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.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

And the Westmalle

Thoughts on Westmalle Tripel and recipe formulation for tripels:

I'm tasting this in pretty close succession to the Chimay White for the sake of crystallizing my sense of the differences. Can't compare the color well because the Westmalle poured pretty clear and the Chimay was ultra cloudy--which is odd since the Chimay had been sitting in the basement for a month while the Westmalle was just bought and got knocked around a little. Go figure. Westmalle is pale, but not ultra pale--definitely golden. Not as orange as my Saison, but not as pale as Duvel. This bottle has a very egg-whitey, brilliant head that leaves major lace.

The aroma is pretty low on the hops, especially compared to the Chimay. Maybe a little Saaz--reminds me a little of Duvel in the hopping level and aromatics. I could see a modest late addition of Saaz or Styrian Goldings. Even Fuggle perhaps. But not a lot of them. Little bitterness in the finish too. For this style of tripel, you'd be talking about a BU:GU ratio of like .5:1 I think, maybe .6:1. The nose is marked more by warm, whiskey-ish notes. Creaminess. Oddly enough I'm getting a real blast of cherry, which I don't think I've ever registered with this beer before. That only happened for 60-90 seconds and then the temperature change obliterated that facet of the beer. That's presumably a yeast-derived ester effect. With many Belgians that'd be more of a high, flowery, even citrusy, thing; here it's a little darker range of fruits, though that may have something to do with the warm serving temp. I'm drinking this at like 55 degrees, when 48-50 might change it. I get a little sage note too--darker herbs. Clove too. It's fascinating to watch a beer like this evolve in the glass.

The palate is silky smooth--malty but not even slightly cloying. This is the hard thing to replicate in brewing, I would think. My Duvel clone is still beltingly malty and it was heavily chaptalized with dextrose. Aging is the key, in part, but I wonder what the sugar percentage is here. Wow--such a perfumey nose. I love this beer. It does smell like coriander, so I'd be inclined to give it a little dose at the end of the boil. Could make a case for a little orange peel too, but I hate the idea of covering up the natural yeast complexity. Not sure how to approach that with this or the Dubbel. That 3787 yeast is pretty crazy and it may be best to savor whatever it produces of its own accord.

Starting gravity, by the way, is 1080. Alcohol is 9 or 9.5 depending on who you talk to. If it's 9.5, it would have to get from 1080 to 1008, which is pretty hard-core. This would mandate an extremely cool mash--no dextrins need apply. What a fucking balancing act. . . I forgot how suave this beer managed to be. With that kind of gravity, that's an extraordinary brewing accomplishment. Grist should be pilsner malt of the highest order, a modest amount of Munich, and totally clear candi-sugar, or beet sugar. Have read that Ommegang uses cane sugar; maybe just C&H is fine, if that's the case. I kinda trust those guys in Cooperstown. Pace Mosher, I'll steer clear of unrefined sugars for this one--seems dangerous given the refinement I'm ultimately trying to produce. Bittering will be tricky. It must be balanced. I hate flabby tripels. But overhopping is a real danger. I think maybe I'll hop for about 45 IBU's (tops) but exclusively with low-alpha, prefereably noble, hops. Hallertau, Styrians, Saaz, maybe Fuggle. Nothing else. And I'll keep the late additions really modest. Carbonation is also part of the balance. It should be well-carbonated, but not too spritzy. Westmalle is definitely a little less prickly in that respect than Chimay.

So, looking over my sources, I think the recipe in Mosher is actually very close. I might hops it a teeny, teeny bit more--maybe a half ounce of Saaz or Fuggle at five minutes. I might contemplate a touch of coriander, even a teensy whiff of orange peel. I'd definitely switch out the unrefined sugar. Other than that he and I are about on the same page. So I'll work off that recipe and tweak it very delicately. Sound like a plan?


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