R.A.D. 022 — Belgian Quad
Every brewery in creation has an IPA on their menu. Probably several. Everyone has stouts, porters, etc, etc.
But Belgian quads are relatively rare.
And for good reason: they’re insanely complex, ridiculously intriguing, and devastatingly delicious.
So, when we decided to brew one up as the latest in our R.A.D. series, it came about as the result of some intense collaboration and development between some of the best minds in our production department.
Luckily, we were able to get them all to give us some input into this decidedly unique brew.
While we definitely love our Belgian beers here at Cape May Brewing Company, to the best of everyone’s recollection, this is the first time we’ve dipped our toes into the waters of a quad.
“We’ve done tripels (Tripel Wreck) and an abbey dubbel (Dubbel Marker), but we’ve never done a quad before,” says Production Planning and Special Projects Manager Brian Hink. “It’s a style we’ve talked about doing for a while because they’re quite delicious and especially rare these days. An opportunity arose that allowed us to whip one up and I’m certainly glad it did!”
Originally brewed by Belgian monks — their high malt content provided them with some necessary nutrition during times of fasting –, apparently, those wacky monks liked numbering things, but you shouldn’t think of them as being ordered in a hierarchy of malty similarity.
“Belgian beers don’t go single, double, triple, quad,” Brian continues. “They’re all their own unique approach to a beer, but a quad is closer to a dubbel than it is a tripel. Now don’t confuse any of these with a Belgian strong ale, like our beloved Devil’s Reach, as that is a style all to its own.”
Think of it this way: we have milkshake IPAs, pale ales, New England IPAs, double IPAs, sour IPAs, black IPAs, Belgian IPAs, fruited IPAs, and regular run-of-the-mill India pale ales. Just as they all fall under the larger IPA umbrella, a quad, dubbel, tripel, table beer, strong ale, etc, etc all fall under the Belgian styles of beer.
Packaging Manager Mark Graves points to the fact that they follow a pattern of ABV strength, with our quad clocking in at a respectable 10%.
“The number designations for Belgian beers usually have been a measure of the strength of the beer,” he says, “with a quad being the strongest of the trippel, dubbel, and (arguably) a Belgian single or session ale/blonde. All four have a strong yeast presence that provides fun flavors and aromas, where the Belgian quad and dubbel are typically maltier with a darker and fuller body, with the trippel and ‘single’ being pretty simple in the recipe for malt: they usually showcase the expressiveness of the yeast.”
Yet, the intriguing thing about a good quad is its intrinsic intriguing-ness: the recipes are typically complex, layered, and out-of-this-world flavorful. For example, our classic Belgian strong ale, Devil’s Reach, has all of those qualities but is still simple enough to be considered a go-to by many throughout the area. On the other hand, a good quad takes the subtle complexities found in something like Devil’s Reach and turns up the dial, making Mark a big fan of the style.
“Quads are fun,” he says. “While the first thing that usually draws people to quads is the higher alcohol content, for me, it’s the full body, the range of flavors that you can play with, and the expressiveness of the yeast.”
He loves the fact that the wide variety in the style lends itself to a plethora of food pairing possibilities.
“Sweeter versions of the quad lend themselves to be great with dessert,” he says, “while dryer iterations do incredibly well with a big, bold cut of meat for dinner. Long story short, quads are fun.”
Brian loves them, too.
“They’re rich, malty, sweet, and surprisingly not super filling, despite them practically being a meal unto themselves,” he says. “They have a caramelly, date-y, pruney, raisiny finish that ages exceptionally well, and despite being higher in ABV, they typically don’t exhibit a ton of alcohol heat.”
Brewery Operations Manager James Fox loves the complexity of a good quad.
“This style showcases multiple layers of malt complexity without any other distractions,” he says. “For me, the complex malt profile and higher ABV make this a perfect sipping dessert beer to unwind in the evenings.”
And Vice President of Brewery Operations Brandon Greenwood is simply a big fan of the style.
“I love the rich and complex palate that is characteristic of a great quad,” he says.
With such a complex style, there’s a lot of room for interpretation and variation in the recipe. However, uncharacteristically, we decided to take a traditional approach to this classic beer.
“We tend to take a ton of liberties with style guidelines,” Brian says, “but when we’re doing classic styles, we try to do them as textbook as possible: some styles just don’t need to be reinvented.”
We could have gone a few ways with this one: hopped it up, but we’d run the risk of the hops either getting lost in the background of the malt or entirely clashing with the smooth, rich finish. We could have added fruit, but that could go two ways, as well: it could end up being complementary or the fruits could get lost and end up being unnecessary.
“A quad is one of those styles that doesn’t benefit from playing around with too much,” Brian says.
So, we played it safe. We had some chill.
Okay… we had a little fun with the malt bill. Munich and Vienna malts? Very Bohemian. Very traditional. Special B…? Maybe we had a little fun, there. It’s not a very common malt, but perfect for use in a beer such as this.
“It’s a dark caramel malt that brings a unique, dark, fruit character to a beer when used in the right amounts,” Brian says.
And one of James’s favorite malts.
“It gives a unique, raisin character that is difficult to use in most styles of beer,” he says. “However, quads are the perfect conduit for this delicious raisin flavor.”
In addition to the quasi-traditional malt bill, we had even more fun by adding a bit of Belgian candi syrup. Traditionally derived from beets, Belgian candi syrup is an “invert sugar” — essentially table sugar that has been hydrolyzed with an acid to create a mixture of fructose and glucose.
“Invert sugars are easily metabolized by yeast,” Brandon says, “being converted mostly to alcohol and carbon dioxide and leaving very little residual sweetness behind in the beer.”
