Doctor Duvel

I'm like a sommelier, but for beer.

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Location: Upstate New York, United States

Favorite Beers: Orval, Samuel Smith, Duvel, Hennepin, Oude Gueze, Chimay, Dogfish Head, Anchor Steam, and anything made by Trappist monks.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

New Zealand Hops

I've become obsessed with NZ hops.  If I were truly systematic, I would be taking way, way more notes and removing variables from my experiments, but, apparently, I am not that systemic...   Each IPA or pale ale recipe is slightly different.  That said, I have made several single-hop beers, and a couple of double IPA's that I'm calling "Coreolis Effect"--beers loaded with NZ, and sometimes a couple of Aussie, hops.

Here's my crude impressions, however, loosely remembered and formulated:

Pacific Gem:  This is like the Fuggle of NZ.  It's earthy with a little spice and oaky character.  Alone, it's not that exciting.  As the supporting line in a chorus of other hops, it can really contribute.

Pacific Jade:  My favorite, it's a kaleidoscope of fruits, with some flowers popping in and out.  Fruits are highly tropical, almost cloying in their intensity.  Citrus notes tend toward lime zest?

Dr. Rudi:  This used to be a bittering hop primarily, but somebody figured out it has nice aroma.  I get a core scent of mango and peach.  It's best blended with something else, but makes a pretty good single hop beer.  Nice, smooth bittering too.

Wakatu:  High-toned citrus zest again.  Not as complex as the Jade maybe, but a great aroma/dry hop addition.

Nelson Sauvin:  A single hop beer with this is coming up.  I'm not sure what it's like by itself, but by subtracting other hops I know from these NZ DIPA's I'm thinking the contributions are a mixture of "dankness" and bright, almost tart, fruit?

Kohatu:  Drinking this one right now.  Wow.  Sweet, floral tones seem to be the centerpiece.  Can't come up with the key flower, and neither can Lisa.  Pine way in the background?  It's a little subtler than the others...

Waimea:  Stinky.  I don't know what I mean by that though.  Single hop beer was good, but somehow stinky.  There's less fruit and flowers here, and more of a stinkiness.  It's not onion, a la Summit, but it reminds me of Summit in the abstract...  Kind of a denser aroma, without those high-toned citrus aspects?

Rakau:  Here's where I'm most frustrated.  I loved the all-Rakau beer, but wrote down nothing.  It reminded me of the Pacific Jade, in that the nose was pretty explosive.  Less intense and kaleidoscopic, but similarly bright and fruit-citrus forward.

Right now, if I am designing a New Zealand IPA, I like the idea of doing Rakau/PJ on the high/bright side, and Nelson and Waimea for contrast.  The one on draft now is fairly amazing, hop-bursted with a blend:  Nelson/Waimea/Rakau/PG/Kohatu.  Those hops combine to deliver this blast of spicy citrus, sort of like blood orange and grapefruit zest, some white wine brightness.  Crisp, firmly bittered, very dry palate.  Good stuff.  There's' a Wai-iti beer in the works, maybe some two-hop beers, maybe another somewhat random blend like this one.  I think it's pretty hard to go wrong with these kinds of hops...

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Randy's Pils and IPA

A homebrewer who's had a big influence on me is Randy Vitullo.  There's no one I know who's a better discusser of Belgian strains--both of us make lots of Belgians...  Also, Randy got me into lagers some years ago, particularly a pilsner formulation that resembles Victory Prima Pils (commercially, does it get any better?).  The idea is to give your beer the extra backbone of some Munich and a slightly higher hopping rate, rather than being wedded to those delicate Czech or German recipes.  Gives you more margin of error, at least in my experience.  The other night, after a Thanksgiving for the displaced, RV sent me home with a couple samples.

A pils brewed in May of 2014 is pretty much note-perfect.  Breezy nose--you know how noble hops sometimes smell like clean mountain air?  Nothing too strong you can put your finger on?  The body has pretty much an ideal balance.  A little extra malty richness (in his recipes, usually from Munich and a carapils or something like that) is supported by a firm hop character--not at all harsh, but more than someone raised on Urquell would expect.  Wyeast Bo-Lager is the strain used, which gets you a clean and soft character.  Good stuff.

A double IPA from September is also a treat.  I think he told me the hops were Amarillo, Citra, and Chinook, but I could be remembering wrong.  Smells about like that, with an electric citrus character. I'm comparing it with a DIPA of mine and getting a typical contrast between our house character.  Mine's a little softer and rounder on the palate.  Randy's is sharper edged.  This is attributable to brewing water, as well as process (my hops are bagged and my water pretty soft; his water is gnarly and overly alkaline, his hops loose in the boil, just for starters).  They're about the same color.  I think we're both blending base malts and avoiding specialty malts, save a little Gambrinus honey malt, at most.

