There are very few monasteries in the world producing what can officially be called "Trappist" beer. That's because the term "Trappist", much like "champagne", is the subject of tight regulation. In this case governed by the International Trappist Association formed in 1997 by eight Trappist abbeys to prevent commercial companies from abusing the Trappist name. To carry the Trappist distinction it was agreed that (a) the beer must be brewed within the walls of the monastery (either by the monks themselves or under their supervision), (b) the brewery must be controlled by the monastery and have a business culture compatible with the monastic project (a religious way of life in which one renounces worldly pursuits to devote oneself fully to spiritual work), and (c) the brewery cannot be run for profit.
As of late 2019 there are only 14 Trappist breweries in the world. Westmalle Brewery (official name: Brouwerij der Trappisten van Westmalle) is one of six located in Belgium. It is also the original source of the Belgian Dubbel style that over the years has been imitated by other breweries across the world (both Trappist and secular).
Dubbel (Dutch for double) is a moderately strong ale that fits into a larger category of Trappist-style Belgian ales that also include Enkel (single), Tripel (triple) and Quadrupel (quadruple). The terms roughly describe the beer strength. Usually dark amber or brown in colour, Dubbel is a complex beer with rich dried fruit flavours of raisins and plums, mixed with light notes of caramel and hints of chocolate. Our version, like Westmalle Dubbel, is a fairly dry beer with moderate alcohol (7% ABV).
Westmalle Abbey, the original source of the Belgian Dubbel style. Image (c) trappistwestmalle.be
Since its founding in 1794 Westmalle Trappists have chosen a life of prayer and work. True to the Rule of Saint Benedict, they ensure their own means of sustenance. To accomplish this there is a farm, a cheese dairy, and a brewery inside the walls of the abbey. These three things are deliberately kept to a small scale, and particular care is taken on the impact to people and the environment. The brewery’s income is used to make the necessary investments and changes in line with developments in brewing technology, to support Trappist communities, and to carry out charity work. Profit is not their motive.
Cheese making at Westmalle Abbey. Image (c) trappistwestmalle.be
Beer production at Westmalle began four decades after the founding of the abbey. On the 10th of December 1836 they served their first brew of Trappist beer at lunch. Since then the monks have been able to drink beer (the region's popular beverage) with their meals. To complement this brown table beer, an even darker Trappist beer was created in 1856. This was to be the forerunner of the current Westmalle Dubbel, which underwent some recipe changes and officially arrived in 1926 as we know and enjoy it today. At the time of its creation, it was instantly known as the heaviest beer in Belgium, and Westmalle became a point of reference for this particular style. It is the beer that inspired our recipe.
Tom Cannon's review of Westmalle Dubbel from The Beer Connoisseur describes the beer well:
"Dubbels are usually a bit lighter and more complex than other Belgian dark strong ales. This Dubbel has more than enough complexity. It starts with an aroma of Belgian spicy yeast, white pepper, with maybe a touch of rum, and burnt sugar. In the glass, it’s garnet brown with a big creamy head. The beer tastes of caramel, spices, raisins and a bit of plum. Some chocolate notes are also evident, but the smooth, almost creamy, texture brings the various taste components into clear focus. This is a complex beer, but the integration of the flavors gives it an elegant simplicity. This is clearly a Belgian beer, not as big as some, but more interesting than most. Rating: 97/100"
Original Westmalle brewery. Image (c) belgium.beertourism.com
Trappist breweries conjures up images of monks brewing by candlelight with very little in the means of modern technologies but that is not always the case. At Westmalle Abbey the bottling plant was modernised in 1956 and again in 2002, and in 1968 a separate water treatment plant was brought online. By 1991 the brewing hall was completely computer-controlled, and further expansions continued when a new stainless brewhouse was installed in 2016. If it improves quality, then the Trappist monks are more than happy to use new technologies. Who knows, they may even be using our Electric Brewery design for pilot / test batches! 😉
In 2016 a new stainless Steinecker brewhouse was installed alongside the (now decommissioned) copper kettles. Image (c) goodbeerhunting.com
Westmalle brewery. Image (c) belgium.beertourism.com
Westmalle brewery bottling line. Image (c) edsbeer.blogspot.com
Higher-alcohol beers like Westmalle Dubbel are brewed with a rather aggressive and alcohol-tolerant strain of Belgian yeast that's famous for producing very smooth, drinkable beers that are both flavourful and boozy. Westmalle cultivates this yeast in-house and shares with other Trappist breweries including Westvleteren. Fortunate for homebrewers, the actual Westmalle yeast is available as White Labs WLP530 Abbey Ale or Wyeast 3787 Trappist High Gravity.
