types preferred. Low to medium esters. Low malt aroma, restrained caramel or toasted malt flavor ok. Medium body. No diacetyl or alcohol flavors. Medium carbonation.
Think of these as the Belgian ale version of a pilsner, and keep in mind that these should be easily drinkable everyday beers, the kind you'll have when you're planning to drink more (many more) than one. These are generally beers of standard strength that combine subtle Belgian-tasting yeast flavors with noticeable hop character that is frequently pilsner-like, leaving a pleasant lingering bitterness in the aftertaste. Subtlety, finesse and balance are the most important factors.
Judges should also be prepared for variations, particularly mini-versions of stronger Belgian ales. Use of spices (such as coriander) is ok in these versions.
Standard infusion or step mashing techniques are fine. Most commercial versions use pilsner malt, a protein rest, and hops such as Saaz, Hallertau, East Kent or Styrian Goldings, and other classics. Creative use of yeasts and yeast/hop combinations are good, as long as neither predominates and all are relatively restrained. Judicious use of small amounts of caramel malts and toasted malts such as Victory or Biscuit malt is ok, but the body should remain light and not very sweet or satiating; the vast majority of the grist should be pilsner malt or light extract.
Phil's improved AHA listing:
Pale to dark brown. Low hop bitterness and aroma ok, should blend with other flavors. Medium to high esters in flavor and aroma. Phenols ok. Often highly aromatic. Spices or orange ok. Strength evident, but alcohol flavor subdued or absent. Medium to full body, sometimes with a high terminal gravity. Medium to high carbonation. No roasted flavors or diacetyl.
Belgian strong ale recipes are usually formulated to show off yeast character, with all other ingredients playing a supporting role. The flavor may be subtly complex, but should not be crowded. Body is comparatively light for beers of this strength, due to use of brewing adjuncts or of pilsner malt only. High carbonation also helps; these beers should feel like mousse on the palate and have an impressive head. The best examples may be noticeably strong but still have no alcohol flavor. Flemish examples tend toward higher terminal gravities (1.025-1.050), while Walloon versions are usually more attenuated.
Keep an eye out for Trappist clones, which according to AHA guidelines should be submitted in this category.
Yeast choice is absolutely crucial, as the yeast will provide the foundation flavors for the beer and all other ingredients should be added to support or accentuate them. As with all beers of this strength, high pitching rates and aggressive aeration are necessary. Fermentation temperatures should be cool (below 65F) to avoid creation of headache-causing fusels.
Infusion or step mashing techniques are standard procedure. Most commercial versions use pilsner malt as a base, but many also use substantial quantities of sugar or flaked corn as an adjunct. Caramel, Munich and toasted malts are often used in small quantities; roasted malts are sometimes used in very small amounts for coloring only. All classic hop varieties are common, but are used in small and judicious quantities. Sugars are added in the kettle, as are spices. Many spices have delicate aromas and should be boiled for just a few minutes, if at all. Common choices are bitter or sweet orange peel, coriander, vanilla, and anise.
Priming should be between 7/8 and 1 cup sugar for five gallons. Addition of fresh yeast at bottling should assist with carbonation; a 1-pint starter is sufficient.
extract brewers are at no disadvantage in this category.
Dark amber to brown. Sweet malty aroma. Faint hop aroma ok. Medium to full body. Malty, plum-like flavor. Very low bitterness, no hop flavor. Medium to high carbonation. Low esters ok. No roasted flavors or diacetyl.
This beer focusses on malt flavors, and doubles should be malty and sweet with a noticeable plum character. Modest alcohol flavor is ok, as are low levels of esters, but the malt flavors should predominate. Doubles are usually full-bodied with fairly moussy carbonation that produces a very nice head.