Both beers have huge aromas.  Mine is earthier; Randy's is higher pitched with more orange and grapefruit.  The nose on mine is weighted down, in a good way, by the legendarily dank Apollo.  A hop-head could sit and sniff either one of these for quite a while.

I don't know Randy's abv, but it's a fairly easy-drinking DIPA.  Randy and I both have charted courses well away from the current of mega-DIPA's.  Don't get me wrong:  I'm fascinated by things like Knee Deep's Simtra and Stone's Enjoy-By and other 9-11% DIPA's.  But I feel like the extra couple percent isn't necessary and sometimes even undermines a beer.  Heady Topper is 8.5, I think, and that's where my beer is at.  Randy's can't be much stronger, if at all.  I would much rather have two eight-percent DIPA's than one-and-a-half ten-percenters, if that computes coherently.  It's very difficult to get the hop character to really pop as the beer gets bigger, and it seems to me that the real treat of these kinds of beers is aromatic, not alcoholic.  So I'm keeping mine well under nine.  Let's also not forget that you can make an outstanding IPA at 6.2 or 6.5, get your hop fix, and not feel compelled to bounce between double and triple IPA's and screwy little sessions IPA's, both of which are harder to design and brew well.  I am averse to extremes in this particular area.

I just thought I'd lay out a mini-philosophy there to amuse myself... One more sniff of these for posterity:  I'm going to say Randy's has even gone to kumquat here.  The citrus character is that sharp and zesty.  There's a perfumey-floral character in mine that I'm grooving on.  Could be from Tahoma or Calypso, which are key here...

As a general brewery update, I have multiple sour beers fermenting, which is exciting.  When I have a new stove, I need to do another couple of IPA's, to keep testing NZ hops and to try new US combinations.  I need to bottle a Belgian strong pale.  A beautiful amber Belgian for fall just kicked; a wheat-heavy dubbel on the Forbidden Fruit strain will be the winter Belgian.  Alongside this DIPA is a New Zealand single-hop: Paging Dr. Rudi, which reeks of peaches and mangoes.  I just dry hopped an all-Rakau beer which will be up and running in a couple of weeks.  Recent tastings with houseguests, fellow displaced-Thanksgiving folks, and an actual Belgian citizen suggest that Belgians may be what I make best.  A pack of French Saison is calling me and I'm overdue to make a tripel...  The only problem is available time....

Sunday, September 14, 2014

End of an Era: Last Mass Tasting

Several years ago, I had a great idea.  The Hamilton College Oratorio society had me thinking about settings of the mass.  Whatever your religiosity or irreligiosity, it's a beautiful text, and composers have taken it as an inspiration for tone painting of the highest order.  As long as there was this sacred music tradition and this sacred beer tradition, I said: Why not combine them?  Brew a series of beers in Belgian styles corresponding to the movements of the mass. It took forever to brew them all and opportunities to drink the six-pack in sequence have been few and far between.

Yesterday was the last one, and the tasting was appropriately punctuated by weeping.

Kyrie: A five-year-old house Saison, this was wonderfully creamy.  The yeast (Wyeast French) contributes, at this age, a richness and depth that is extraordinary.  A beer that is soft, but weirdly austere, it was designed to accompany the often medieval simplicity and sparseness of Kyrie settings. Not a lot of text, not a lot of ingredients...

Gloria: Settings of the Gloria are light, bright, and clear: Glory to God, in the highest, so I went light here, with a monastic table beer, or single.  Despite the conceptual clarity there, at this age, the beer is all cellar character, with a wonderful earthiness and depth.  The cork, incidentally, almost killed someone.  The effervescence was genuinely glorious. This beer has been my favorite overall, through the years, and has thankfully been re-brewed already.  Footnote, I just chilled "Gloria Redux."  The youthful sample is more like what I originally envisioned. You can imagine it's cellar-y, earthy future, something 3787 excels with, but the beer is also exceptionally bright, clear, quaffable. People should remember that Belgian beers are not all nine percent...

Credo: This is a tripel.  It had to be, as it was inspired by the massive Credo of Anton Bruckner's Mass in F minor.  It's always been a stunning beer, remarkable in particular for its crazy final gravity, 1.002.  At a relatively old age, and with over ten percent alcohol, it is meady, very, very meady. It used to be brighter, but the combination of honeyed aromatics, earthiness, and serious attenuation is remarkable.

