This one started out with a wonderful journey 5 months back, to where else? Belgium! Qiuxia, my wife, and I had the wonderful opportunity to meet up with Karl Dingeman. Karl just happens to be the great great grandson of Alexander Dingeman who started malting barley in Belgium in the mid 1800’s. Karl is now the 5th generation of the family to run the malt facility which is the oldest family owned maltery in Belgium.
We dropped in early one morning last September. I can vividly remember the smell of the fall air. So natural, as the maltery’s property is bordered by fields of seasonal veggies and free roaming sheep. We were welcomed in by the staff and the morning started off with a wonderful history lesson on the malt process and the patented processes that the Dingeman family use. We were then joined by Karl himself who walked us through some of the famous Belgian beers that are produced with 100% Dingemans malt. These beers included breweries from Trappists to commercial, well known to obscure, tiny operations to the big guys. It is amazing that we still had enough coordination to navigate our way through the production house afterwards.
The knowledge picked up that day was beyond any expectation I could have imagined. I learned that day that it just so happens that many malteries produce only base malts. The base malts are basically given the opportunity to sprout, then dried gently to preserve the enzymes necessary for the brewing process. Dried at the lowest possible temperature for Pilsner malt, or dried at a slightly higher temperature for Pale Ale malt. Many fewer malteries produce the specialty roasted malts, such as caramel malts, dark malts and in Karl’s case, his patented “Special B” malt. Mouterij Dingemans produces both! No questions, no hesitations, and they do both at the highest standards of quality without exception.
Another thing I learned from Karl is that malting and the barley used to produce malt in Europe has always had it primary focus on the flavor of the finished beer. In North America however, commercialization and industrialization has pushed the focus more in the direction of the quantity of the yield of the harvest. This claim became a realization when I later returned to brew my first batch of beer using Karl’s malt as the entire grain bill.
Karl proceeded to walk us through the entire operation start to finish, including the analysis lab where all the quality control is monitored. We finally ended up the afternoon at the 3 star Michelin restaurant overlooking the famous Port of Antwerp, eating an amazing Belgian lunch accompanied with beer after beer that were brewed with Karl’s malt. Toward the end of the meal, I did my typical trick that I use when visiting my Chinese family and excused myself to use the restroom (with the intention of picking up the bill). As I approached the waiter he responded, “Mr. Dingeman has instructed me that your money is no good here.” Embarrassingly, I returned to our table and the look on my face must have been obvious enough. Attempting an additional haggle for the bill, Karl explained, “The time it took to show you around the mouterij and take you out for lunch was much much cheaper than it would cost me to travel to Minneapolis to do a sales call at Boom Island Brewing.” I was left speechless and humbled. That day was one of the most truly inspirational days of my life as an artist, whether it be playing the French Horn or brewing.
Upon our return, I decided to make a batch of beer using all Karl’s malt. The first experience was during milling. The smell was very rich with bread and nutty aromas. Next was in the mash, it was at that point that I could vividly recall the smell of the air that morning visiting Mouterij Dingemans. The smell was identical! It is really amazing that the literal essence of the tiny town of Stabroek, Belgium literally soaked into the malt and was released in the brewhouse of Boom Island Brewing Company. Wow! It’s no surprise at this point, and inline with our vision of brewing classic Belgian style beer here at Boom Island, we now proudly use 100% Dingeman’s Malt!
Now that was a really long prelude to the story behind this new beer, so here we go with the meat and potatoes. Upon our return home, I was approached by Cargill, who is the North American importer of Mouterij Dingemans. We were asked to prepare a collaboration brew with Mouterij Dingemans and Hopsteiner (one of the worlds largest hop suppliers). The beer was to be highlighted at Craft Brewers Conference 2017 in Washington D.C. Without hesitation, I accepted. Now comes down to the recipe formulation. Taking inspiration from the rich history and tradition of the Dingeman family and their contribution the the history of Belgian brewing, I rewound myself to the very first recipe I sketched out for Boom Island. Ironically, I planned this recipe as Qiuxia and I sat in the main square of the city of Antwerp just 10 miles south of the Dingemans facility. It was as I had my first taste of what I consider the definition of a Belgian Pale Ale, De Koninck. To order this beer in Antwerp, you have to options. First, simply ask for a glass of beer in dutch, the waiter will get the message and bring you a De Koninck “Een Bolleke, Alstublieft”. Second, if you are feeling really confident of your local appeal, you can hold up the number of beers you would like with your fingers, then follow it by pointing upward with the pinky finger and a nod of the head. In the local dialect of Flemish Dutch, the word for the pinky finger is the same word for a pint, “Pintjes”. No need to clarify which pint you prefer, you will get a pint of De Koninck.
Paying homage to the rich brewing tradition and malting tradition of the Antwerp area, I took that first Belgian Pale recipe that I sketched out and amped it up a couple of notches in alcohol to what I am calling a “Belgian Double Pale”. Then working with Doug at Hopsteiner, I dry hopped it with a new variety that they have Exp. #09326 which gives a really nice delicate nose. Finally, giving a nod to history of beer in the region I aged it on French oak. As recent as 60 years ago, these beers would have been delivered and poured from oak barrels so why not? The result is a truly rich and complex yet balanced Amber colored beer that rings in at 7.2% ABV. Once again, we worked with artist / illustrator, Sean McCann for the label art. (He is the one who did our mural outside the brewery). I hope you enjoy it as much as I have enjoyed sharing the story behind the recipe.
Bolleke Plus: 7.2% ABV
Grain Bill: Pale, Biscuit, Aromatic and Caramel Malts
Hops: Bravo, Exp.#09326
Appearance: Dark Copper straw
Flavor: Citrusy bitterness tempered by the malt, fruity nose, hints of French Oak