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.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Human Frailty and a Beer Tasting

Rather than continue this ridiculous pen-and-paper stuff, here’s my thoughts on an evening’s beers, typed up in somewhat angst-ridden solitude. It’s been a rough day and I think something I read in the library today is really true. One Benjamin Buckler, author of the incredibly learned, OINOΣ KPIΘNOΣ A Dissertation concerning the Origin and Antiquity of Barley Wine (1750), believed that humans are unique among creatures for our inability to exist without alcohol. We are naturally “hypochondriacal” and want, “as it were Physick in a state of Health.” “Work or not work,” he says, “their spirits will now and then be flagging; they cannot hold out without some spirituous refreshment, some liquor to chear them, that is stronger than simple water.”

That being the case, I had a Petrus Aged Pale from Bavik. This is a 7.3 % a.b.v. sour beer. It’s pale, just slightly orange, but tastes not at all unlike a Rodenbach. The nose involves a complex of gooseberry, winey, and tart tropical fruit aromatics, peculiarly melded with a mixture of almonds and toasted coconut in the backdrop somewhere. The palate is super bright with fairly stabbing acidity and wonderful astringency grabbing the sides of the tongue. Very remarkable beer this. It’s always nice to see a puckery Belgian beer whose makers haven’t sold out.

Then there’s Kwak, which I haven’t had in a while (8%). It’s a little paler than I remembered, but very much on the dark side of amber. Aromatically, I pick up some cherry and other darker fruits, along with that trademark, malty-sweet, creamy scent that I’m inclined to associate with aromatic malt. It’s a hugely expressive nose overall—pepper, honey, and a little anise come out after a while too. The palate is rich and sultry with a nice mouthfeel. A creamy malt attack carries through to a rich, fleshy, nutty malt center and a lingering, somewhat sweet finish. It’d be hard to make a beer like this without culturing the yeast (should I learn to do that?), but you’d have a shot if you used a powerful, fruit-forward, not-too-attenuative Belgian yeast. The wort would probably have a gravity around 1072-1075 and would involve Belgian pale malt and substantial doses of munich, aromatic, and carmunich malts. Hops would be just enough to balance, maybe 35 IBU. Kwak is very satiating; it’s just a tiny bit too sweet for me to really go ape-shit about it, but it’s a really distinctive beer.

Abbaye des Rocs Grand Cru, at 9.5%, tries to climb out of the bottle like my home-brewed Saison. In doing so, it kicks up most of its sediment, but rewards you with a gargantuan head with huge, billowy air pockets. The sediment makes it look slightly darker than it is, I think, but it comes off as a kind of dusky, burnt umber. This brewery’s beers have always struck me for their rustic, woodsy, earthiness; the nose here is exceptionally spicy and earthy. It just smells like the woods: sage, undergrowth, mushrooms, pine needles, maybe rosemary, and so forth. Alcohol comes through in the nose too, in a way I don’t mind at all. It’s not exactly a hoppy beer, but there is some sort of resiny thing in the nose. I wonder if it’s bittered with something relatively intense, like Brewer’s Gold. The palate is a mixture of relatively sweet malt and a kind of rustic, drier graininess. The finish manages to maintain both elements, coating the mouth with a kind of sweetness, while also toying with rougher flavors. Hops are restrained overall. I think I prefer this to Chimay Blue. The nose might be explained by a combination of yeast characteristics and a small application of some of the earthier spices. Why not throw in a little sache of sage, and maybe a dried Shitake?


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