By Mike Smith
Style: Belgian-Style Ale
Color: Deep gold/light amber, clear
Malts: European Pilsner Malt, White Wheat, Munich Malt, Medium Crystal Malt
Hops: US Chinook and Cascade, German Hallertau Blanc and Hüll Melon
Yeast: WLP510 “Bastogne Belgian Ale Yeast”
Short Description: Dry-hopped golden ale fermented with fruity Belgian yeast
Sister Alva is a beer that began in a moment of serendipity. In December, we brewed a Kveik IPA with our friends at Amherst Brewing. We had planned a reciprocal collaboration brew here for early January but had to reschedule when a conflict came up on their end. The collab was postponed and we had to decide on what type of beer we could make in its place (the Kveik IPA was brewed a few weeks later…)
We had been intending to brew a Belgian-style pale ale for sometime and this seemed the perfect opportunity to use the grain we had available, hops that we had on hand, and yeast from our in-house collection. The result is Sister Alva.
Belgium has been described as the “Disneyland of Beer” due to its wide variety of beer styles, flavors on offer and the rich brewing history on display. Sister Alva is not a direct reinterpretation of any one style or brand. It is rather an homage to the spirit of Belgian brewing with a bit of new-fashioned American craft brewing thrown in.
The grain bill for Sister Alva is typical of many Belgian ales (and British, and German, and New World brews, as well…) It consists primarily of German Pilsner malt (a stalwart base malt for many Euro-style brews,) with a sizable proportion (10%) of White Wheat to soften the malt character and augment the foam and mouthfeel of the beer. Small amounts of Munich-style malt and medium crystal malt lend a subtle sweetness and deepen the beer’s golden hue.
The hops in this beer are not the star of the show as they are in many contemporary Craft Brews. They play their part, but this is a beer with no lead roles: it is a beer with a strong ensemble cast. The malt, the hops, and the yeast all work together. Balance is the key to this beer.
That being said, Sister Alva is made with an interesting mix of hops. We used American Chinook and Cascade varieties early in the boil to give the beer a clean and slightly citrusy bitterness. German varieties Hüll Melon and Hallertau Blanc were added later (and judiciously) in the process and contribute their earthy, almost wine-like flavors and aromas.
The yeast we used to ferment Sister Alva is its most “Belgian-y” ingredient of all. The strain is purportedly the strain from the Trappist monastic brewery of Orval. Orval is known as one of the more subtle and nuanced of the Trappist ales, and that is why we chose it for Sister Alva. The yeast lends a spicy phenolic character and estery fruitiness that is present, but not as dominant as it can be when using other Belgian yeasts.
We first brewed Sister Alva in January of 2020. It was very well received in the taproom and we had planned to brew it again to distribute to bars and restaurants as a springtime seasonal. Well, as you are all very aware, due to the present circumstances there’s not much draft beer going around to bars and restaurants in the spring of 2020…
So it now turns out that serendipity once again comes into play with Sister Alva. The batch that we brewed with the intent to keg and distribute suddenly had nowhere to go.
The Aeronaut team sprang to action. Our crack brew team were able to transfer the beer off the yeast into a secondary tank to allow it to age safely and gracefully. (And your reporter has been dutifully taste-testing to ensure it is of the finest quality!) Our marketing crew were able to expedite the creation of a label with awesome art by our dear friend Becka Schuelke. And our canning and distribution crew worked the schedule to find the right time to package it. Now Sister Alva will be coming to you in cans for your socially-distant enjoyment.
As much as we would like to be hosting you all in our bustling taproom, alas, we cannot. Once again in these strange times we will have to remotely connect over a virtual bar. Thanks again for your continued support. Here’s to balance, and here’s to better days ahead.
Cheers – Mike
Mike Smith is the Brewery Technical Director at Aeronaut. The views and opinions expressed on this web site are solely those of the original author, and they do not necessarily represent those of Aeronaut Brewing Co.