How to get the most "Belgian Abbey character" from the yeast?

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Agentgonzo

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Having brewed the same recipe a few times over and slightly different results each time (and having done slightly different things each time too), in wondering what I need to do to try to push that "Belgian Abbey/Trappist flavour" to the max.

I'm rubbish at describing flavours and have read a variety of advice being "ferment hot for lots of esters" and conversely "ferment cooler so the esters don't mask the phenols".

I would describe strong Belgian ales as having both fruity flavours (esters) and spicy flavours (phenols) so trying to push one over the other would seem to lose the balance.

The last time I brewed this, I pitched at 20° and it rose to 24, where I held it until fermentation was done. And it had less of the Belgian character then the first awesome batch which had no temperature control (but I ferment in the utility room, so it probably followed the same upwards rise but then dropped naturally after peak fermentation).

I've also previously assumed that adding extra sugar (taking it from 7.5% to ~9%) mostly increased the alcohol without much extra flavour, so have left that out of the last 2 brews. But could the yeast fermenting that last 1.5% alcohol from raw sugar really account for a huge increase in "Belgian flavour"?

I've also read (again, not certain that this is true) that most of the fermentation character comes from the growth phase of the yeast in the first 24h of fermentation. So if this is true, surely the extra sugar in the wort wouldn't make much difference?

Oh, and if (if!) the majority of fermentation character is in the growth phase, does temperature control after the first 24-48 hours matter that much? And additionally would I get more (or less?) Flavour from pitching at something like 25° instead of 20? Or even 17°?

Similarly I've heard you need more yeast for strong brews, but then you get more esters if the yeast is stressed and under pitching (so basically the same amount of yeast for a normal strength brew) could be beneficial. 🤷‍♂️

What is the secret to getting those strong Belgian Abbey flavours from the brews?
 
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But could the yeast fermenting that last 1.5% alcohol from raw sugar really account for a huge increase in "Belgian flavour"?

I've also read (again, not certain that this is true) that most of the fermentation character comes from the growth phase of the yeast in the first 24h of fermentation.
The yeast will be consuming those simple sugars first in that initial growth phase.

What is the secret to getting those strong Belgian Abbey flavours from the brews?
Probably, decades of experience and replication.

In my experience, pitching at a normal rate and just leaving the yeast to do it's own thing, no fermentation control, gave the best result. However, that was in a shallow and open FV.

I think Saison Dupont said it, but they found their beer didn't taste the same if matured in vertical vessels rather than horizontal. Which indicates that maturation plays an important role in flavour development. All the Trappistes mature for weeks in a secondary FV.

I wouldn't rule out hop aroma in there, too. I think Belgian beers can be hoppier than people think they are. Especially, Tripels.

Foam is a carrier for beers aroma, so getting the carbonation and head retention correct is also important.

https://beerandbrewing.com/belgian-beer-youre-probably-doing-it-wrong/
 
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I have been wondering if I should target a cleaner fermentation and let the malt flavour come through more. But with so many possible yeasts to try and many beers to try being like I don’t know.
 
Don't make a starter. Severely underpitch. +1 to unpressurized fermentation. A coolship would be ideal, otherwise use the broadest and shallowest fermenter you've got, with no liquid in the airlock, only a piece of aluminum foil or cloth over it.
 
Having brewed the same recipe a few times over and slightly different results each time (and having done slightly different things each time too), in wondering what I need to do to try to push that "Belgian Abbey/Trappist flavour" to the max.
Ugghh. Abbey phenolics! Not my cup of tea, but the range is wide. Westmalle trippel is a great beer while the stronger Chimays are barely drinkable in my opinion. Many described as abbeye are horrible, but others are lovely, St Feuillien, for example. Can you give us some examples of beers with the kind of flavour you like. If all you want us a strong POF in your beer then half a gallon of creosote in your fermenter will work wonders. Otherwise experiment with the yeast sediments from the bottles you enjoy most. Many breweries repitch with the original yeast.
 
Don't make a starter. Severely underpitch. +1 to unpressurized fermentation. A coolship would be ideal, otherwise use the broadest and shallowest fermenter you've got, with no liquid in the airlock, only a piece of aluminum foil or cloth over it.
What's a coolship?
 
Don't make a starter. Severely underpitch. +1 to unpressurized fermentation. A coolship would be ideal, otherwise use the broadest and shallowest fermenter you've got, with no liquid in the airlock, only a piece of aluminum foil or cloth over it.
So what is it about underpitching, unpressurised fermentation and the open fermentation that breeds the big Belgian flavours? Stressed yeast?
 
So what is it about underpitching, unpressurised fermentation and the open fermentation that breeds the big Belgian flavours? Stressed yeast?
The latter two is quite the opposite, they both aid the off-gassing of Co2 which inhibits yeast. There's a good outline of why, in this.

https://wildflowerbeer.com/blogs/blog/process-e1-primary-fermentation-geometry
Another good article is this one, but it annoyingly gets hidden behind a pay wall from time to time.

Under the Microscope: Opening Up About Open Fermentation..
 
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So it's it true that the majority of fermentation character comes from the growth phase?

If so, that would explain why under pitching and open fermentation (both allow for more yeast growth) gives you more flavour
 
So it's it true that the majority of fermentation character comes from the growth phase?
Yes.
If so, that would explain why under pitching and open fermentation (both allow for more yeast growth) gives you more flavour
I don't think open fermentation gives more yeast growth. It's the removal of pressure giving less co2 in solution that allows more efficient ester formation. The same happens when fermenting hotter, as co2 saturation decreases with temperatures. Warm beer goes flat. Or, inversely, fermenting under top pressure forces more co2 into solution (as it does with carbing kegs) reducing esters.
 
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