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.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Scholarly Life

Blah. I'm feeling uninspired at the Clark--the fancy research library I'm working at for a month. I felt briefly inspired and got some writing done and found some cool books, but now I think maybe what I was thinking is useless shit and that I'm not actually inspired. I'm not sure what I should be doing and am feeling some definite malaise.

In beer news, I drank a PBR last night. I bought a Pabst just to get my parking stub validated, thus buying a third rate 3.50 beer just to avoid a six dollar parking tab. Made sense really, but I hated the humiliation of ordering. Cuz you know the bartender is thinking, "what a schlub," when really I've forgotten more about beer than he ever knew. I should have said, "Do you have Delirium Tremens?" and then defaulted to Pabst.

Otherwise, I'm worrying about my Saison back home, Jerm's beers were good, Young's Double Chocolate Stout tasted better than I remembered, Lagunitas Gnarlywine is still good, and Fat Tire officially bites the big one. My god, what swill. It's just become such shit. Jeremiah and I agreed, at Woodstock's, that it smells of nothing but raw malt. Literally. It smells like a bag of wet grain. Never again, I say. I may brew a beer based on how I remember Fat Tire to be. Internet access is spotty, but there's a rare post for my two or three tireless readers. Sam said he reads my blog now and again just because nowhere else would be hear the phrase, "persnickety yeast." I appreciated that sentiment.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Saison fermenting

Meant to run through my Saison brewing from Sunday. It was an interesting brew day as the large burner on my stove began malfunctioning in a way that seemed dangerous and I had to brew on the little burners only. This added like 2 hours to the brew time and I started late anyway--ultimately didn't get cleaned up and off to bed until 3 a.m. The beer was fermenting vigorously by morning, which is good, but it's since died down and I'm using a space heater and some swirling around to try and kick it up a notch again. This is a spastic Saison Yeast (White Labs 565) which likes to ferment around 90 degrees and which is prone to fits and starts. I hope fervently that it'll have a quick primary so I can get it off the trub before I leave for CA.

I've got to get a firmer handle on my brewing efficiency. This was intended to be a six-gallon batch at 1054 and I got more like 6.5 at 1059. A rough Promash calculation would suggest that that's about 88% efficiency. But I'm not always -that- efficient. The annoying thing is that this results in some crazy gravity juggling and diluting and boiling and so on to try and hit a target. And in this case I'm sure the beer will turn out fine, but I really wanted it to be just a tad lighter. That discrepancy will probably only result in perhaps .4% more alcohol, but I try to be precise. Anyway, I gave it just a teeny bit more finishing hops to compensate when I saw that it was just going to be bigger no matter what I did (short of pouring out wort and adding water, or filling the carboy into the neck, which I prefer to avoid. . .).

In other random notes, we had our party which was a smashing success. Randy, the local brewing guru, was really impressed with my beers, which flattered me greatly. Before I forget to record this somewhere else, he told me not to bother with Wyeast 1214, but that I would love 1968 for my British ales. The kegged bitter (crisp, minerally, tea-ish) was a hit, as was the pale ale (the malty one with the Smuttynose grain bill). The initiates loved my super-hoppy Chinook IPA. And the new Oatmeal Stout went over well. Though it was conceded that most of the Belgians are a little young, they met with considerable praise. Randy seemed to prefer the Dubbel which he thought tasted really Belgian and not-un-Westmalley. He suggests I build a walk-in cooler (not likely at the moment) and brew more so as to prevent myself from drinking my more age-worthy beers. I may do just a little extra brewing in early July for that reason. Perhaps if I buy a couple kegs and do a couple of nice, light, quick maturing ales, I can also brew some Belgians and bigger British beers and stash them while a special bitter or a wheat beer distracts me.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Saison details

OK, so here's some Saison issues. Have been re-reading Farmhouse Ales and have gleaned the following:

The yeast I'm using is persnickety. Aerate the shit out of the wort and give it some yeast nutrient. Try to ferment at 85-90 degrees. A closet with a heater or even the garage in the daytime might work. The goal is to crash it through the main ferment like a bat out of hell and then rack it secondary four days after brewing. Considering a double racking to reduce autolysis concerns it it's far enough along. A lengthy 70-75 degree secondary is desirable, which is good, because it's going to get one. . .

