One day I woke up with the thought running through my head that in a few years I’ll be 50 years old. While some might think of that as a young age, others may think of it as holy crap that’s old! The age itself isn’t that important, but it is a milestone that sadly few ever see. I asked my friends to make sure to throw me a hell of a birthday party that year. One that would not fade from memory quickly like so many birthdays before it have done. That gave them 5 years to plan this party.
I of course wanted to do something special for that day as well. I wanted to be able to provide a beer that was truly deserving of a party celebrating me reaching the half century mark. I initially thought of a barley wine. BIG in alcohol and strong in …well alcohol! There are very few barley wines out there that are really any good for the masses. Either you like it or you don’t. The same goes for a Russian Imperial Stout. You’ll either love it or you won’t. That led my thoughts towards a Belgian Tripel. A beer that was big in flavor. Partially from the malts and Candi Sugars, the remainder from the yeast. Not a lot from the hops, which means that even non-beer drinkers wouldn’t be turned off by a bitter drink. Of course it would also have to pack a hell of a punch.
I sat down and started reading up on the beer style, then I started looking through my grains database (thanks Beersmith). Over the next couple years I worked on designing this recipe, tweaking it here, changing it there. Until I felt that I had the perfect Tripel recipe sitting before me. As I looked over my recipe the name for it rushed into my head shouting, Three Headed Dragon! The recipe was born, next came the planning of the brew day.
Knowing that a well made Tripel would need time to age (it would be around 10%abv) I knew that I would need to get this beer brewed with plenty of time to spare. I decided that three years in advance would be a good number. After all, Three is in it’s name. Three is present in just about every religion since the beginning of time. The Greek’s the three Fates, three Graces, three Gorgons and the three Furies. Even Apollo’s Pythia sat on a three legged chair (tripod) and Cerberus was a three headed dog. Multiples of three also seemed to be used such as the nine Muses and the twelve Olympian gods.
The Ancient Celts saw the number Three as The Maiden, Mother and Crone representing the three stages of life for a woman (women were equals in their religion). It was their representation of the Mother Goddess. In Celtic stories Heroes traveled in groups of three. Oak, ash, and thorn were called the faery triad of trees. Where they grow together,it is still said that faeries live.
The number three is represented in the triad or trinity symbol which can be seen on many things in many cultures. It was on the swords of the noble Samurai, it adorned the shields and coat of arms for the Templars. Tibetan monks had the symbol on their rings and it is even on the coat of arms for popes. Three is a powerful number so, My Tripel would need to age for three years. Which of course meant I needed to get busy!
The day before brew day I made a 1 liter starter and added a tube of Whitelabs WLP500 Trapist Ale yeast. I put the starter on the stir plate and let it do its thing. I then turned my attention to making the Candi Syrup for the beer. Most commonly the Candi sugar comes in a rock candy form. Lately the Syrups have been popular since they dissolve pretty much instantly. However, finding a clear Candi Syrup is both hard to do and very expensive. Even an amber or dark amber syrup is costly, normally running $7.25 for a 1lb bag at my local homebrew store. A clear Candi Syrup is not much different than an invert sugar syrup so that’s what I made. Sugar is made of sucrose which while it can be converted by yeast, it’s not a simple sugar and takes more time and energy. Inverted sugar is sucrose that is broken down into fructose and glucose, which as simple sugars are more easily consumed by yeast.
I added 2lbs of sugar, beet sugar is best for this but cane will work as well (if the bag doesn’t say cane sugar, it’s probably beet sugar) to a pot along with 1 cup of water. I SLOWLY heated the sugar and added 1/2 tsp of Cream of Tartar, which will aid in the conversion process. Do not stir as it’s heating (good reason to heat it slowly) as natural convection will gently stir it and not cause crystals to climb up the side of the pot. At first the sugar is cloudy looking and well, just looks like wet sugar.
That soon changes though as the heat increases. It’s a good idea to keep a cup of water handy during the part as it will be needed to control the temperature. A good candy thermometer is essential. As the sugar boils water is evaporating. Since sugar boils at a much higher temperature than water converts to steam rapidly. As water evaporates, the temperature rises. If it goes to high, the sugar will scorch and that leaves you with a mess to clean and some useless sugar. Add a little water at a time being careful because it will convert to steam quickly. Now is a good time to stir making sure teh water is well distributed. Holding a temperature between 240-260F for 20 minutes will allow the sugar to fully convert to an invert sugar. Add water as needed to keep the temperature in check.
While you’re holding the temperature it’s a good time to preheat a 1 quart mason jar. To do this I fill the jar with water and place in a pot of boiling water. This will bring the jar up to near 212F preventing a shock to the glass breaking it leaving you with a huge mess to clean up, oh yeah and boiling hot sugar searing itself to your skin! So please pre-heat those jars and avoid a painful and costly trip to the hospital. Once you have held the sugar at 240-260F for 20 minutes add some water stir the water in carefully as it’s going to again convert to steam. The temperature will drop quickly below 240F. Allow it to heat again and just as it reaches 240F remove it from the stove and pour it into the pre-heated mason jar (empty the water from the jar first of course). Secure the lid and ring and sit it someplace to cool. You should end up with a jar of a nice golden syrup that once cooled is about as thick as honey. There you have it. a simple Clear Candi Syrup. For an Amber syrup do the same thing except after conversion heat it to 290F and hold for 10 minutes. Keep watching it as the color darkens then add more water to cool and then heat back up to 240F. Then pour in your jar. The darker the syrup, the more flavors you’ll get. They can range from a caramel, to a plum/raisin/toffee. Just be careful as once it burns, you have to start over. If you notice I use 240F as a reference temperature. That’s the softball stage in candy making and its what allows the sugar to remain as a syrup. Since this was the end of day one for me, I think this is a good spot to stop and I’ll continue in part 2.