This yeast is less fruity and spicy than some other Belgian strains and more alcohol tolerant (up to whopping 15% ABV). Expect fruit flavours (plum, raisins, pear, and apple) that are subdued enough to allow other flavours to come through. Fermentation schedule and temperature plays an important role in creating a perfect Belgian with this yeast so heed the instructions in our Notes / Process section below. Good temperature control will keep the high alcohol from tasting too solventy and control the spicy phenols and fruity esters from overpowering. Given the true top cropping (fermenting) nature of the yeast, make sure to have a good 20-30% of headspace in your fermenter. A blow-off tube is recommended (see the videos in our Pictures / Videos section below).
Westmalle brewery. Image (c) milo-profi.be
Dubbels are unique in that they are one of the few styles of beer that relies heavily on the addition of caramelized beet sugar called Belgian candi sugar (or syrup). Much of the unique flavours that Dubbels and other strong Belgian beers are known for come from the use of this specialized sugar that traditionally is made in-house at the abbey. Since Belgian Candi Syrups are mostly sugar, they also help achieve proper attenuation.
In our recipe part of the malt bill is replaced with two types of Belgian Candi Syrups to achieve a unique set of flavours and aromas: Belgian Candi Syrup (Dark D-90) adds stone fruits, medium toast, chocolate, coffee and dark caramel flavours, while lighter Belgian Candi Syrup (Amber D-45) adds toast, honey, caramel and vanilla flavours.
Dubbel's a style we find can be consumed both fresh (after only a few weeks of lagering / cold conditioning) and after longer term cellaring (aging for many months). It's interesting to taste how the beer changes over time. For a more "authentic" taste similar to the commercial version, age the beer for a few months to mimic import and distribution times. Try the beer over time and see what you think.
For serving, it's best to use a Trappist goblet or chalice (see picture at very top). This does full justice to the complex character of the beer and allows room for the rich head. Like any other pour, ensure that the glass is free of any detergents or grease as either will cause the foam to immediately disappear.
For those that like to bottle, it is best to keep the beer in a dark place at a constant temperature somewhere between 46-56F once carbonated. Before serving, let the bottle rest cold for at least a week so that the yeast sinks to the bottom and you will get a nice clear pour. The beer should be clear, not cloudy. When pouring, hold the glass at an angle and begin pouring slowly along the side. Continue pouring in one movement and hold the glass vertically at the end in order to end in the middle, producing a perfect head. Leave around half an inch of beer in the bottle. This yeast base (rich in vitamin B) can be consumed separately.
Brew up a batch and let us know how you like it!
Size: 12 US gallons (post-boil @ 68F)
Mash Efficiency: 95%
Calories: 202 kcal per 12 fl oz
Original Gravity: 1.062 (style range: 1.062 - 1.075)
Terminal Gravity: 1.009 (style range: 1.008 - 1.018)
Colour: 14.9 SRM (style range: 10 - 17)
Alcohol: 7% ABV (style range: 6% - 7.6%)
Bitterness: 25 IBU (style range: 15 - 45)
19.75 lb Belgian Pilsner Malt (1.4-1.8L)* (84.9%)
1 lb Weyermann CaraMunich Type III Malt (57L) (4.3%)
0.5 lb Dingemans Special B Malt (140-155L) (2.2%)
3 oz German Tettnanger Hops (4.4%) - added during boil, boiled 60 min [20.6 IBU]
1 Whirlfloc Tablet (Irish moss) - added during boil, boiled 15 min
2 oz Czech Saaz Hops (3.5%) - added during boil, boiled 10 min [4.4 IBU]
1 lb Belgian Candi Syrup (Amber D-45) (4.3%) - added during boil, boiled 10 min (add slowly)
1 lb Belgian Candi Syrup (Dark D-90) (4.3%) - added during boil, boiled 10 min (add slowly)
*Can't find Belgian Pilsner malt? German Pilsner malt (1.5-2.1L) will make an excellent Dubbel as well.
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Notes / Process
- Add 500mg potassium metabisulphite to 20 gallons water to remove chlorine / chloramine (if required).
- Water treated with brewing salts to our Balanced flavour profile: Ca=50, Mg=10, Na=16, Cl=70, SO4=70 (Hit minimums on Ca and Mg, keep the Cl:SO4 ratio low and equal. Do not favour flavour / maltiness or bitterness / dryness. For balanced beers.). While this balanced profile is our preference, for something closer to Westmalle water, in his book Brew like a Monk Stan Hieronymus indicates to use: Ca=41, Mg=8, Na=16, Cl=60, SO4=26. Try brewing it both ways and see which you prefer. For complete details on how to adjust your water, refer to our step by step Water Adjustment guide.
- 1.25 qt/lb mash thickness.
- Start the mash at 131F and hold for 10 mins (high end of the protein rest range).
- Ramp up to 149F and hold for 90 mins (beta rest).
- Ramp up to 155F and hold for 30 mins (alpha rest).
- Raise to 168F mashout temperature and hold for 10 mins.
