How To Brew Belgian Pale Ale

by Steve Thanos | Updated: May 4, 2021

Belgian Pale Ale is an easy drinking beer, somewhat fruity, and a little less aggressive in flavor than any other Belgian beer.

This style has a malt backbone that consists of flavors such as biscuity, light-toast, and honey-like or carmel. While the hop bitterness is there to balance the malt sweetness, it is not too overwhelming.

The flavorful malt profile is really what takes center stage with this style. 

Beer Styles of Belgium

When thinking about Belgian beers, the farmhouse styles of witbier, saison, and biere de garde usually come to mind. Also, the abbey styles of dubbel and tripel are drastically different.

Lastly, the unique lambics and gueuzes fall into a category all to themselves. Belgian pale ales are left in this ambiguous state not really “fitting” into those three aforementioned Belgian types.

Light Beer Styles

Brewed as early as the mid-1700s, while many European brewers were interested in brewing light beer styles.

In order to keep up with the trends of the time, Belgian brewers created their own version. They drew inspirations from British ales using pale malts and noble hops, but the truly Belgian taste is in the yeast. 

Popularity of the Belgian Pale Ale

The Belgian pale ale became more popular after World Wars I and II. The popularity of pale beer, the use of refrigeration, and demand for drinkable, yet low abv beers all played contributing roles in the how this style flourished at the time. 

Style Profile for Belgian Pale Ale

Appearance

Belgian pale ales are clear amber to light copper in color. It has a thick rocky head that clings to the side of the glass, but dissipates quicker than any other Belgian ale. 

Aroma

Malt aroma is toasty to biscuit-like and pronounced. Some noticeable fruit character is present, but not on the same level as other Belgian ales.

Hop aromas are low to mid range, usually floral or spicy notes that complements the peppery or spicy yeast phenols. No detection of diacetyl. 

Flavor

The flavor of a Belgian pale ale is smooth combined with low hop character and light fruit notes with spicy notes with very low phenols.

Malt profile is sweet with notes of biscuit, toast, and nut-like flavor. Very little hop character and low to medium bitterness. Finish can be medium dry to medium sweet. 

Mouthfeel

Belgian pale ales are mid-low to medium in body with medium carbonation. Alcohol level is low, with low warming qualities, if any at all. 

Tips for Brewing your own Belgian Pale Ale

Grain

The grist of a Belgian pale ale will usually start with a high quality Belgian pilsner or pale malt. The base malt can be anywhere from 100% of the grist to as low as 40%.

Specialty malts consists of a “cara” version of Vienna and Munich. These malts are processed like other crystal malts with a much sweeter flavor. Aromatic malt and biscuit malt can also add some complexity. Adjunct sugars are sometimes used as well. 

Hops

Since the hop profile for this style is pretty mellow, a restrained, low alpha acid, herbal, and earthy hop will be perfect for this style.

German noble varieties such as Saaz, Hallertauer, East Kent Goldings, and Styrian Goldings will be a good choice. Some American hops with European ancestries such as Mt. Hood, Willamette can be used as a substitute. 

Yeast

Yeast selection is pretty important here, like most Belgian beers.

Some good yeast selections include:

  • Wyeast’s Belgian Ardennes 3522
  • White Labs’ Belgian Style Blend WLP575.
  • SafBrew T-58 is available if dry yeast is your thing.  

Belgian Pale Ale By the Numbers

  • Color Range: 8 – 14 SRM
  • Original Gravity: 1.048 – 1.054 OG
  • Final Gravity: 1.010 – 1.014 FG
  • IBU Range: 20 – 30
  • ABV Range: 4.8 – 5.5%

Martin Keen’s Belgian Pale Ale Recipe

Grain

  • 70%        7 lbs       Pilsner Belgian
  • 10%        1 lbs       Caravienne Malt
  •   5%        8 oz        Aromatic Malt
  •   5%         8 oz        Biscuit Malt
  •   5%         8 oz        Caramunich 
  •   5%         8 oz        Carapils

Hops

  • 1 oz         Saaz – Boil – 60 min
  • 1 oz         Saaz – Boil – 15 min
  • 1 oz         Styrian Golding – Boil – Flameout

Yeast

1.0 pkg   Belgian Ardennes Wyeast Labs #3522

Directions

  1. Mash at 152°F (66°C) for 60 mins
  2. Boil for 60 mins 

Transcript: Today on the Homebrew Challenge, we’re going to brew a beer that I always enjoy making Belgium pale ale. And we’re going to address my rather lacks carbonation method by applying a little bit of science to the equation.

My name is Martin Keen. I’m taking the Homebrew challenge to brew 99 beers in 99 weeks. And just the thought that pretty soon, all of my beer taps are going to say Belgium something on them. Well, it fills my heart with glee.

Now, Belgian pale ale in particular, you can think of it actually as well, like sort of a Belgian gateway beer.

You see, I’m told that not everybody really likes that distinctive Belgium characteristic of say a trappers ale. Crazy. I know, I don’t know what’s wrong with these people. But the thing is for the Belgium pale ale is it does have some of those very distinct Belgian characteristics, but it combines it with a bready, toasty, malty sweetness that I think most people can enjoy.

Here’s my grist all ground up. Thank you, Atlantic brew supply for providing this. Now I’m going to put this in and mash today at 150 Fahrenheit. That is 66 Celsius. All right. It’s nicely mixed in. I’m going to mash this for about an hour

Now by many measures. This beer is quite middle of the road. It’s not super high in alcohol, like some belgian styles. It’s 5%. So an original gravity of 1.050. It’s also not super light, like a really light triple or dark, like a quad it’s somewhere in between with an SRM of 10 or 11.

