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, January 30, 2005

And then there's barley wine

In my vague depression, I'm consoling myself with a bottle of Old Foghorn; drinking wherefrom, I intend to ramble about what kind of barley wine I ought to make. I've been operating under the theory that no starter is really big enough for a barley wine and that I ought to plan one to be siphoned onto the lees of a pale ale that I've just bottled.

So, the pale ale is easy. I'm going to take the (very distinctive) grain bill for Smuttynose's Shoals Pale Ale, composed of Pale Malt, Carastan 35L, Cystal 120L, and Wheat Malt. With that, I'll use, probably, White Labs number 1 (the Sierra Nevada yeast) and hop it moderately with Chinook and Cascade. The question is, what barley wine do I really want?

Seems to me there's three basic kinds (disregarding Belgian oddities like Scaldis). There's the English ones, which tend to be overwhelmingly malty and get big doses of Goldings or Fuggles. There's the well-behaved American ones (like the one I'm drinking) which are about suave malt, richness, and controlled hopping. Then there's barley wines behaving badly, either those with asinine alcohol contents (the magnificent Dogfish Head Immort Ale), those with insufferable spicing (John Barleycorn), or those with preposterously high hop levels (Old Crustacean, Bigfoot). Because I got a good deal on some whole flower Chinooks, I'm inclined toward the latter category. Plus, I can't get Bigfoot on the east coast apparently. So, what about a gravity of 1090-1095, a malt bill that's mostly good pale malt, with a nice dose of moderately dark crystal, a touch of dextrine, and, oh, about 100 IBU's of Cascade, Centennial, and Chinook, with a liberal dry-hopping of perhaps all three? I mean Old Foghorn is nice (I'm enjoying it as we speak) but fuck it. Hops, hops, hops. But, just in passing, in praise of subtlety, I must mention that I adore that little whiff of Grand Marnier which seems to me the trademark of Old Foghorn. Wonder how they get that? Oh, well. My barley wine, tentatively dubbed "Old Crowbar," will be all about the pine resin-y glory of the Chinook.

Belgian Strong

Trying to work out the logistics of brewing my Belgian Strong Ale next weekend... The recipe in Mosher seems almost too simple. Pilsner malt, corn sugar, Saaz and Styrian Goldings. But there's not a lot to these beers either. I'm tasting a Duvel right now and, basically, I'm smelling a light dose of estery yeast by-products, a little whiff of pear, a relatively ephemeral breezy hop aroma, alcohol, and a very, very clean bready hit of malt. Should I try for this kind of ultra-clean profile, or fiddle around a little and think of beers like La Chouffe and add a spice or two, maybe just one nutty character malt (aromatic?)? The ingredients I can get -can't- be as good as those Moortgat can get, so perhaps I'm screwing myself by trying to do something that minimalistic. Sort of like making fettucine alfredo with boxed pasta and pre-grated cheese... But I did order Belgian Pilsner malt and European hops. And I do have the ideal yeast. Perhaps I should just try it and do a spicier, Chouffier beer later. On the plus side my aging situation is pretty good right now. Will do, following up on what Michael Jackson reveals about the Duvel process, a nice warm primary, followed by a couple days moving the carboy around the house and basement, cooling gradually and heading toward a couple weeks at 30 degrees (which will either involve the refrigerator in the garage, or the more volatile space under my cellar doors. I'll do a very warm bottle conditioning for a week or two and then stick the bottles in the coldest corner of the basement for a couple months--would ideally by 40 degrees, but that's a hard temperature to find inside or outside around here... Hmmm... I hope it works. Oh well, it's not like it's a hugely expensive beer. Worst-case scenario (barring contamination), I ought to have a nice strong, drinkable beer. I just worry about getting the complexity and the desired cleanness.

In other news I think I no longer have time to watch movies. Might cancel Netflix for a while. Sigh...

Sunday, January 23, 2005

My Saison Adventure

So yesterday I made my first Belgian beer. It was a Saison in the general manner of Saison Dupont. I started with a recipe from Radical Brewing and then tweaked 2 or 3 things to get a slightly higher gravity, to use up a little extra malt, to up the hop aroma a teensy bit, and whatever I felt like (I'm getting more confident about improvisations). So here's what I did:

Tried to preboil some portions of the water--I still haven't noticed any chlorine type things in my beer so I think I have awfully nice city water, but it can't hurt to drive off any chlorine where possible. I'm looking into a little filtration set-up too.