- If your system does not allow for step mashes, try a single infusion mash at 150F for 90 mins, followed by a mashout to 168F for 10 mins (if possible).
- ~90 min fly sparge with ~5.6-5.8 pH water (measured at mash temperature). Collect 14.9 gallons.
- Boil for 90 minutes, adding Whirlfloc and hops per schedule. Lid on at flameout, start chilling immediately.
- Cool the wort quickly to 62F (we use a one-pass convoluted counterflow chiller to quickly lock in hop flavour and aroma) and transfer to fermenter.
- Aerate well. Pure oxygen from a tank may be used at a rate of 1 litre per minute for 120 seconds per 5 gallons.
- Pitch yeast and ferment at 64F (wort temperature), allowing temperature to rise to 70F over one week (raise 1 degree per day). We use modified stainless fermenting buckets in wine fridges.
- Allow yeast to continue until finished. Do not allow temperature to drop. If yeast seems to be stalling, do not be afraid to raise temperature as high as 75F to ensure proper attenuation. Assume fermentation is done if the gravity does not change over ~3 days.
- Rack to a brite tank (we use 5 gallon glass carboys) that has been purged with CO2 to avoid oxygen pickup, add 1 tsp of unflavoured gelatin dissolved in a cup of hot distilled water per 5 gallons of beer, and allow to clear for 2-3 days.
- Package as you would normally. Though some will argue that a Dubbel should only be bottled, if we still had to bottle we wouldn't be brewing beer. 😉 We rack to kegs that have first been purged with CO2 and then chill the kegs to near freezing while carbonating at the same time in a 6-keg conditioning fridge. After ~1-2 weeks at serving pressure the kegs will be carbonated and ready to serve. In a hurry? Feel free to raise the CO2 pressure temporarily to 30-40 PSI to carbonate fast over a 24 period, and then turn back down to serving pressure.
- Carbonate this beer to higher than normal levels, around 2.5 to 3.5 volumes of CO2.
- The beer will improve if conditioned just above freezing for 4 weeks before serving and will continue to change over time. Sampling is recommended.
For detailed brewing instructions, see our Brew Day Step by Step guide.
Questions? Visit our Belgian Dubbel forum thread.
Pictures / Videos
Interested in seeing what we're brewing right now? Follow us on Instagram for pictures and videos of our brewing activities as they happen.
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Brew day! Making a Westmalle inspired Belgian Dubbel, a deep reddish-copper Trappist ale with rich dried fruit flavours of raisins and plums. A fairly dry beer with moderate alcohol (7% ABV). Yum! ・ Parts, kits, and pre-assembled brewing products built in the USA. Guides to building and using your brewery. Tons of recipes! 👉 shop.TheElectricBrewery.com 👈
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Mash holding perfectly at 149F. The HLT heating element pulses on and off as required to hold temperature. Set and forget! Making a Westmalle inspired Belgian Dubbel. ・ Parts, kits, and pre-assembled brewing products built in the USA. Guides to building and using your brewery. Tons of recipes! 👉 shop.TheElectricBrewery.com 👈
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Sparge time after a long series of step mashes. Beautiful red/copper colour to this Westmalle inspired Belgian Dubbel, and the candi syrup hasn’t even been added yet. ・ Parts, kits, and pre-assembled brewing products built in the USA. Guides to building and using your brewery. Tons of recipes! 👉 shop.TheElectricBrewery.com 👈
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Hop Stopper 2.0 doing its magic once again, extracting every last drop of wort from the kettle. This brew day is a wrap! Yeast pitched and fermenters in their fridges. Now we wait. Belgian Dubbel coming soon! ・ Parts, kits, and pre-assembled brewing products built in the USA. Guides to building and using your brewery. Tons of recipes! 👉 shop.TheElectricBrewery.com 👈
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Belgian Dubbel at kegging. Colour looks great, and tastes pretty darned good too! Perfect blend of spiciness and dried fruit flavours. Hit my target FG of 1.009 bang on which is always nice to see with a recipe you brew for the first time. Pretty much got there after 7 days but left it for 10 to let the yeast clean up after itself, then racked to brite for 24h with gelatin to clear. Force carb’ing now and will be ready to serve tomorrow, but this beer will improve and develop tremendously over the next month or two. Recipe and complete brewing process to be added to my website soon! This one’s a winner! ・ Parts, kits, and pre-assembled brewing products built in the USA. Guides to building and using your brewery. Tons of recipes! 👉 shop.TheElectricBrewery.com 👈
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Belgian Dubbel. Loving this delicious Trappist ale! Now I understand what all the fuss is about. Should have made this years ago (if I had a nickel for every time I’ve said that...). 😉 Recipe and complete brewing process on my website. This is an easy beer to make too. ・ Parts, kits, and pre-assembled brewing products built in the USA. Guides to building and using your brewery. Tons of recipes! 👉 shop.TheElectricBrewery.com 👈