Belgian table beers are low in alcohol, refreshing, and highly drinkable. One of the world’s best, Taras Boulba, is brewed by Brasserie de La Senne. We tried our hand at brewing up a Taras-Inspired beer and are loving the results.
Taras Boulba is a decidedly hoppy Belgian table beer. The hops don’t come across like in the typical American IPA sense, but more like a hoppy Pilsner or Saison. Bright Noble hop aroma consumes the nose, with a slight yeasty note in the background. Citrussy, herbaceous, and bright, Taras Boulba is fresh and lively. Bitterness is very firm, but adds to drinkability. Typical Belgian yeast is not overt, rather a fresh bready yeastiness is present in the aroma and flavor.
The body is light, crisp, and bursting with carbonation. Color is bright yellow, with a permanent haze. Fresh, it’s very opaque but older bottles will start to clear up slightly. A large white frothy head persists throughout and leaves sticky lacing along the glass.
When attempting to clone a beer, the first thing on everyone’s to-do list should be to search for existing recipes. For Taras Boulba, there is limited information out there. For insights into yeast selection, this thread at HomebrewTalk offered a great place to start. Ed’s Beer Site also has information from a brewery tour at De La Senne. He outlines their actual practices, like mash and fermentation schedules, hopping, and carbonation.
Looking at the label, they list the following ingredients:
- Malted barley
- Fermentable sugar
- Noble hops
The Brasserie De La Senne website also mentions that Taras Boulba is dry hopped.
Taras Boulba is a very pale beer. A grist of mainly Pilsner malt with a small addition of Vienna for a bit of malt complexity and color was chosen.
A decision I was back and forth on, was adding Candi sugar to the boil. I chose to add a small addition to the boil to give this beer an even dryer finish. The worry about this decision was whether it would make the beer too thin.
For hops, I went with Saaz. I considered a blend of Saaz and Tettnanger, but decided the spiciness and citrus quality of Saaz should be enough. I chose to bitter with El Dorado at 60 minutes, because I had it on hand.
Taras Boulba is quite bitter. I settled on a total bitterness of about 40 IBU which I thought would be sufficient given the light body and low ABV.
Taras Boulba doesn’t have a characteristically Belgian yeast profile. Esters and phenols are subdued. In the aforementioned HomebrewTalk thread, a user isolated a sample of Taras Boulba yeast. The findings were a slight POF+ yeast (phenol producing) and a secondary, neutral strain for bottling.
White Labs WLP515 (Antwerp Ale) is suggested to achieve this mildly spicy character. I was worried about controlling the fine balance of fruity esters and spicy phenolics. In the end, I decided on Safale US-05, and fermented it warm. I thought this could put off some fruity esters without becoming clovey or overwhelmingly spicy.
All Brasserie De La Senne beers are hazy in appearance. That said, nothing in the ingredients lists seem to promote haze formation. Large amounts of hops, including dry hopping, will certainly contribute to haze. Refermentation in the bottle, or in my case keg, will also keep some sediment in suspension.
Choosing a traditional Belgian step-mash was more out of tradition than anything practical. This is potentially risky when using all modified malts. A step mash of 122°F – 140°F – 158°F was chosen, with a 30 minutes rest at each temperature. The goal is a very fermentable wort to allow for a dry finish.
Taras Boulba, like most of De La Senne’s lineup, is highly carbonated. Using Champagne yeast along with priming sugar (Bob Sylvester method) should help give a fine carbonation and fluffy head.
Ed’s Beer Blog says De La Senne aims for a carbonation of 5.5g/L which is equivalent to 2.8 volumes of CO2. Taras Boulba definitely feels more carbonated than that. I would not be surprised if the bottles are closer to 4 vols of CO2, similar to other Belgian beers like Duvel or La Chouffe.