Anyway I mashed the following in an upward infusion. I was too lazy to look up the appropriate strike temperature so I simply combined nice warm water with these malts and raised from around 120 up to the low 150's over a period of perhaps twenty minutes:

6 lbs Dingemans Belgian Pilsen Malt (Lovibond 3)
2 lbs Weissheimer Munich Malt (Lovibond 9)
1/2 lb domestic Munich
1/4 lb Special Roast (Lovibond 50, Briess)
1 lb wheat malt

The Special Roast was a random last minute thought--I knew I needed just a touch more malt to get the gravity up and I thought it might give just a teensy extra orange tweak to the color--we'll see. I need to find a better way to regulate mash temp as mine tend to be all over the map in the pot, but I eventually got it to settle out around my target of 152, but it spent time at various temperatures--this was a little sloppy. Oh, I also added a tsp of gypsum, which is becoming my default water addition for hoppier, pale-ale-ish beers. Need to do more water chemistry research. I gave it a good hour-long saccharification rest and then tried to mash out properly but got a somewhat anemic temperature of 160-5. Figured that was good enough, transferred gently to my Zapap lauter tun and sparged with 170 degree water. Collected around seven gallons and did my usual over-vigorous boil in three kettles. I let it go about 25 minutes then added 1 oz. Northern Brewers for the remaining sixty minutes along with 1 lb 3 oz of pale Belgian candi-sugar. I'm interested to keep an eye on different sugar choices in my Belgians over the next few months--candi-sugar is a rip-off but I thought I'd try the classic.

Due to the vigorous boil (and perhaps more sparge water getting caught in the wheat?) I realized the gravity was a little high and added I think three quarts of water near the end, looking to get it into the mid-1060's as opposed to 1070-1071 which I was flirting with. Will make a higher gravity Saison later. All this time I was hanging out with Brad, who's learning to brew, and Wayne. At some point I must've gotten distracted because I leaned into the stove too far and caught my loose shirt tails on fire. I think I yelled something like "Motherfucker" and began flapping at the flames, which were not insubstantial. You get very focused when there are eight inch flames in the area of your right hip. Although maybe not so focused, because the guys said later that I also seemed peculiarly intent on continuing to stir the beer. Anyway I eventually figured out that the sink was my pal and doused the damned shirt. In tribute to this I believe I'll call this beer La Chemise Enflamme. Imagine an accent over that "e." I guess it's sort of a nod toward La Biere de Sans Culottes, a not-too-distant style.

Almost forgot the Irish Moss but finally threw some in with 15 or 20 left. 1.5 oz whole Czech Saaz with 20 minutes remaining. 2 oz whole East Kent Goldings with 5 minutes left, plus (at five minutes again) my spice addition: Zest of one orange, zest of 1/4 of a smallish grapefruit, .6 oz nice Indian coriander, and about a 1/4 tsp. grains of paradise (courtesy of Katrina). All that stuff wound up in a knotted More Beer steeping grain bag which was a big improvement over other things I've tried--hope it doesn't cut down on the absorption too much. The resulting beer (About 5.5 gallons? Maybe a little more?) went into a carboy at 1064 and was around 78 to 80 degrees. I pitched a rather anemic looking Wyeast 1388 starter. My highly inaccurate Pro-Mash twiddlings suggest an efficiency between 75 and 80 percent. And, wonder of wonders, the yeast is fine. I pitched at 6 or so and it was fermenting vigorously when we came back from a wild party at about 2:30. So Belgian brewing rocks. Did I mention it was snowing like holy hell the entire day too?

Thursday, January 20, 2005


Why did this Yahoo! News hotline make me laugh out loud?

Bush starts new term, seeks end to tyranny

I'm still giggling. Fucking bastard. Go ahead, put me on the watch list.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

And another superfluous post just to hear myself talk

And, by way of another thought five minutes later: I think I'm gonna let the weather dictate my brewing a little more. Though barley wine will be lovely in winter it'll take forever to make even if I start now. As long as my basement is fifty degrees, after the planned Belgians (which will age beautifully down there) I'm going to try my first Pilsner and squeeze in a Belgian strong ale somewhere. As long as I can actually conveniently manage a free, lengthy cold-aging, why not make a Duvel-type beer? It's effectively a lagered ale, so after a fairly warm fermentation by a radiator I'll give it a nice long secondary in the basement, and a nice long bottle conditioning in the car hole or under the cellar doors. If I get on it, I oughta have a wicked beer (tentatively titled Doctor Doom) by May. Starting with info from Randy Mosher and a Michael Jackson piece on the Duvel process. Wish me luck.