Now, unlike a lot of Belgian styles that really rely very heavily on the yeast for their character. A Belgium pale ale also realize quite heavily on the malt profile. So getting the grist right is quite important. So to that end, I’m trying to use primarily Belgium ingredients in my grist.

I have at 70% of a Belgium Pilsner malt as my base malt in this. And then I have 10% of caravienna. I then have 5% each of aromatic malt, biscuit malt and Cara Munich II. And then not forgetting the mouthfeel. My remaining 5% is Carapils.

So here’s my regular carbonation method. I’ll take some cold crashed beer and move it into a keg. And then bringing the keg here to my Keezer, where I have one regulator set to around 30 or 35 PSI of pressure at all times, I will charge that keg up to that 30 or 35 PSI, disconnect it, and then just leave it in the fridge for a day or a couple of days or a week, depending on if I forget about it or not.

Sometimes I’ll remember to revisit the keg, give it a shake and then reconnect it to charge it back up to 30 PSI. Uh, whatever. At some point the beer is ready to consume. It’s ready for a tasting. So I’ll relieve the pressure and, uh, move it to 10 PSI as my serving pressure.

Now this amount of variance means that I sometimes end up with beers that are a little bit flat, and sometimes I end that with some very lively beers indeed. There has to be a slightly more scientific way to do that. Yes.

And of course there is you need a combination chart. So I can use this chart to see how much pressure I should apply to get the level of carbonation I want. Most beers have a carbonation level of about 2.5 volumes of CO2. So that’s what I’m going for.

And if I look at this chart and look at my beer temperature, typically after cold crashing, it’s around 37 or 38 Fahrenheit.

And that means to get to around 2.5 volumes of CO2, then I need to apply about 10 or 11 PSI of pressure.

And to do that, I have this carbonation stone to help me from spike brewing.

Now, when it comes to hopping a Belgium pale ale, you want to go for balance over bitterness. This is not a highly hopped beer, but that does not mean we are skimping on the hops. We just want low alpha acid hops. Cause we don’t really want a bitter hop bite to this beer.

If you’re looking for low alpha acid, you can never go wrong with saaz hops.

I’ll be adding this in at the start of the boil. And then with 15 minutes to go, I will add in one of the packet of saaz. And then I’m going to add aroma hop as well at flameout. This is Styrian Golding. It is also low alpha acid. Although that doesn’t really matter cause we are adding it so late, but this will just add a nice little bit of aroma to this beer as well. And that will go in at flame out.

Now I am going to use a Belgian Ardennes Wyeast Labs #3522 in my beer, I’m going to ferment this at 66 Fahrenheit or around 19 Celsius, um, which is somewhat on the low end. And that’s deliberate because I want to stress the yeast just a little bit so that we can really get some of those Belgium flavors out of this beer.

But if I am going to stress the yeast a bit, I need to make sure that they are still healthy and a good way to do that is to airrate. Now, normally what I do is I use this, this is an O2 regulator on an O2 tank and I have a wand here from an anvil that I just connect to the other end of this and stir it around.

Well, it turns out that this item from spike brewing, the carbonation stone can do kind of double duty and also work as an oxygenation stone as well. So that’s how I’m going to use it. So what I’ve done is I’ve added in onto the end of my regulator here. I’ve just put a regular old gas quick disconnect, and I’m going to use that to send oxygen into my stone.

And just before I do that, I’m going to make sure that this is completely sanitized by dropping it in a bucket of sanitizer. And we’re going to run that at one LPM for about a minute.

All right. Then add in yeast.

But don’t run off to the tasting just yet. I’m going to see you in a couple of weeks when I am going to carbonate this beer in the fermentor. Well, in that couple of weeks, I had a chance to look back at my brew day footage and ah boy, my attempt to oxygenate this work was a colossal failure. I messed up in two terrible ways.

Uh, one, take a look at this regulator here. The, uh, the tank appears to be empty, so, Hmm, no, I think in the oxygen, but even if I had a full tank, well, I didn’t actually open the butterfly valve. So no beer was exposed to any oxygen that I might’ve been putting in through the stone. Well, regardless that there does appear to have fermented and has finished up. So now I’m ready to carbonate it.

I am currently chilling this down, cold crashing it. So I’m going to get it down to around 37 – 38 degrees Fahrenheit. I’ve got my pressure cap on here, so I can actually apply some pressure into this keg now. So what I’m going to do is first of all, open the butterfly valve and then put 11 PSI of pressure in.

Can you hear that? That’s the CO2 going in through the combination stone. I think I’m actually doing something this time and I’m going to leave this now on pressure at 11 PSI for about 24 hours before moving into a keg and then giving it a try.

Ready for another Belgium beer then? Yeah. It’s very golden looking. It’s quite on the light side. Yup. Very bubbly. Yes. Well combination worked. So let’s see what we get on the aroma with this, I smell a light hop too. It also smells kind of like a sweet note to it as well. It’s a little bit sweet.

Let’s see what we’re in for. What do you think, actually, this reminds me, um, a little bit of British beers and the maltiness of it. I could see that there’s definitely a malty base, which I think you picked up on right from the aroma, um, to this. And then the hopping is quite subtle. I think it’s, it’s pleasantly hopped, but it tastes sweet to me too.

All right. So I’ve gone to the book. Okay. And, um, what, what was it, what are the characteristics you said for this?

I say I was kinda like, I think malty and I said it was definitely on the sweet side, like caramelly smell and taste. Yeah. So the BJCP guidelines say there’s a malt character that tends to be a bit biscotti with lights toasty or caramel-y components.

Okay. So I think you’ve hit the nail on the head or, um, perhaps the brewer has hit the nail on the head because this is as intended. I think it was kind of like I’ve done this before. I, you know, I think we both have. … and until next time, 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.