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.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Brewing Porter

Whoa Nellie. Had quite a brewing day. Our friend (and the spouse of one of my better colleauges) Wayne visited and watched the goings-on and gave us the skinny on our new antiques. I designed a porter recipe which I think is going to be bad-ass. Working off of the data for Smuttynose Robust Porter, Sierra Nevada Porter, and a Charlie Papazian recipe inspired by Anchor Porter (thanks again for the book, Buck), I designed what I thought would be a beer in the mid-range of the robust porter style. Little did I know. . . So my grain bill was 9.5 lbs 2-row pale, a pound each of Munich, Chocolate, and Crystal 60L, plus a half pound each of Black Patent and some fabulously aromatic Belgian Special-B (I got the idea for the last addition from Smuttynose and made a special trip to Oneida to pick it up). I made a starter from White Labs California Ale Yeast for a nice, clean, not-too-fruity, eventual profile. Will try and keep the fermentation at relatively mild temperatures for the same reason--hopefully 63-66.

Borrowing Papazian's temperatures, I did my first-ever step-mash, with a 25-minute protein rest at 125, a water addition to raise it to 150 for 20-25, and a final 20 or so at 158 for some extra body. This produced 8 fucking gallons of wort which I think I measured at 1050 before starting the boil. This suggested a bigger-than-planned beer so I raised my Northern Brewer addition by an extra 1/4 ounce or so. I also fucked up and shot wort all over hell by losing control of a hose at a critical moment--Lisa and Wayne helped reduce the damage. We then proceded with a vigorous three-kettle boil, about six gallons in the brewkettle plus a 9-quart stockpot and a dutch oven blazing away for a good ninety minutes. Had a couple mild boil-overs for flavor development and stove-top seasoning. Wayne was instrumental in helping me bottle an IPA during the boiling period--having created so much chaos already, I figured we might as well make things really hairy by doing too many things at once. Gave the porter an ounce of Willamettes (yum) with 20 minutes remaining and another 1/2 ounce at the termination of the boil. Am also planning perhaps a 1/2 ounce dry hop. Toyed with the notion of adding a little black-strap molasses or Cafe du Monde chicory coffee on the fly, but felt like I had shitloads of malt character going and decided to save that for another time.

I took a hydrometer sample but didn't look at it until the beer was already in the carboy at which point I was shocked that it read 1075. Having over shot my gravity that far I worried that a) I'd have too little beer and b) that I'd have too much richness for the IBU's I had planned. My last dark beer (oatmeal stout) also boiled down too far and my stocks are already running low. So I decided to avoid brewing an imperial porter by adding a scant two quarts (what I think my mostly-filled teapot holds) of boiled and cooled water. Unfortunately this means I don't know my actual original gravity. But I'd rather not know than fuck around and possibly contaminate it in this vulnerable early stage. I'm guessing it's probably something along the lines of 1068, maybe 1070, which is plenty big still. I plugged the new numbers into ProMash and discovered that if I indeed had five gallons of 1075 wort, which I think I did, that my mash efficiency was 88%, which is awesome--my first all-grain mash was quite inefficient (something like 65%) so I have obviously figured something out. All hail the Papazian step-mash. Six or seven hours after the commencement of brewing, I pitched the starter and we now have about 5.5 gallons of beautiful, coal-black elixir beginning to bubble away already. Woo-hoo.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

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Old Crustacean

More or less brand new Old Crustacean. Largely unalamgamated elements, but incredibly yummy nonetheless. Massive, massive, massive nose. Piney Chinooks all over the place. Hops like a forest. Intense, intense bitterness. Lingering, lingering finish. One more in the basement. In tribute to my students, this tasting note is written entirely in fragments. Ooops.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Westmalle Dubbel

Wouldn't this be a nice dubbel to brew? It's a beautiful deep brown that turns rubyish purple when held up to the light, with a gorgeous big head. The nose is a little yeasty, with some hints of passion fruit and a little banana. Some definite spiciness too. Maybe coriander? The palate has wonderful, rasiny, almost red-winey tinges that I think are generally associated with Special-B malt. The finish is dry and earthy--one of the only points in the beer where you might actually perceive hop character. Going through again, I'm also getting more chocolatey notes. One of the things I love about this beer is its nice attenuation. Sometimes if you just drink an assortment of Abbey doubles, they can run together--appley, fruity, malty, and just a little sweet. By contrast, Westmalle is really quite dry--not that it's without body--but it's ultimately one of the leaner, more tightly constructed dubbels. Here's to Brother Thomas.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Random Tasting Notes

