Tonight, I’m reviewing my own damn beer.
This story is a rather long one, but I made this beer and tonight I’ll taste it. I’ll tear it apart or I’ll praise it to high heaven. My own homebrew is no different than any other beer on the market when it comes to taste. If it tastes like shit, I’ll tell you and let you know my failings along the way. If it tastes great, I’ll say it without trying to blow my own horn.
Brewing your beer at home is a great hobby and a bit of science with a great payoff. Each time you brew your own beer you learn from the experience. With that in mind, the next batch of homebrew gets better… and better. Tonight we are going to review my latest homebrew which I call Malinois Pirlet Ale.
After doing beer reviews on this site for a couple of years now, I find myself with a penchant towards the robust Trappist and Belgian ales. The ones with the full middle tastes with the flair for unique tasting yeasts and malts and the somewhat high ABVs.
A few months ago, I purchased an extract recipe kit from the great folks at Northern Brewers online. It was a Belgian Tripel recipe with the yield equalling an 8.0%ABV beer using high gravity yeast. The downside was that it would have to ferment for about two months before bottling. And then bottle conditioning (carbonating) would be another three weeks. After some extensive thought, I pulled the trigger and ordered the kit.
On the scheduled brew day, my wife would advise rather than assist. It was another occasion for filling up the kitchen with the wonderful smells of malts boiling on the stove. According to instructions, the grains were steeped at the proper temp, the malt extract added, then the hops. Interestingly, though, the recipe called for a pound of Belgian Candi sugar, which was dutifully added. Hmm. The boil would take an hour. My wife showed me how to achieve a “rolling boil.”
The yeast was in a “smack-pak”. It was a plastic pouch filled with the yeast and a nutrient in another fragile plastic container inside. One needed to smack the package between the palms of the hands to break open the nutrient container inside. Then, over an hour or so, the yeast would activate and the package would swell like a balloon.
Things were different during this brewing session. After an hour and a half, the yeast pack was still a flaccid container. The boil kettle was roiling but not really boiling. And as I recall, there never was a “hot break” where the liquid forms a protein and hop foam and then falls back into the pot.
The contents of the boil pot were much darker than the picture in the advert.
The yeast pack never expanded. It just sat there like a square ball-sack on the kitchen counter. When the time came to siphon the cooled wort into the primary fermenter, I measured. Original Gravity: 1.074, the highest we’ve had so far. I cut open the container and emptied the contents. All seemed well. The fermenter was sealed, fitted with an air-lock and stored.
After three days, there was no activity. I checked the gravity. 1.074. CRAP! The yeast didn’t take. A quick email to Northern Brewers explaining and within two days I had a new smack-pak of the same yeast, nicely refrigerated during transit with a cold pack.
The yeast was a strain of Wyeast Trappist high gravity. I waited until it got to room temperature and the SMACK! Then waited another hour and more. Still, the same flaccid ball-sack. I added it to the fermenter anyway. That night, when I came came home from work, the airlock was bubbling away. Yes. We will have beer.
The fermentation went for about 4 1/2 days. Good enough. That weekend, I transferred the wort to the secondary fermenter. The instructions called for the secondary fermentation to last 2 frikkin’ months! I shut up and waited.
A meeting of the M*A*S*H homebrew club was held. There, after relating my story, a couple of the members said not to worry, the beer should be done in less than a month. The specific gravity is your friend. Test it every so often to see if it’s still dropping.
Back home, rather than draw off two or three ounces of precious-to-be homebrew, I suspended my gravity meter tied with dental floss right into the carboy. 1.024. A significant drop from the 1.074 we had as the O.G.
Wait a week. Another gravity reading. 1.022. What now? Another week. 1.020. The yeast is still working. I quit reading gravity after that. After exactly two months, I commandeered the kitchen once again for the process of bottling this beer as it was. Come hell or high jockey shorts. A little priming sugar was added and 49 bottles of beer were now on the wall.
The bottles sat for three weeks. When Day Zero came, four family members and I tasted the first tatstes of the homebrew. Not bad. WE all agreed, it was beer and it tated pretty good. But not much to go on.
Where did I come up with the name? First, it was going to be Belgian in origin. I chose the name of a breed of Belgian dog called Malinois for a number of reasons. The name reminded me of Illinois (Malinois… Illinois; Mal-in wah… Ill-in-wha?) The breed is a smaller, more agile and ferocious version of the German Shepherd, now being favored by police K9 units across the country. And since the ‘tripel” version of this beer may wind up to be a deviant version of the beer style, I created a nice sounding anagram for the word. Hence, “Pirlet”. Little did I know, until this very day that there’s a winery in France, Luc Pirlet, which makes distinctive wines but, alas, no beer.