If bottling, I would aim for 3.5 vols CO2 in Belgian style bottles rated for higher pressures. Since I’ll be kegging, I kept it a bit lower to avoid potential foaming. A keg can always be adjusted with CO2 after if needed.
|Final Volume||Original Gravity||Final Gravity||ABV||IBU||SRM|
|5.5 lb||Weyermann Pilsner Malt||35||1.0|
|1.1 lb||Weyermann Vienna Malt||34||4.0|
|3.7 oz||Clear Candi Sugar||31||0|
Priming sugar: 5.5 oz cane sugar per 5 gallons
Note, the addition of priming sugar was included in the OG (1.039) to make sure the final ABV matches with Taras Boulba at 4.5%.
|Protein rest||122°F||30 minutes|
|Beta-amylase rest||140°F||30 minutes|
|Saccharification rest||158°F||30 minutes|
Brewhouse efficiency: 76%
|0.5 oz||El Dorado||11%||Boil||60 min||21|
|1.75 oz||Saaz||4.3%||Boil||15 min||15|
|0.85 oz||Saaz||4.3%||WP @ 175°F||20 min||4|
|0.9 oz||Saaz||4.3%||Dry Hop||4 days||–|
|4 oz||Total||40 IBU|
|Initial Ferment||73°F||2 days|
|Free Rise||77°F||7 days|
|Soft Crash||57°F||1 day|
|Keg Re-fermentation||73°F||10 days|
Primary Yeast: US-05 (11g sachet)
Priming Yeast: 5.75g Champagne yeast
West-Brussels water profile, adjusted with lactic acid for a calculated mash pH of 5.2.
|140 ppm||15 ppm||15 ppm||35 ppm||80 ppm||340 ppm|
| Pale yellow |
Bright and hazy
| Golden yellow |
Bright and hazy
| Fresh lemon-forward hops |
Light fruity yeast esters
Mild lager-like sulfur
|Herbal hops with light lemon |
Slightly spicy yeast
Subtle candy-like sweetness
| Moderate bitterness |
| Very firm bitterness |
|High carbonation |
|High carbonation |
Full but very dry, bitter finish
This bottle of Taras Boulba is very bitter, with minimal much hop flavor compared to a fresh version. At 5 months old, the hoppiness has aged with a pleasant herbaceous quality. There is an underlying candy sweetness, which could be a sign of light oxidation – not that it’s a bad thing. Draft versions usually don’t have this character in my experience.
The clone version has very fresh bready malt, slight yeastiness, and intense lemon hop flavor. Balanced bitterness with a nondescript hoppiness lasts through the finish.
The biggest change that needs to be addressed is the lack of head retention. A dense foam is a hallmark of Taras Boulba. Changing the mash schedule and bottle conditioning would help get the foam closer.
Bitterness is a very easy adjustment. Increase the bittering addition at 60 minutes for a total bitterness of about 55 to 60 IBU to match the bracing bitterness of Taras Boulba.
Color-wise, the clone version came out slightly too pale. Using some more base malt (replacing the Candi sugar) or upping the Vienna malt would bring this closer.
- Increase bittering hops: First hop addition should be 35 bittering units, to achieve a total bitterness of about 55 IBU.
- Change type of bittering hops: Use a lower alpha bittering hop at 60 minutes, like Saaz (~2 oz per 5 gallon batch), to promote foam.
- Bottle condition instead of kegging: This would help get the fluffy, lasting head.
- More malt: Replace Candi sugar with Pilsner malt for a slightly darker color.
- Prime with invert sugar: This might have a slight impact to achieve a sweeter, candy-like flavor as tasted in the older bottle of Taras Boulba.
- Try different yeast: US-05 is a safe bet but a very subtle Belgian influence would push the selection closer to the original. Next try: WLP515.
- Change mashing technique: A single infusion at 153°F could help head retention and malt flavor. The step mash potentially diminished head retention in this recipe and can probably be omitted when using modified malts.
This recipe will get you close to Taras Boulba and I’m pleased with the results. Surprisingly, for a 4.5% and 40IBU, this version is not nearly as bitter as the original. A larger bittering hop addition will push this recipe closer. This clone attempt is more round and soft than Taras Boulba which, to its credit, makes for a very delicious and easy to drink beer.
Brasserie De La Senne are experts at creating a perfectly foamy, dense head. This lingering, thick meringue certainly plays an important role in the drinking experience. With this base recipe and a few adjustments, the elusive Taras Boulba is certainly between the crosshairs.