As with all Belgian beers the base should be pilsner malt with various amounts of caramel malts (Belgian varieties work especially well here, including both Caramunich and Special B) and a portions of sugar to control body (start with one pound per 5 gallons). Roasted malts can also be used for coloring, but should not be tasted. Toasted Belgian malts contribute a pleasantly nutty flavor, and these can be used in fairly high quantity (+/- 2 lbs for a 5 gallon batch). Yeast choice seems to offer some flexibility, though strains with a smooth, fruity character complement the raisin/plum flavors of the caramel malts better than yeasts yielding spicy flavors.
Extract brewers will not be able to use the Belgian toasted malts, but otherwise should be able to produce a nice, malty brew.
Light or pale color. Low ester, malt or hop aroma ok. Low hop bitterness or flavor ok. Malt sweetness in flavor ok. Low esters ok. Medium to full body. High carbonation. No diacetyl. Strength should be evident; alcohol flavor ok.
Overall this is a strong, very pale beer with a relatively neutral character. These beers should have low esters (by Belgian standards, anyway), and comparatively light body and flavor for their strength. Frequently they are somewhat sweet. Alcoholic strength should be evident, followed by a subtle mix of yeast products and hop and malt flavors. Some commercial examples are well hopped, but most use hop bitterness sparingly. Some spicy (phenol) character is ok. High carbonation levels are the norm.
Standard infusion or step mashing techniques are used, with grain bills usually consisting only of pilsner malt (or light extract) and blond sugar. The comparatively light body is achieved by substantial additions of sugar in the kettle (several pounds per 5 gallons) and high carbonation. Hopping levels should be kept low, with classic varieties preferred. Some Belgian yeasts may be too estery or aromatic for these beers, particularly as high gravity ferments accentuate this.
One cup of sugar should be used to prime a five gallon batch. It's a good idea to add some fresh yeast at bottling time to help with carbonation; a 1-pint starter is sufficient.
As with all beers of this strength, high pitching rates and good aeration are a must. Low fermentation temperatures (65F or lower) should be used to avoid creation of headache- causing fusels.
Extract brewers should have no trouble making good triples
Cloudy yellow color, coriander flavor and mild acidity essential. Wheat and bitter orange peel flavors desirable. Mild hop flavor and aroma ok. Low to medium bitterness. Low to medium body, medium or higher carbonation. No diacetyl. Low to medium esters.
These beers should be average in gravity with a definitely hazy yellow color and a dense, rich, dazzlingly white head. May or may not have a slightly orangey aroma (due primarily to the coriander), or mild hop aroma (preferably floral rather than spicy). Body should be medium or a bit lighter, and the carbonation should be reasonably aggressive. Bitterness should be low, mild acidity is allowed, but no alcohol flavor. Esters are ok, but shouldn't predominate. Should be very drinkable. I prefer my white beers with lots of coriander.
All grain brews should use 50% barley malt and 50% unmalted raw wheat, although a small percentage of oats (5-10%) can be used to add some silkiness. Extended protein rests (45 mins-1 hour) are needed to keep the mash from turning into glue and to allow sparging, but excessive rests cause unwanted clarity in the finished beer. Almost any yeast seems to work, so people should get credit for creative choices. Since hop levels are low, the variety is relatively unimportant. Classic varieties like Hallertau, Saaz and East Kent Goldings are common for bittering. Brewers should be aware that grinding raw wheat by hand is excruciating; find someone with a mechanized mill.
Coriander in the boil is essential: use 1 gram or more per liter of finished beer, boiled for 5 minutes or so. Coarsely ground whole coriander and boils over 15 minutes result in low coriander flavor. Curaao (bitter) orange peel is also traditional, in amounts between 0.5 and 1 gram/liter. The peel can be boiled for longer if desired, up to about 1/2 hour. It contributes a rich herbal flavor similar to herb tea, and does not taste of orange.
Some homebrewers add lactic acid at bottling, which contributes acidity and helps bring out the other flavors. Amounts up to 1 cl/liter can be ok if given adequate time for the flavors to blend usually 1-2 months.
Extract brewers will have a hard time getting the right haze, but otherwise are at no disadvantage.