Too much talking, not enough drinking. Let’s have some homebrew!
I grabbed the first bottle wondering how this whole scenario was going to over. The popping of the cap sounded off a nice “tsst!” letting me know that the contents were, indeed, carbonated. The beer poured with a dark, copper-reddish tint. The liquid was clear; no chunks floating around and no cloudiness to speak of. Surprising. (I did not pour the bottom inch of beer from the bottle. There more than likely will be some yeast sediment down there.) The bubbles were many and were quite small, I’d say. Yeah. Micro-bubbles.The head came up about 3/4 of an inch and was a yellow-white. The foam consistency was half creamy, half bubbly. Quite nice actually. The aroma was that of some nice dark malts, no discernible hoppiness at all.
The first sip was rather rich and full. Nice dark malts coated my mouth pieces. The carbonation was a part of the taste at the end. The dark malts were the main feature of this beer, filling up the middle of the taste perfectly, leaving the tongue begging for another sip.
Somewhere hidden in the middle of the taste was a slight tartness that wanted to be recognized. I’d venture to say that that taste was the Belgian taste, that very special flavor that trademarks a beer as truly Belgian. There was a little of that but not the bold Belgian flavor of last week’s Allagash Tripel or Chimay.
By the middle of the first glass, that sweetness that I remembered tasting came forward and became part of the band. That made for a great taste and instilled a sense personal satisfaction knowing that stuff is starting to come together. I dumped the remains of the bottle and, sure enough, it clouded up what was left in the glass.
That tartness started to become more apparent. Perhaps it was that yeast sediment doing the talking, but it actually started to taste like that flavor. It could have been my imagination or it could have been my tongue hallucinating or something. But there was something else there, not obvious, but poking at a certain cluster of taste buds that may have been directly wired to my imagination and tongue in a parallel circuit.
I peered through the eyehole of the bottle neck and saw a very little bit of the yeast film down at the bottom. Ah. All seems well with the world. With this glass gone, I went for another, wondering when the first bodily signs of the 6.8% ABV would be felt.
Next bottle, same pour, same head, same color, but a little less carbonation. The head diminished to a light film after a minute or so. Same taste, though. And that tartness, that Belgian wannabe flavor was still there.
By the bottom of the second glass, the first tweaks of the alcohol effect were felt along the outside corners of my eyes. The sweetness and the malts still playing and dancing together on my tongue made for me quite a pleasant drinking experience.
What else can I say? It wasn’t a failed recipe. If I found this beer on the shelf at a beer store and it tasted as good as this beer did, I’d definitely buy it again. I’m so pleased that this beer had the rather robust middle malty flavors and that the sweetness complements the overall experience. I’m somewhat disappointed that the beer didn’t truly taste like a Belgian tripel. The final ABV was measured at 6.8% which came in at 1.2% less than what was advertised on the extract kit. But 6.8% ain’t nothin’ to sneeze at either.
Three batches ago, I put together a recipe of ingredients listed in Charlie Papazian’s book, The Complete Joy of Homebrewing. I wanted to make an English brown ale that was sweet to the taste so that the ladies would perhaps like it. I would call it Sweet Georgia Brown Ale.
We boiled up the ingredients and added about 1.5 pounds of honey after the boil. We fermented it, bottled it and drank it. What we wound up with was a middle of the road brown ale that wasn’t really sweet, but rather a tad bitter. More like an ESB.
But this Belgian tripel recipe is more like what I wanted Sweet Georgia Brown to taste like. Malinois Pirlet is Sweet Georgia Brown reincarnated.
This is a mighty fine tasting beer with a rather high alcohol content, the middle malts holding up the overall experience and the sweetness putting the shine on the chrome. I’m pleased with the way the final product turned out. The sweetness worries me a bit. I wonder if it’s too sweet. When I think of beer and sweet, the word cloying comes to mind. I wouldn’t say that this beer is sweet to the point being cloying, but the sweetness in this case is definitely a factor when considering concocting this recipe again sometime in the future.
Great taste, sweet and malty and made me feel good towards the end. Overall, I’m happy the way this beer turned out. The next batch will hopefully be my first all-grain brew.
Taste: A- > May be a tad sweet for some, but totally drinkable and full of body.
Smoothness: A > Freshly sanded mahogany.
Drinkability: A > Yeah. I’m up for another.
Cost vs. taste value: > A > Roughs out to about 86¢ a bottle. Labor not included.
ABV: 6.8% +
Wife’s all-encompassing opinion: Sorta dark, but not. (sniff) It’s reeealy beery. (sip) A little bit bitter. But it tastes more like a store-bought beer than any of your other ones. (sip) But it gets sweeter as you drink more of it. (sip) It tastes more like a real beer. (And there you have it. It’s a real beer!)