How To Brew Belgian Dark Strong Ale

by Steve Thanos | Updated: June 26, 2021

Belgian Dark Strong Ale is not a very old beer style. Usually when either writing or talking about beer, one is usually not older than said style.

This is not the case with this beer style. If you call it either a Belgian Dark Strong Ale or a “Belgian Quadrupel,” this style in the year…1991. Therefore, it can be speculated that there is not much of a history for this beer style.

It’s hard to say whether any of the high alcohol beers brewed in Belgium during the 1830s were comparable to what we know Belgian Dark Strong Ales to be today.

Also at this time an anti-Catholic movement, due in large part by the French Revolution, was moving through Belgium. This caused many monasteries to close and gave rise to many iconic Belgian breweries. 

The first modern monastic brewery was Westmalle in 1836. This was followed by Westvleteren in 1839, Archel in 1852, and Chimay in 1862. 

American-made quads tend to be less expressive or cleaner in the yeast profile. The fruit flavor is often fresher with a less of an aged character coming from oxidation. 

Style Profile for Belgian Dark Strong Ale

Appearance

Belgian Dark Strong Ale are deep amber to coppery-brown in color. The cream to light tan colored is large and persistent. 

Aroma

The aroma of this beer is complex with a sweet malt presence. There is a noticeable ester presence, alcohol, and a light spiciness. The malt is rich and strong and can be described as bready-toasty with some caramel complexity.

The fruit esters are often compared to raisin, plum, dried cherry, fig, or prune. The phenols present in this beer mostly resemble pepper and are less clove-like.

Hop aromas are not present, but will be low spicy, floral, or herbal. No dark, roast malt aroma.

Flavor

The flavor is similar to the aroma. There is a noticeable ester presence, alcohol, and a light spiciness. The malt is rich and strong and can be described as bready-toasty with some caramel complexity. The fruit esters are often compared to raisin, plum, dried cherry, fig, or prune.

The phenols present in this beer mostly resemble pepper and less clove-like. Hop aromas are not present, but will be low spicy, floral, or herbal. Medium-low to moderate bitterness. Moderately dry finish as well. 

Mouthfeel

There is a high carbonation factor, but not sharp. Beer is smooth with a very noticeable alcohol warmth. The body is usually in the range of medium-light to medium-full. 

Food Pairings

When it comes to pairing a Belgian dubbel, a contrast in flavors helps with this beer and food pairing. A grilled skirt steak with a chimichurri sauce, a good cheeseburger with bacon jam, and Korean-style tacos.

Cheese that pairs well includes: Aged Chevre, Colby,Gorgonzola,Triple Creme, Asiago, Gontina, and Parmesan.

Dark chocolates also pair well. 

Tips for Brewing your own Belgian Dark Strong Ale

Grain

A high-quality Pilsner malt is usually the base malt.. For authenticity purposes, a Belgain Pilsner malt is the best choice. A German Pilsner malt will do in a pinch.

Specialty malts will add some character and complexity; these include: Special B, Munich or aromatic malt, CaraMunich. Special B is used for the raisin quality. Munich or aromatic malt gives a nice bready or nutty malt character.

Finally, the CaraMunich adds dried plum and cherry notes. An adjunct sugar addition is very common to add crisp lightness to the beer and to dry it out. A dark candi sugar would be perfect for this beer. 

These sugars should make up five to fifteen percent of the fermentables.  

Hops

Keep the bitterness level at around twenty to thirty IBUs. Styrian Goldings and Tettnang will work well here. Hop aroma and flavoring are not that important with this style.

Saaz hops as a finishing hop at 15 minutes will give the spiciness that will mirror the phenols the yeast will add to the beer. 

Yeast

Like most Belgian beers, yeast is important. There is a wide selection of yeast to choose from for this style.

They include the following:

  • White Labs: Belgian Golden Ale  (WLP570), Belgian Ale (WLP550), or Abbey IV Ale (WLP540).
  • Wyeast: Wyeast Belgian Strong Ale (1388), Belgian Ardennes (3522), or Trappist Style High Gravity (3787).
  • Dry Yeast: Mangrove Jack Belgian Ale M41 or SafBrew Abbaye BE-256.