A random, terse post

It's cold. Really fucking cold. Like -4 in the middle of the afternoon with a windchill of -20. School starts tomorrow and I am only mariginally prepared. Taking a break from last minute syllabus writing. On the plus side, my brown ale is maturing beautifully. Love the Fuggles dry hop, love the faintly oaky twang, love the earthy little sourdough aroma. Ought to make again sometime, tweaking it to make it a shade darker and just a teensy bit maltier. It's more interesting than Newcastle, but still needs a little more malty richness to stay a little closer to style. Great dry finish. Also makes a damn good over-worked professor's English-style snacky dinner with a hunk of whole grain bread and a wedge of sharp cheddar.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Brewing update

Well, brewing is catching--my colleague in the math department just made his first batch. As for me I've just bottled my very robust porter, for which I have high hopes. Though, like a novice recipe writer, I got carried away with the specialty malts, I think it's going to be pretty good. Tasted still, at bottling obviously, it was quite roasty, but not vegetal or out of control (as it seemed when I transferred it to secondary). The Willamette dry hopping, though it cost me like a 1/3 of a gallon 'o beer, added a pretty nice extra note and rounded out the overall aromatic profile. Will I ever make another beer without dry hops??? Wait, I'm planning a Belgian Dubbel. I -cannot- dry hop that. Period. End of story.

So the next beers go like so. Next weekend I brew a Saison beer, working off a recipe in Radical Brewing. It'll have a couple spice additions: orange, coriander, and grains of paradise, the last courtesy of Katrina who's sending them from California. Then, after I rack that out of secondary I'll throw my not-yet-devised Dubbel on the lees. Not sure how big I want the Dubbel to be. Should it be a mild Chimay Red-ish affair or a big-ass Rochefort 10 kinda thing? Must decide in the next day or two and then order grain and shit from MoreBeer and/or Northern Brewer. After that I'm planning another use-the-yeast-twice thing. Basically, I'll take the pale ale grain bill I got from the super-cool head brewer at Smuttynose (Thanks Dave!!!) and I'll hop it up just a touch more with Chinook and Cascade--maybe no dry hops on that one. A last-second addition might do it better. Then the lees from the secondary will theoretically be the perfect way to start a big-ass barley wine I'm building around roughly Big-Foot-ish parameters. That one will be dry-hopped to shit with Chinooks, and Cascades, and Centennials.

My english mild has just gotten bottle conditioned and I kinda like it. I built it based on what I remember/know about McMullen's A.K. Though I've later learned that A.K. is actually pretty adjuncy-heavy, with both corn and sugar in it. So mine is sort of a slightly denser all-malt version. I call it D.A. Mild. The Dude Abides, man. It's very light--might not even have 3 percent a.b.v. The nose has a little flowery hit of Kents. It could use a little more body but there's a nice, lingering tea-leaf thing going on in the finish. Delicately bitter. Little whiff of toffee somewhere or other. Considering it's the first recipe I ever wrote from scratch, based on a beer I can barely remember, it's not too damned bad. Also a nice test case in the interesting things that can happen when a relatively pale beer has a small percentage of dark malt (chocolate in this case). As odd as it may be to dry hop a mild, I'm glad I did because the Goldings are a critical part of this. I like the nose and the finish the best--were I to brew another mild I'd probably do something to plump up the palate just a touch. Maybe a dash of carapils for body, or crystal for sweetness, or just another 1/2 a percent alcohol. But, all in all, well done old bean.

On one other note, my friend Wayne gave me FOUR CARBOYS--and pretty nice looking ones at that--which he procured for $12. Retail value new would be 80-100 bucks. Shit yeah. He wants to brew but can't for various logistical reasons. So we're gonna split ingredients, use those extra carboys, and brew either an oatmeal stout (his favorite of my previous brews) or some sort of wheat beer (probably a teutonic Hefe-Weizen). So there's a blog posting. Does anyone actually read this shit??

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

A Celebratory Rochefort

Celebrating the conclusion of my horrid--but satisfying--five days of nail pulling and plywood snapping with a Rochefort 10 brought back from California. Deep sepia color; has picked up some bottle age in the store--bottle was all moldy. Never a good thing in a Pilsner Urquell, but sometimes leads to great things with a Trappist beer. Smells and tastes of earth--almost dirty, but in a good way, with a thick, unctuous body and layers of spice and dark, dried fruit (dried figs?). Distinctly alcoholic in the nose. Really profound shot of dark chocolate too. Finish lingers and lingers. Nose is sort of like brandy mixed with chocolate and rich dusty soil. This is one of the headiest of Belgian beers. I love it.