Sanctus, I am sad to say, had to be made twice.  Sanctus I was infected, but it did become a helpful blending beer for fruited lambic-ish beers.  Sanctus II has a little hint of San Francisco sourdough in the nose, which I love. Toast and caramel character are perfect--it's a sort of Belgian amber.  And I must return to both this nice, Vienna-centered grain bill, as well as the wonderful yeast, Wyeast Leuven. It aspires to the lyrical tenor line in Gounod's mass.

Settings of the Benedictus, in my limited experience, are usual sort of warm and dark, if that makes any sense.  So I brewed a beer thinking of a Bruckner bass line, which turned out to be a huge Quad. It smells of rum-raisin, cognac, grapes, wine.  For all that it is a massively rich beer, it's pretty drinkable as Quads go and I'm very proud of the recipe. The only question is how I get a hold of the yeast again, which is the now unavailable Flanders Golden, purportedly the Piraat strain.

Finally, an Agnus Dei beer must be strong enough to round out the tasting and follow the Quad, but soft enough to vaguely evoke lambs.  The solution is a wheaty tripel, sweetened up a bit with Belgian Aromatic.  It is creamy, fruity, rich, soft, just a tiny bit off dry.


Saturday, September 06, 2014

End of an Era: Wilds and Sours

I obviously forgot about this blog for a good three years.  Two of those years saw me in brewerly survival mode:  I chucked together a string of basic pale ales and IPA's, punctuated with the occasional Belgian, just enough to keep the kegerator up and running maybe half the time, with Belgians stashed in the basement to keep stocks from vanishing.

About six months ago, I kicked up the activity level, making a bunch of new Belgians and a string of hoppy beers, converting to pellets and incorporating some new procedures in search of bigger aromas and flavors (inspired by things like Knee Deep Simtra and Stone Enjoy By).

Today we bid adieu, or nearly adieu, to a series of antiques.  Tasting with me are Lisa, Andrew Rudd, and Benjamin Rudd.

1.  Flanders Red, last bottle, brewed 11/13/05.  Batch 44.  Over the hill, but still special.  Little touch of vinegariness.  Both aromatics and palate a trifle thin, particularly the palate.  Earthy brett, ultra dry.  Again, thin...  But this recipe could be reproduced with no need for tweaking as far as I'm concerned.  Probably peaked in year six?

2.  Vinification, Chardonnay Ale, brewed 2/9/08.  Batch 139.  This was pitched with lambic blend AND Roeslare.  Interesting.  This is the penultimate bottle.  Brett brux character reminds me of my all-Brett beer, half sour leatheriness and so on...  The winey quality is uncanny.  The vanilla-ish oak character is key, but I think the yeast has more to do with it than the Chardonny oak-soak.  Delicately tannic quality.  This is a really distinctive beer.

3.  Frambozen.  Is this batch 145F?  From 2008?  I'm not sure.  But once upon a time I combined infected bock, infected kolsch, and infected dubbel, and added raspberries, one time adding extra Weizen wort that wouldn't fit in a carboy that spontaneously fermented in a spare bucket.  Who knows?  Holy shit, it's pushing balsamic vinegar.  The nose is a little stinky, cheesy; the palate is full of tart pie elements.  134F and 138F are other candidates.  Whatever it is, it's around six years old, and, if you like sour sours, it's pretty amazing.  Long ago, I had a string of infections due to being an idiot and mis-diluting BTF iodophor.   The saving grace was these weird blends, which were often delicious.

4.  Amalgam, N.Y. Lambic.  Batch 39, brewed 10/2/05.  Ultra skanky.  Always been too much.  Should really be a blending beer.  It blends very well with a younger, draft raspberry beer.  This unblended lambic, which still exits in some quantity, could be an astonishing accent for a younger, less remarkable beer.  Make this 25% of some blend, soon-ish...

Interlude:  Barbequed country ribs, smoked meatloaf, and salt potatoes find a mediocre old pilsner for accompaniment...

5.  Moreval, Batch 109, 1/15/07 brewdate.  This is one of multiple beers inspired by Orval.  This one is seven years old or so, and the brett has taken over completely.  Pineapple.  Horseblanket.  Roeslare blend is an interesting choice with these.  You never know what you'll get, and the beer can go through really awkward phases, but when the balance is right, it's right.  This balance, brett-centric with hops in the extreme background, is surprisingly pleasant.

