Belgian Dubbel from Bottle Dregs and the Saga of the Stuck Fermentation

Dubbel made with yeast from a commercial beer.

First off, sorry to those who check in on this blog from time to time for not updating this blog for a few weeks. haven’t had much going on to really write about. For you other bloggers, think of it like a writer’s block in a way I suppose!

So, not sure if I mentioned this in an earlier post (I’m sure I have , but can’t remember…the old memory aint what it used to be so I’ll just catch you up just in case…): I cultured some residual yeast from a brewery in Raleigh, NC aptly named Big Boss Brewing. They offer a pretty good unfiltered Belgian ale known as Hell’s Belle. I was pretty impressed with it because it had such a great Belgian profile and is just an overall good beer and its local for me – somewhat. When i decided to culture the yeast from the bottle, I used the dregs from a few bottles (2-3) and just dumped the dregs into some unfermented wort. I think I used about a quart of wort for this starter. One of the reasons I chose to do it this way is I think somewhat obvious: if the starter failed I would know if the yeast was still active or at least active enough to ferment a full batch of  beer. What happened was the yeast was VERY active still. I was afraid that Big Boss flash pasteurized their bottles. But that certainly was not the case. The starter itself was very calm right off the bat (which is to be expected). That is is what is commonly known as “Lag Time”. When the yeast acclimated to the new fresh wort, it became extremely active in a short amount of time. When I swirled the gallon glass jug it was sitting in, the foam always threatened to blow when I agitated it. It’s not too often you see a starter nearly blow off the krausen! Needless to say when I pitched this yeast into 5 1/2 gallons of wort, it blew off a ton of foam!

  • The Primary Fermentation

As mentioned,during the primary fermentation stage I had a massive blow off which I was expecting. Just by looking at the huge activity of the starter I knew this one would make a mess…and it did…all over the bottom of my fermentation fridge! After a few days I decide to check the gravity of the beer and found that the reading was still a little high, meaning there was still fermentable sugar left in the beer. But what I also noticed was that the yeast activity also disappeared. The foam commonly found on the top of fermenting wort fell vanished and airlock activity slowed dramatically. It was basically the victim of the dreaded stuck fermentation! This is a phrase that no brewer in the world wants to hear. There are many reasons why stuck fermentations occur. It could be attributed to 1). too high of a mash temp : meaning the mash enzymes did/could not fully convert the malt starches to sugars completely 2).  too much non-fermentables in the malt bill: (which is sort of an offshoot of the first reason) by this I mean maybe the recipe has too high of a percentage of crystal malt etc. which adds sweetness by way of adding non-fermentables that can’t be converted by the mash enzymes  3). extreme cold conditions: meaning the primary temp is beyond the threshold of the selected yeast’s active temp range and this typically causes the yeast to drop out and become dormant 4) (another offshoot of the previous): ABV percentage has exceeded the yeast threshold.

  • Yeast health vs. alcohol content (ABV%)

Consider that alcohol is a toxin, plain and simple. Even though the yeast create alcohol, it is still toxic for yeast just the same as anything else. However, there is a threshold on how much alcohol by volume the yeast can take before the beer becomes too alcoholic for the yeast to ferment properly. Alcohol affects yeast health. The higher the ABV, the more difficult it becomes for the yeast to do their job. Also remember that the medical industry uses alcohol for antiseptic purposes. Granted that is an entirely different type of alcohol, but both isopropyl and ethanol do share some antiseptic qualities.  All yeast and bacteria strains have variable tolerances to ethanol or alcohol by volume level. Some strains of bacteria such as Lactobacillus which is used in some Belgian sour beers, typically can not handle even some very moderate levels of ABV. Other yeast strains like Wyeast Scottish Ale strain can handle 12% or more ABV.  Even more extreme are the champagne yeast which are known to go up to 17%.  If you are ever in Boston, go visit the Sam Adams Brewery and try the Utopia beer. This is THE extreme in ABV tolerance as the yeast they use apparently has the highest alcohol tolerance of any commercial brewer. Quoted from thier website “ The latest in our strong brews, Samuel Adams Utopias has been brewed in three small limited batches to date, growing stronger with each batch. The first batch which was released in 2001 topped out at 24%ABV, for the fourth batch in 2009 we reached 27%ABV. Each batch was only released once in limited quantities.” The ABV is so high in this beer that they cannot carbonate it. This is where the line between a “spirit” and beer meet. The Sam Adams Utopia is still technically a beer and not spirit; meaning that it is not distilled and is fermented fully to the final ABV. Even though it is “still”  with no carbonation and apparently burns like a liquor when it is consumed. They also blend their batches as do many spirit makers. By the way, good luck trying to find it! It is banned in many states including my own, but its ok to sell grain alcohol like everclear in the store!? Where’s the consistency in that? Stupid lawmakers……

