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Ask the Experts: Stan Hieronymus


Stan Hieronymus is a professional journalist and amateur brewer who has made beer his beat since 1993. The editor at, he's written hundreds of articles for periodicals, co-authored four books with his wife, Daria Labinsky, written Brewing with Wheat and Brew Like a Monk for Brewers Publications and contributed to several other publications, including 1001 Beers You Must Taste Before You Die. His travels have taken him to breweries in every state in the country as well as behind the scenes in internationally famous breweries such as De Sint-Sixtusadij Westvleterten and Private Weissbierbrauerei G. Schneider & Sohn.

Nathan from Denver asks:
From reading BLAM, I know that the clear sugar/invert is basically interchangeable with dextrose or sucrose, but I have a few questions about dark candi syrup. Is there such a thing as "authentic" dark candi syrup, or are there a lot of different syrups being used? Do the different Trappist and secular breweries all use the same syrups, or are they custom made for each brewery or recipe? Do you know if they are made in-house or from a third party manufacturer?

I'm not interested in creating an exact clone of any Belgian beer, but there seems to be a lot of misunderstanding of this subject in the homebrew community. People think there is "black magic" involved. I have found very little hard information on the subject, so any insight you could provide would be great.

Stan Answers:
“Authentic” seems to cause particular confusion when it comes to monastery-brewed beers. Every Trappist brewery in Belgium has made many changes in process in recent years, even since BLAM was published. Things certainly have changed since the 1920s when Westmalle began using what was referred to as “candi sugar,” but was in fact what we would call dark syrup. Does the fact that a brewery would change vendors over time make it less authentic?

But specifically, no, there is no single vendor. The companies that make the syrup do much more business with confectionary manufacturers. Literally at the same time that BLAM was working its way through the final stages of production Brian Mercer was tracking down syrups to import and the result was Dark Candi Inc. I wouldn’t call it “black magic” but I’ve since tasted many American-brewed beers that have the same rich, rummy character you find in a beer from Rochefort, and those beers included Dark Candi in the recipe. As Randy Mosher has pointed out in his own books, and in providing a syrup recipe for BLAM, you can make your own dark syrup. You can also experiment with less refined sugars from specialty grocers. For example there is a Mexican grocery near me that sells a sugar with distinct rummy notes.

Nathan asks:
I'm brewing my first wit soon and wanted any advice you might be able to give to a wit newbie. I have been brewing all-grain ales and lagers for a number of years, but this will be my first wheat beer of any kind. I have used wheat as an adjunct in some of my ales in the past. What I'm working with is raw wheat and torrified wheat. The torrified wheat is made at home using an air popper and gets sorted into two categories: light torrified and dark torrified. I have a smack pack of Wyeast 3942 Belgian Wheat on hand. I'm planning on adding some grapefruit zest but wonder when it is best to do that. Any other advice that is specific to the making of a wit would be appreciated.

Stan answers:
Pierre Celis, who “saved” the Belgian white style, had many clever ways of explaining why you should add your zest and any spices at flame out. My favorite: “Everything else is for the neighbors (because it goes up the chimney).” You don’t mention the amount of wheat you will be using, but take care in sparging. You probably don’t need to add rice hulls, but sparging at 172° F should make your runoff easier. If you want a cloudier looking beer consider a rest at 122° F or adding a table spoon of flour (for a 5-gallon batch) during the boil.

David from Florida asks:
What is the best yeast and temperature combination to get the Belgian spice flavor without adding spices? I have tried several combinations but have not found the right one yet. Could it also be more dependent on grain, hop and water choices? Do you have any recommendations to get there?

Also, I have heard rumors of Orval being offered on tap, but only behind the monastery doors. Have you had the opportunity to try this and what did you think of it?

Stan answers:
Every one of the factors you mention can contribute, but if you can brew enough batches and change just one factor (be it an ingredient or one part of the process) at a time you should be able to find the balance you want. That spice flavor you are looking results from a phenol known as 4-vinyl guaiacol, the same phenol that gives German hefeweizens their unique clove-like aromas and flavors.

Most yeasts sourced from Belgian monasteries, Rochefort is the exception, produce pretty high levels of 4-vg. You can promote this even more with a 10-minute rest at 113-115° F, which is what German brewers do while making hefeweizens, although this really shouldn’t be necessary. Beyond the production of 4-vg, of course, is the matter of perception. If you restrain fermentation temperature throughout you’ll limit ester production, which will promote the perception of spice (clove).

The challenge is finding the balance, because you want plenty of fruity esters. Additionally, production of esters, higher alcohols (more of the aromas/flavors you expect in these beers) and proper attenuation all go hand in hand. That’s why pitching in the range of 62° F to 64° F and letting the temperature rise naturally (heat created during fermentation) seems to work so well.

Yes, Orval is served (don’t know if it is all the time) on tap at the monastery. The excitement of drinking it there (“Hey, look at me, I’m drinking draft Orval”) makes taking any proper sensory notes impossible. If you cannot enjoy the “halo effect” in a monastery where might you enjoy it?

Paul asks:
I'm a big Stella Artois fan. I'm wondering what grain bill and yeast to use in trying to replicate this incredible beer.

Stan answers:
Sorry, Paul, but I do not have any firsthand knowledge about Belgian lagers. My understanding is that the recipe includes mostly pilsner malt with a portion of rice and corn. I do not know about the yeast. Again, I am sorry not to have more details.


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