Went to DiBella's Fancy Fruit Baskets in search of random and/or holiday-focused beers the other day. Came back with, among other things, Victory Brewing Co.'s "Ten," a "Belgian-inspired ale." Bottled Sept. 11, 2002. Sitting at a low room temperature on a fairly dimly lit shelf for over two years. It's the last bottle of its kind, more or less--at any rate, it's the last one the funky dude at DiBella's had (that was how he talked me into buying it). I'm confused about Victory because I had their "Golden Monkey Triple" in So. Cal. and thought it quite wretched. To quote my own pre-blog tasting notes: "This beer smells kinda good for a minute but then proves to be the whore of Babylon. It is unfocused, coarse, not dry enough, and has a putrescent, bilgy finish. Almost like a malt liquor in its total lack of refinement and green, rotty, vagueness." Wow. Did I hate that fuckin' beer or what? On the other hand, in NY, dramatically closer to the (Pennsylvania) source, I had Victory's Prima Pils (Fabulous, see other posting), Hop Devil (One of the most distinctive hop bouquets ever), and Storm King Imperial Stout (A winey, plushy, 9% abv beauty). So I figured I'd give their Belgian range a second chance. There's a Grand Cru in the fridge that I'll get around to. I'm going to assume that the aforementioned triple suffered horribly in transcontinental transit, because this beer, the "Ten," is quite distinctive. Has a beautiful rusty, orangey color, a vigorous head, and a pretty fine bead. It's nose is remarkably Belgian with some bright, citric, estery fruit, and a little hit of the sort of corky, oaky, cellar character that one gets from, say, Abbaye des Rocs. It also smells sour, in an altogether pleasant way. On the palate it's a marvellous blend of sweet and sour, winey, almost vaguely Rodenbach-ish tones--very, very Flemish tasting. Grabby, faintly tannic mouthfeel. The finish lingers and feels as much like a red wine as a beer. I'm really impressed by this beer. It's not on their website--did they quit making it? The Walter in me says, "God-DAMNit!! Doesn't anyone give a SHIT about the RULES???!!" Anyway, that's my way of saying, "good beer--Wish I had more." I really think a lot of the better domestic Belgian style beers are catching up to the exemplars themselves. Here's to Victory...

Monday, December 06, 2004

Dogfish Head Worldwide Stout

I'm gonna have to get another one of these damnit... I hate expensive beer... This is an 18% abv stout. The nose alone makes your head swim, but it is nevertheless a peerlessly balanced, coal black elixir. The head had enough viscosity, when I poured the beer, that a couple of little teeny tiny beads of beer danced on the surface of the foam for a few seconds before falling through. Nose: Alcohol, licorice, vanilla, molasses, coffee, chocolate. Palate: Figs, prunes, dates. Viscosity galore. Lingering, but clean and focused, finish. Between this and 120-Minute IPA, Dogfish Head has completely superseded all other other 13%+ brewing efforts. If I can just get my hands on 30-odd pounds of good malt, perhaps I can whip up a five-gallon batch of something similar...

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Comparing Oatmeal Stouts

In my solitude, thought I'd compare my Oatmeal Stout (scant 3 weeks in bottle) with a Samuel Smith's Celebrated Oatmeal Stout, keeping in mind that the poor British contender is doubtless suffering from his transatlantic travel... Though I did extract the one I bought from a cardboard box, eschewing the tortured, well-lit-shelf option.

The SS is considerably more translucent--held up to the light, it's very ruddy complected. Mine is far more opaque, for whatever reason, only a little reddish light comes in around the edges. My beer also has a darker head, with better retention (There's a healthy dose of Carapils and a little wheat in the recipe I used). The SS smells of coffee with little hints of dried fruit--perhaps a little bit of date. My beer's nose is a little fuller. There's less coffee, but a nice little delicate whoosh of estery fruitiness. I think it's more alcoholic too--actually, just checked the stats on SS in Michael Jackson--it's OG is only 1048, whereas the homebrew version started at 1071. That's slightly deceptive though, as the finishing gravity was relatively high too.

In this sense, it's kind of an apples and oranges comparison. The Samuel Smith's example is ultimately a little drier, definitely more poised and balanced, but occasionally seems thin when compared with the slightly creamier, more voluptuous (and fresher) homebrew. I prefer the tighter, drier finish of the SS, but the homebrew does linger nicely. Mine started with a More Beer kit, tweaked in two ways. I gave it an extra long boil, effectively jacking up the gravity. I also gave it a very light whole-flower Kent Goldings dry-hop (unmeasured: 1/3-1/2 ounce?), which I think I can perceive.

When I make up my own Oatmeal Stout recipe I think, I'll keep a relatively high gravity, perhaps 1065, but make sure it ferments a little drier, for a cleaner overall profile. I'll add even a little more dry hops, and I'll privilege those unfermentables which are think are giving that nice head and full mouthfeel, lending a sound malt base for the aromatics. All in all, a pretty successful homebrew though.