Belgian Dark Strong Ale By the Numbers

  • Color Range: 12 – 35 SRM
  • Original Gravity: 1.075 – 1.110 OG
  • Final Gravity: 1.010 – 1.024 FG
  • IBU Range: 20 – 40
  • ABV Range: 8 – 12% 

Martin Keen’s Belgian Dark Strong Ale Recipe

Grain

  • 67%           12 lbs     Pilsner Malt; Belgian 
  • 17%             3 lbs     Munich Malt
  •  3%              8 oz       Aromatic Malt
  •  3%              8 oz      Special B
  •  5%              1 lb       Candi Sugar, D-90 (Boil)
  •  5%              1 lb       Honey

Hops

  • 1.5 oz         Styrian Goldings Boil – 60 min

Yeast

  • 1.0 pkg   Abbey Ale White Labs WLP530

Directions

  • Mash at 148°F (64°C) for 60 mins
  • Boil for 60 mins 

Transcript: Today I am brewing a Belgian dark strong ale, also known as a Belgian quad. And I’m also hoping to clear a few things up.

My name’s Martin Keen and I am taking the Homebrew Challenge to brew 99 beers in 99 weeks. Now, funny story about this beer. When I first started this Homebrew challenge, I went down the list of BJCP guidelines and figured out what my 99 beers would be, but then sort of somehow forgot exactly which beers I was doing.

And I ended up thinking that when I got to this style, Belgian dark strong ale, it would be my last beer.

I’m taking the Homebrew Challenge to brew all 99 beer styles as defined by the BJCP guidelines from American light lager through to Belgian dark strong ale.

It is not, but that being said, I’m getting close to the end. After this one. I only have 11 more beers until I’ve done my 99.

Now you’ll notice the jacket on my claw hammer system, much like the last two brews, I’m going to be doing this one as an overnight mash. This is something that you would mash typically low and slow.

And when I say slow, I’m not kidding. I am just going to leave this overnight, walk away, and I’m going to be mashing this one at 148 Fahrenheit or 64 Celsius.

I know it’s that because, uh, finally after, after months of always forgetting and saying, Hey, Siri, what’s 148 Fahrenheit in Celsius. I have finally I long last put it on the back of my temperature controller. So I always know.

I’m going to be leaving that temperature controller on set to 148 Fahrenheit. And I’m not going to be recirculating or anything, but that will just keep the mash at that temperature while it mashes overnight. All right, that’s it. We’re ready for it tonight, have a mash rest.

Let’s go talk about the ingredients.

Now Belgian dark strong ale. Let’s just go with Belgian Quad is a beer that is intensely malty, but it’s not just a malt bomb. It can have notes of sweetness in it, even, even a bit of a creamy mouth feel.

And it’s quite a versatile beer. There’s all sorts you can do with this. I’ve I’ve brewed one of these, for example, using Oak chips to try and get a bit of that oaky character and a bit of that smoky texture. That’s not I’m going with though in this beer.

This time, I’m going to try combining Belgium candy syrup with dark honey. So the original gravity for this beer shooting for 1.091. Yeah, that’s pretty high looking at around a 10 or 11% beer.

In terms of my grist, well, 2/3 or 67% that is made up of Belgium Pilsner malt. And to that I’m adding 17% of Munich malt. Then at 3% each I have aromatic malt and special B.

And then into the boil, I’ll be adding 5% each of D90 Belgium candy syrup and dark honey.

Now let’s talk finings. Over the years, I’ve used kettle finings, things like whirlfloc, which you throw in just with a few minutes left on the boil. Obviously you use gelatin, which I’ve put in my fermentors to kind of clear up the beer.

But for whatever reason, I just haven’t been doing that with most of my beers. Recently, at least to my taste, I’ve not been able to taste the difference between a really clear beer that’s been fined. And just one of my regular, just a touch cloudy beers kind of tastes the same.

But there is a lot to be said just for the visual appearance of a bright beer. So even this beer, even though it’s dark, I am planning on adding gelatin into the fermenter just as I’m performing a cold crash. But I’ve also heard that gelatin can work wonders in a very short period of time in a keg.

So I want to do a bit of an experiment: can by adding gelatin to this keg of currently un-fined beer, can I clear the beer up by the time my mash is done tomorrow morning? Well, first of all, let’s take a sample of the beer as it is now straight from the keg. That is my Saison. I’ve not even tried this yet.

