Monday, December 8, 2014

Cloning a Golden Dragon - Part 1

It's no secret to those who know me that Brouwerij Van Steenberge's beer Gulden Draak (Golden Dragon) is one of my favorite brews.  (I'm not alone.  Beer Advocate rates it a 99 or "world class" beer, and RateBeer does the same.)  It's probably no surprise to those same people that I've been putting some effort into brewing a Gulden Draak clone beer.

I made an attempt earlier in 2014 to brew a Belgian Strong Dark Ale.  It wasn't specifically meant to be a Gulden Draak clone.  While it wasn't bad, it was certainly nothing like Gulden Draak.  Since then, I've acquired two recipes from different sources which purport to be solid clones of the beer.

A few days ago, I acquired the ingredients to brew a batch of one of those clones.  I bought all the grains, extracts, adjuncts, and hops recommended in the recipe.  As you probably know, the primary components of a beer's flavor come from the barley, water, hops, and yeast.  Belgian brewing also includes Candi Sugar (beet sugar) and sometimes spices.  In Belgian brewing, yeast is a very critical part of the mix, as it often contributes fruit and spice flavors and aroma.  My clone recipe called for White Labs' WL545 yeast, which is a good product that I've used before.  But I wondered if I could do a bit better.  Could I incorporate some actual Gulden Draak yeast into the beer?  If I could, that ought to improve the quality of my clone.

I did a bit of research, and the consensus opinion was that it is possible, though difficult, to cultivate enough yeast from bottles of a bottle-conditioned beer like Gulden Draak to use for brewing.  That was enough for me to at least consider taking a shot at it.  Worst case, I'd pitch the fresh White Labs yeast and whatever I managed to cultivate of the real Gulden Draak yeast...

I started by getting my yeast starting equipment together.

Yeast Starting Equipment, Sanitized and Ready to Go
(once I leveled out the sanitizer in the airlock)

Next, I prepared a yeast starter by boiling 32 ounces of water, 4 ounces of dry amber malt extract, yeast nutrients, and a spoonful of Belgian candi syrup for 10 minutes. This yields a weak wort that wouldn't be terribly tasty to drink, but is quite delicious to yeast.  I chilled this down to about 80 degrees.

Yeast Starter, Cooling to Pitching Temperature

Once the starter hit the right temperature, I poured it into the sanitized flask and placed the stopper and airlock on top.  We were now ready to begin the hard part...

My wife, my brother, and I then made the supreme sacrifice of drinking an entire four-pack of Gulden Draak, minus the last 1/4 inch in each bottle.  This last bit, which contained most of the yeast used to referment the beer in the bottle, went into the wort.  The magnetic stirrer was powered up, and the whole concoction began to swirl around the flask.

Yeast Starter, loaded with Gulden Draak yeast, swirling on the magnetic stirrer

A few hours later, I was thrilled to see a the airlock bubbling about every two minutes.  This meant the yeast was alive and well, and gobbling up the sugars in the starter wort.  I began to cackle like Dr. Frankenstein in his lab... "IT'S ALIVE!"

After about 24 hours in the flask, here's what we had:

Gulden Draak Yeast and Sediment

In the bottom of the flask you see the white plastic of the magnetic stir bar.  You should also see a mix of sediment and yeast, which looks something like a tan slime in the bottom.  That's where our yeast dropped out of the wort overnight (or "flocculated" in brewing terms).

Tonight, I poured off almost all of the starter wort, then poured in a fresh batch.  If I do this another time or two, I may just grow enough yeast to try brewing my own Gulden Draak clone.

Here's Part 2...

1 comment:

  1. This experiments will be successful because you are using advance equipments to mix the solution like magnetic stirrer hot plate .