Hard water is good. Should do standard gypsum in mash then add something like 1/3 to 1/2 a Burtonizing treatment. Make that 1/3.

Mash should be one of two things. Either a step (113 for 30, 131 for 15, 144 for 30, 154 for 15), or a single infusion at 143-145. Target FG is something like 1004-1008 tops. Sugar could help get it down that low, but no more than 10%. 6.5 alcohol tops.

Hops can be Styrian (Fuggle sub), EKG's, or Saaz. Suggested aromatic combination from Markowski is 50% Styrians, 30% EKG, 20% Saaz. IBU should be 32 at the absolute max. I want to know how the yeast really tastes, so I'll suppress the usual urge to dry hop. Late additions should be substantial though.

Grain bill will be almost all Pilsner. Some wheat. Maybe, maybe a little Biscuit.

1054 OG

Maybe hold the Saaz for something else.

This will be minimalistic--closest commerical equivalent would be Saison Dupont Vieille Provision.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Dubbel and grading

I hate grading. That's no surprise. But the end is near in that respect. In the meantime, my Belgian Dubbel is good.

Color is great--deep reddish brown. Respectable head. Aromatically, I get a little passion fruit (could that be picked up even a little more with orange peel?) spiciness (clove?), a hint of anise, a distinct creaminess (which 3787 seems to do), a huge plum thing, and some dried fruits, a little banana on the high end. The palate is just wonderfully soft, utterly without sharp edges. Doesn't have huge body but is somehow mouth-coating. Earth and a little chocolate kick in in the finish, which is lingering and nicely dry. I'm pleased.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Saison, part 2

As a follow-up to the whole Saison planning thing, I'm having a bottle of Brasserie Fantome's "La Gourmande: Biere d'Epeautre de Hotton." I can't for the life of me figure out what "hotton" means, but "epeautre" means this is a saison brewed with spelt wheat. I've had this before and, though it's not my favorite of the Fantome beers, it's very interesting. My favorite, if you're keeping score, would be Saison Printemps, well-aged in the cellars of Toranado in San Francisco.

Anyway, La Gourmande is toward the leaner, lighter end of the saison range and thus informative for what I'm thinking about brewing. And actually, I wouldn't mind trying spelt sometime. This is a pale beer, with a generous white head and a pretty fine bead. Aromatically, it's an apt reminder of how much a cork can do for a beer. Though this is considered a tragic flaw in wine, a lot of Belgian beers get a wonderful little extra rustic complexity from corky aromas. This has that. Hops aren't too prominent. Maybe a little Saaz? Certainly no dry-hopping here, unless the beer is just super aged. Don't know the bottling date. Otherwise, the nose reveals a delicate spiciness, some graininess, not a ton going on actually. It smells quite nice, but not in a super layered way. The palate is really lovely--it's light and crisp, but with a meandering rusticity. The spelt (I guess) leaves a certain grainy, sort of rye-like spiciness. This lingers in the finish and combines with a nice mild hoppiness.

Gotta make sure I don't over-hop the new Saison. Always a danger with me.

Saison Tasting, part 1

So I just frantically called Northern Brewer and ordered stuff to brew one more time before I leave. I kept talking to Jeremiah and Brad about their brewing and I shut things down three weeks ago and I couldn't take it. The end of school is dragging on and cutting into my general jeu d'esprit and this, clearly, is the solution. The house is all nice and clean, grading's close to done, party preparations for Saturday will only take a few hours and this means that Sunday, amidst the wreckage, I should brew once more before my California sojourn, ideally getting the beer I produce into secondary just before I leave for a nice lengthy conditioning and perhaps dry hopping. Maybe I should even brew it Friday--not sure. At any rate, it's done--so be it.