Typical of my beers, I mean, it’s sort of generally clear, but it is a little bit clouded. Can’t really see through it too well. So this is the, before the question is when I add gelatin to it and just leave it in here cold for, you know, half a day, is it going to be able to clear anything up?

Well, I’ve prepared some gelatin. What I’ve added is into one quarter, a cup of water. I’ve added one half a tablespoon of gelatin. I put that in the microwave and I kept hitting it with about 15 seconds of nuking in the microwave until it reached about 150 Fahrenheit or 66 Celsius.

So now I’m going to add this into my keg. I’m going to then just flush this with CO2 and put it back in my fridge.

The overnight mash seems to have worked its magic. In terms of hops, well, I’m not straying too far from where I’ve gone with all of these Abby Ales, which is not a huge amount of hop character. And the hops that I do add tend to be pretty low alpha acid.

In this case, I am using Styrian Golding for everything. So this will go in initially at the start of the boil, aiming for about 25 IBU. And then I’m going to add in a little bit more right at the end as the aroma hop, just to add a little bit of the character to the beer.

So into the boil I did, I add my honey and dark candy syrup. I have transferred, aerated, and I’ve also taken a little sample of the wort, which I’m going to use to create a vitality starter.

The yeast that I’m using is white labs. WLP530. This is Abbey ale yeast. And I’m going to be fermenting this one at a pretty standard 68 Fahrenheit or 20 Celsius.

So how did my overnight gelatin finding go? Well, here’s the beer to give this every chance I left the keg in place. I didn’t move it at all. And I just attached my tap to it. I poured out a pint discarded that one, assuming that perhaps that one is going to be more cloudy. And then this is the second pour from that keg.

I did keep the beer from yesterday. So yeah. What do you think?

Um, possibly not the fairest comparison because actually this one looks more clear now and I think that’s just because it’s been sitting out overnight and it’s had time to settle.

Personally, I think it just needs a bit longer in the keg to really take effect.

So we’ve got merch. We do. Yeah. So this was kind of really for our own amusement was to set up a merch store and put The Homebrew Challenge logo on stuff until we thought of it. Yeah. It was really about time like being this far into the challenge and I’ve been saying, let’s get t-shirts.

Yeah. I finally got a tee shirt, so we’re not trying to, uh, make our fortune hawking shirts or anything like that, but we have opened up the store to the public. So you’re welcome to have a look and you want to get somebody of the Homebrew challenge logo on there.

There’s a few options on there. I think you’ve designed most of the ladies’ stuff. Yeah. This is a ladies, uh, sweater, jumper. What have you? Um, I absolutely love this color, like speaking of color. Yes.

What do you think of todays beer?

Oh, it is very Brown. Yeah. So, okay. So the last two Trappist beers, um, the double people said, if you drink it in the wrong glass, you drink it in a goblet.

The triple people said, you’ll come up with, oh, it’s cold and it’s not supposed to be cold. Oh, really? It’s supposed to serve it. Kind of cellar temperature. Oh, this one is cold and in the wrong glass. So we got, we got everything going for this, but it does look like a pretty beer. It’s very pretty, it’s very bubbly looking.

Uh it’s. It’s like I said, brown, um, when it’s not held up to the light, you can still see a little bit through it. Yep. Uh, all right. Uh, aroma? I’m picking up a little bit of maybe fruit, maybe sort of darker fruit. I could see it, a dark fruit aroma.

It tastes like it smells to me. It’s got that sweet fruitiness to it for the dark fruitiness to it a little bit Christmas pudding in there. Maybe I’m trying to, I’m trying to think of what it reminds me of to, I guess like where I’m picking out when I hear you say fruit and when I tasted that dark fruitiness fruitiness, uh, would be like a fig, maybe fig dates, That sort of thing. Yeah. Maybe a date.

I think it’s all leading back to Christmas pudding again. Yeah. So yeah, this is the end of the trappist ale’s, it’s been very enjoyable.

We are pivoting to just something completely different next week as I start historical styles of beer. But until then, cheers!

I am the former President of my homebrew club, Plainfield Ale and Lager Enthusiasts (PALE) in the western suburbs of Chicago, IL. I brew on my BIAB system with my incredibly patient and understanding wife, adorable 9 year old daughter, and 12 year old brew dog.