6.  "Orval-ish thing," batch 200, 5/2/10.  A younger version of the above.  Roughly the same recipe formulation, though totally different hop varieties.  Rather than Roeslare, this used Wyeast 3789.  Barnyard character is slower to emerge, under a little fruit, but it's there.  Little bit more winey somehow.

7.  New version, "XX-inspired," (needs a name), brewed 7/1/14.  Like the two above, but with no crystal malt and better hop choices, and super fresh, just a scant month in the bottle.  French Saison dries it out, and brett makes an appearance later, with liberal dry hopping (Santiam and German Brewer's Gold).  Lighter and brighter than the above, but I imagine it should age just as well.

8.  Oaky Saison:  Red-wine soaked oak chips and brett accent a super strong saison.  Mead aromas, hints of leathery brett.  Good stuff.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


Ommegang Gnomegang. The name pretty much had to have come up with itself. Courtesy of a kind soul at the brewery, a bottle found its way to me: Thanks Scott! This is a collaborative beer between Ommegang and, naturally, La Chouffe. I might've imagined that they'd go after the IPA Tripel style, with that particular collaboration, but the label calls it a blond ale. It's a big one, at 9.5%. Apparently it's made with both house yeasts. I'd love to think that I have the palate to determine how they interact or cooperate, but I'm thinking that's a stretch. Here's what I get: Pretty golden color. Full head, but not quite as voluminous as some of their others; I think the carbonation is a trifle subtler, which happens to go with the fuller palate, which we'll get to. The key note in the aroma is something I never find quite the right descriptor for. Several stronger, pale Belgians have a version of it, the quintessential example for me being Piraat. It's a rich, alcoholically hot, creamy, whiskey-ish aroma. It normally signals a big, voluptuous sort of beer, like Piraat, and this follows through in that vein. There's some spiciness going on too, aromatically and on the palate. Like I said, the carbonation seems just a bit softer, perhaps less than Hennepin? That goes nicely with the rich, velvety body here. Sometimes when people say a beer is "hot" they don't mean it as a good thing, but I do here. Belgians over 9% almost always have a pleasant little mini-burn to them and this is no exception. The palate comes across as mildly sweet, though not cloying. I know enough about beer to know that it might be bone dry statistically. You can never tell with Belgian yeasts. But it feels full on the palate--rich, creamy, and so on, but also balanced by a subtle, earthy hoppiness, and some brighter, fruitier acids. I think this is a pretty delicious beer... Tomorrow, assuming I can get out of school at an approrpriate hour, it's Pilsner-brewin' time. All Hallertau. Wyeast Bo-Pils. Simple grist. Bring it on.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Drastically less grumpy

Worked a hard, focused half day. Came home, kegged Petit Houblon Edition Trois, a.k.a. (Belgian) Plague Pale. Tasted good. Dry hopped with Sterling. Stashed three corked botttles out of what wouldn't fit in the keg. Confirming a previous good ferment and having a happy looking yeast cake (Leuven), I threw together a Belgian Amber Ale, loosely inspired by one I made some years ago. Loosely inspired by M.C. I went for a brisk (in temperature not pace) run to the Utica Zoo and back. Beer is now aerated and getting ready to do its thing. Drinking, courtesy of Katrina and Kier, a Russian River Consecration. Thanks guys! A hauntingly beautiful beer by the way.

Next up, a pizza inspired by Russian River's sometimes wacky line-up. Maybe Pesto-Artichoke-Bacon for starters.


Sunday, March 20, 2011

Grumpy as hell

Just me venting. I don't like brewing. It's not fun anymore.

Just kegged a beer and bottled a beer. They both look good and are interesting high gravity experiments: a 1080 oaky-bretty saison and a 1090 faux scotch whiskey barrel DIPA. They'll certainly pack a punch...

But it's not fun. Packaging two beers equals a whole fucking afternoon down the drain. Why the hell do I do this shit? My beer is good, but seriously, I'm not sure it's worth it. Grumble, grumble, grumble, fucking goddamn grumble.

I have four more interesting beers in carboys (Steam, Belgian pale, Old British Bitter, and a Roeslare) and I anticipate procrastinating packaging them as long as possible. as it my m.o. these days. Filling those carboys again will be slightly less annoying, since I dislike the brew day a lot less, but it's not fun either. Just another household chore.

There, I said it. When this fridge dies I may shrink the kegerator. This is bullshit.

Thanks for listening to me bitch. anyone who reads this... I'm going to go stomp around and mop the motherfucking kitchen.