  • Fermentation won’t budge
Now the reason I bring all of this up is I believe this is what happened to my batch. I know my mash temp was low enough. I also added a good amount of brown sugar to the batch, which is 100% fermentable. (the recipe is at the bottom by the way).  I believe the yeast “conked” out as a result of the alcohol in the beer despite the fact that the yeast came from a 7% plus beer! What I should have done was a fast ferment test.  That way I could have known what to expect and not had to guess. Especially considering that I have never used this strain of yeast before nor do not know the exact origin of it other than the fact that Big Boss Brewing says that it is the primary strain for the Hell’s Belle and not a bottling yeast which is a very common practice among Belgian breweries. So the best I could do was make an educated guess and repitch a more alcohol tolerant yeast… champagne yeast. It should be noted that the beer already had a great Belgian-like profile, it just tasted a bit cloyingly sweet. I just needed more attenuation. That’s were the champagne yeast came in handy. The gravity was stuck at 1.033 and I needed it to get to at least 1.022. The champagne yeast I used was rated at 17% ABV. After I re-hydrated the dry champagne yeast I added it to the primary and waited a few days. Within 6 days the yeast was able to bring the gravity down to 1.022 : very acceptable! The brew ended up at about 7.2%ABV.
  • Tasting
Appearance:  moderately clear. Some chill haze but over all relativity clear.
Aroma: Some sweet malt aroma. phenolic: faint cloves and bananas, some alcohol evident also.
Taste:  Toasty Malt profile. some warming alcohol notes (not surprising at 7.2%) but not overwhelming at all. Very fruity ale , classic “Belgiany” phenolic esters.
Mouth feel: a very full ale. some slickness that is usually associated with flaked oats. Moderately carbonated.
Overall:  Seemingly a pretty good specialty beer. The alcohol is pretty well hidden in the flavor which is a good thing at 7.2%. However this is obviously not a good session beer, unless you want to be carried home in a paddy wagon or wheelbarrow.  I think I will up the finishing hops in the future. It seems like a slight hop aroma would compliment the fruity Belgian characteristics. In summery not a bad Belgian Dubbel and not too bad for bottle dregs. So  if you get the chance and want to experiment, try it out for yourself. As always Cheers!

The final product. Drink with your eyes!

The recipe:

Belgian 4Ma2H


Batch Size: 6.50 gal

Boil Size: 8.80 gal

Estimated OG: 1.077 SG

Estimated Color: 15.7 SRM

Estimated IBU: 33.1 IBU

Brewhouse Efficiency: 73.00 %

Boil Time: 90 Minutes


Amount/Item Type/% or IBU


8 lbs Pale Malt (2 Row) UK (3.0 SRM) Grain 48.48 %

2 lbs 8.0 oz Vienna Malt (Weyermann) (3.0 SRM) Grain 15.15 %

2 lbs Munich II (Weyermann) (9.0 SRM) Grain 12.12 %

1 lbs Oats, Flaked (1.0 SRM) Grain 6.06 %

3.25 oz Tettnang [2.09 %] (90 min) (FWH) 19.9 IBU

0.50 oz Columbus (Tomahawk) [9.00 %] (flameout) Hops 13.2 IBU

3 lbs Brown Sugar, Dark (50.0 SRM) Sugar 18.18 %

1 Pkgs Big Boss Belgian Ale Bottle Dregs


6 responses to “Belgian Dubbel from Bottle Dregs and the Saga of the Stuck Fermentation