Red, deep copper or deep brown with red tints. Acidic aroma with some fruitiness. Flavor sweet, sour and fruity, esp. cherry-like. Lactic and acetic flavors ok. Attenuation low to medium. Medium carbonation, body medium to full. Addition of raspberries or cherries ok, should blend with other flavors, may provide additional acidity. Low bitterness, no hop flavor or aroma. No diacetyl.
Most commercial examples are richly colored with a fruity, acidic aroma and an intensely fruity, sweet and sour palate. Sourness varies in commercial examples, many of which are filtered and sweetened. Can become wine-like with age. Many commercial examples include a secondary fermentation on raspberries or sour cherries, and the flavors this contributes should be clear and should balance with the existing acidity and sweetness.
Homebrewers have yet to master this style. It appears that basic grists include pilsner malt, caramel malts, sometimes Vienna or Munich, and sometimes roasted malts in very small quantities for coloring. In some cases the deep color is achieved by long boils. Lactic and acetic bacteria provide the necessary acidity, and these may need a long time to achieve the proper acidity. Additions of lactic acid to finished beer may work. When used, fruit should be added to the secondary at 1-2 lbs per gallon of beer. Any cherries used should be sour! Carbonation is relatively standard, so 3/4 to 7/8 of a cup of sugar should be used to prime a 5 gallon batch.
Intensely and cleanly sour. No hop bitterness, flavor or aroma. Very low carbonation for lambics, high carbonation for Gueuze. Light body and high attenuation. Brettanomyces, lactic and acetic character predominates in aroma and flavor. Cloudiness ok. Pale, dry. No diacetyl. No alcohol flavor.
As above except usually carbonated. Should have noticeable color from fruit adjunct. May or may not have fruit aroma. Intensity of fruit flavor varies, but a lingering, pleasant fruitiness is an asset. Brett and sourness should still be very noticeable. Often very dry. No alcohol flavor.
Traditionally, lambic is unblended and has gone flat due to ageing (3 years). Gueuze is a blend of old and young lambic, and is carbonated. Similar to champagne in body and head: very high attenuation contributes to light body, as does the wheat content, head should be dry and stiff. Color varies from straw to fruit-colored. Starkly dry, quite sour (acetic ok), with prominent brettanomyces character in both palate and aroma. This includes aromas like horse, blanket, straw, sweat, barn, enteric. Some sourness is usually detectable in the aroma. Should taste bright, not spoiled or rotten. Fruit-flavored varieties can be a bit sweeter, but the most traditional ones are still very, very dry. Color of these fruit beers varies; there should always be some--slightly weird colors are ok, but a nice hue is still an asset.
Traditional lambics are made with malted barley and 30-40% unmalted raw wheat in a very dilute mash (4 qts/pound) combining infusions and decoctions in a temp. schedule that leaves lots of undigested starches, proteins and dextrins. These residuals are slowly and completely dismembered by the brewing bacteria of the course of a 2-year ferment. Large quantities of aged hops are used (about 3.5 ozs. per 5 gallons) to protection against spoilage without adding hop flavors.
Homebrewers adapt to this as they can. Many are experimenting with mashing schedules, though the lack of many lambic bacteria in pure culture brews makes strict authenticity problematic. Many homebrewers use old hops, or bake fresh hops to accelerate ageing (try baking at 250F for 25 minutes).
According to Mike Sharp the choice of yeast is relatively unimportant, as most yeast flavors will be overwhelmed by the pedio and brett. Lactic acid bacteria (usually Pediococcus damnosus) provides sourness, but work very slowly and favor a warm (75F) environment. Continued cellar temperature fermentation may therefore be a liability; seasonal variation from cold to slightly warm will promote pedio activity. Some acetic bacteria are usually present also, at least in authentic lambics. Brettanomyces strains (B. lambicus and B. bruxellensis) are also slow workers, but provide the essential horsey, sweat, straw, etc. flavors. Kloeckera apiculata is sometime used, but chiefly works to break down proteins and contributes little to the final flavor profile.