Added to the kettle during the brewing process to help it fully dissolve and homogenize with the wort, the addition of invert sugars in the kettle is common in British and Belgian brewing, making the addition perfect for this quad. In addition, fermenting out Belgian candi syrup typically raises the ABV of a beer without leaving behind a cloying sweetness.
“We could do this with a neutral simple sugar such as dextrose,” James says, “but for a beer of this style, it’s all about layering flavors. Belgian Candi syrup has a unique flavor character that can add an additional layer of complexity to a beer.”
James says that it’s like icing on a cake.
“You use a different type of sugar to layer on top of the cake to give it a different texture and flavor to bring the whole cake together,” he says.
Since it’s highly fermentable, Brian tells us that Belgian candi syrup doesn’t provide any additional body or mouthfeel to the beer.
“It doesn’t dry the beer out,” he says.
We use many different types of simple sugars and in different applications: brown sugar as an adjunct in Mop Water, dextrose to help lighten the body in Coastal Evacuation, honey as a larger percentage of fermentables in Honey Porter, and Belgian candi syrup for this quad and for Last Hurrah.
“Too much simple sugar in a beer and you can have adverse effects, depending on the style of beer and the amount of sugar used,” Brian continues. “So with this quad and in Last Hurrah, we wanted additional alcohol points without boosting the body, but also to utilize the dark chocolate, raisiny, toffee-like flavor the dark candi syrup provides.”
And maybe we had a little fun with the hop bill, as well. We were restrained — we didn’t over-hop and turn a beautiful Belgian quad into an IPA –, but we were perhaps a little adventurous, a little more modern in our selection of Styrian Goldings for the single hop in this beer.
“It’s a classic European hop,” Brian says, “bringing a floral, restrained spice that has a touch more character than the usual hop we’d use in this style, our ole workhorse for classically-hopped beers, Saaz.”
“Styrian Goldings is not a new hop,” Brandon continues. “It is grown in Slovenia and is a common hop used in Belgian beers. It contains a relatively high concentration of farnesene, a hop terpene that contributes a woody, earthy, refined, organoleptic quality to the beer.”
Mark is loving this selection, as well, noting that Styrians are typically milder than American varieties of hops.
“Styrians are a fun, often forgotten hop in the new world of IPAs,” he says. “They lend some fun flavors and bitterness characteristics to certain styles. I often think of hops like Fuggle and Styrian Goldings as plums and nectarines to the American hop’s citrus fruit.”
It’s also possible that we had a little fun with the yeast, too. After all, the yeast we used is called Forbidden Fruit. It’s rumored to be the yeast used to brew Hoegaarden’s Forbidden Fruit, Brandon’s favorite beer that, sadly, is not sold in the US.
“It’s a strong, dark Belgian ale,” he tells us. “It’s not sold in the US because the brewer refuses to make the label TTB compliant — look it up on the web and you’ll see why. But, I hoped to bring a bit of that Forbidden Fruit character to our quad.”
We liked working with Forbidden Fruit so much that we now use it in Cape May White instead of our Belgian Wit yeast.
“It has a little more fruity ester quality to it,” Brian says, “but the reason we deployed it on this application was that this yeast has a little higher alcohol tolerance.”
Okay. So we had some fun with the entire recipe. But, instead of turning things up to eleven, we turned them up to a respectable, don’t-bother-the-neighbors four. Okay, maybe five.
“Not to go back to my cake analogy again,” James says, doing exactly that, “but this beer is like baking a cake. Anyone can add the ingredients together, but it’s how it’s treated that really makes all the difference in the end.”
Our production team put a lot of thought and deliberation into designing a recipe that layered different flavors throughout the entire brewing process to create a complex beer that’s greater than the sum of its parts. In a quad, it’s less about the ingredients and more about how they’re brought together.
“We allowed this beer to boil much longer to allow the sugars to undergo just the right amount of Maillard reaction to bring out the rich flavors the malt has to offer,” James continues. “It was fermented slowly at a low temperature to let the yeast produce just the right amount of esters without stressing them out. We allowed it to have ample conditioning time in the tank after fermentation to let these flavors meld and evolve to become the best version of themselves. The result is a beer with an immense complexity of flavors that come through with delicate nuance that is incredibly drinkable.”
And the perfect beer to sip in our Beer Garden as the leaves turn and the temperatures begin to drop.
Maybe the 10% ABV helps with that a bit.
“Its flavors can be reminiscent of baking spices, sugar plums, brown sugar, and fireplaces,” Mark says. “Because quads are usually 8-12% ABV they usually have a warming feeling by nature, and in small amounts shared with others can be a delightful nightcap after a nice meal or to chill after a long day.”
“The richness of the beer is matched by the changing fall foliage,” Brandon says.
Like most quads, this beer will evolve and offer up different flavors at different temperatures.
“It is best consumed slowly,” James says, “not only because of the ABV, but because it needs to warm up to get the full experience it has to offer. This beer does a phenomenal job of maintaining its drinkability through a range of temperatures while offering you something new at each stop.”
This is definitely a sipper — and what better season to sip outside than autumn?
“Fall isn’t hole-up-in-the-house-and-get-drunk-for-the-evening season like winter,” Brian says, “but a quad is a nice, sit-outside-and-enjoy-the-leaves-changing-on-a-brisk-fall-day-while- enjoying-a-beer-you-casually-sip-while-enjoying-riveting-conversations kinda beer.”
As part of our RAD series, you can likely expect to see this beer again. In fact, we hear that quads in general and this beer in particular lend themselves exceptionally well to barrel aging.
We’ve only got a few kegs available in the Tasting Room, so be sure to get some before it’s gone!