  1. My buddy and I did an extract tripel and then a month later repitched and did an extract dubbel, anyhow, the dubbel has been bulk conditioning in the 5 gal carboy and it’s time to bottle it would seem, but the tripels (in bottles) we’ve cracked open seem quite under-carbonated (~3 months). So now I’m wondering the same thing, perhaps I should add a neutral bottle yeast prior to bottling? Have you had any experience with under-carbing of higher gravity beers? I think the OG on the tripel was like 1.085 and the dubble was 1.067 or something, but regardless, if I cannot revive the yeast to produce co2 I’ll have yet another batch of flat Belgian style beer.

    I’ve been told sometimes it just takes longer for the the tripels to carb, but I’d like this dubbel to carb within a month. My other concern is glass thickness, I’ve noticed that a lot of the commercial varieties tend to use thicker glass, presumably to handle higher pressure, which makes we wonder if we just didn’t put enough corn sugar in, but again, I don’t want exploding 12oz long necks…

    • I make it a point to add some yeast at bottling time. That way you are not relying on the old,tired yeast in the solution. Especially in high gravity situations which are pretty tough on the yeast’s health, pitching some new yeast is great idea. I use champagne yeast due its tolerance with high abv situations. I wouldn’t worry about exploding glass unless you add too much bottling sugar. Just do a google search on a bottling calculator and you’re good! hope that helps some…and sorry for not getting back to you quicker!


  2. Excellent. It’s all good, thanks for the follow up. We pitched in the Safale 04 which I believe is a neutral dry yeast, as the dubbel appeared to have very little yeast sediment on the bottom when we racked from 5 gal carboy into bottling bucket, on the plus side, it was very clear and tasted swell (not swill). I’m going to keep the bottles in the warmer room upstairs in our house at least until it starts to get above 80 degrees outdoors, my feeling is that the tripel was too cold upon bottling and probably should’ve gone longer in primary and carboy for better attenuation, but if we give it some time and some warmth I think it’ll go. Thanks again.

    • Glad I could help. Safale 04 is actually considered an “english style” yeast. That should not matter very much considering you are using it to re-yeast. Its the actually primary that will give you the esters from this yeast. Just be wary when using this yeast for high gravity re-yeasting that the ABV of the beer is not over the 04’s tolerance threshold. That is why I normally use the champagne yeast because if its ability to tolerate high ABV levels. As far as your batch tasting good in the bucket, just imagine what it’ll taste like after carbonation and a little age! Just keep the bottles warm like a newborn and you’ll be in good shape. Good luck!

  3. Yeah, the dubbel appears carbonated but I noticed a hint of that Safale 04 “English’ness”. Next time we’ll bottle condition with the same yeast or use something more neutral like champagne yeast or the Safale 05, or whichever yeast causes the least amount of flavoring. We’ll see on the tripels for comparison (no additional bottling yeast, less time in secondary), as they’ve been upstairs now for a while since the weather has been turned warmer so I think they should be more fully carbonated. I’ll give’em another month or so.

    • Think of it this way, the “english’ness” gives you some extra complexity in your brew! At least thats the way I’d look at it. Unless you were going for something a little more classic belgian, if thats the case then I understand why you would not want those english esters in your final beer.

      The safale 05 and the red star champagne dry yeast are pretty standard for bottling strains. I have started putting in some time at my local homebrew shop on the weekends, and that is what I am recommending to some of the lager and high gravity bottlers.

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