To help me think about fine tuning my recipe, I turn to La Chemise Enflamme, my first Saison.

The color of this, from Munich and a touch of Special Roast, is dead gorgeous. Absolute clarity, rich orange-copper. This beer is so pretty, in fact, that I'm going to post a photo of it later. Head is voluminous. Could be a touch more durable--maybe I'll up the wheat percentage. Aromatically, we're talking about a blend of a floweriness from the Golding dry-hop, pepperiness, more generalized spice (some probably from coriander, some from the 1388 working its magic), yeasty esters, a little citrus, a little whiff of sourdough. The palate is dry and slightly tart (a quality I love) with the Munich and Special Roast contributing a minimal, but neatly articulated malty depth. There's a hint of a tea leaf dryness in the finish.

So as much as I love that beer, I'm brewing a completely different Saison now. This is, perhaps, my favorite beer style of all. It has very few rules and allows for tremendous creativity, but the underlying norms mix hoppiness (good), a refreshing dryness (good), a high enough gravity that they cheer you up but not high enough that they take forever to mature (good), and complex yeast aromatics (good). What's not to love? The first Saison I made was on the richer, spicier end (coriander, orange and grapefruit peel, grains of paradise). I'm planning on making at least two more this summer and the first will be a tighter, leaner, non-spiced, paler one--more of a minimalist beer. I'm ordering the authentic Saison Dupont yeast which is supposed to ferment really hot and produce tons of spice and pungency. We'll let that do its thing on a leaner malt foundation: Pilsner, Wheat, Beet Sugar, and maybe a dash of Biscuit. I'll hop it with a combination of Saaz, EKG, and perhaps Fuggle. Could bitter with Styrians as I have some of them around I think. Haven't decided whether a dry hopping is in order--we'll see. More later when I sample a commercial Saison for further information. Wait, "commercial" is the wrong word. It's brewed by Fantome, which makes it artisanal really. . .

Monday, May 09, 2005

Ruination vs. CIPA

Ruination: 7.7 abv

Mine's considerably richer in color

Ruination is way more gerranial/citrusy. Kind of a sourdough twinge to the nose.

I meant for this to be an important beer tasting, but Jeremiah called and I can barely type coherently. . .

The important point is that I in fact preferred my IPA to Ruination. Mainly this is because of the beauty of Chinook hops. Mine is just more resiny and richer and less grapefruity.

I said the following sentence to Jerm and he liked it so much that I typed it, before drinking too much Eagle Rare:

"Upon attaining verticality and ambulating about the house, I've discovered that those IPA's have really had an effect upon me."

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Back spasms, dirty feet, and Scotch Ale

It's been an odd weekend. I couldn't bear any more grading, so I did spring cleaning. My basement is pretty clean and exceptionally well-organized. And the first floor of the house is coming around. Very little clutter, very little beer residue, and I'll vacuum it tomorrow and then try to grade final exams while cleaning upstairs. The idea is to have the place looking pretty decent for a party next weekend, and just cuz it makes me feel better. So from wandering around the basement sweeping and moving boxes my feet have an SRM of like 30. If you don't make beer, you have no idea what I'm talking about. . .

Drinking a Smuttynose Scotch Ale, which I really like. Too tired to analyze.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Tasting my English Bitter

Gotta say, I really made a fan-fucking-tabulous bitter. Five gallons of it are in a keg with a little priming sugar, waiting for a party in a week and a half. Three liters have been carbonated separately with a soda siphon and I'm having the last pint therefrom right now. It's got a lovely, delicate, orange-amber color and a splendid head (Shooting CO2 into it will do that I guess). I'm drinking it pretty warm, as it should be, and there are just tons of things going on. It's simple and session-able in the sense that you can drink several of these in very short order--it's not a beer that demands your attention. But it does reward it.

The nose blends delicate, controlled Fuggle and Golding additions--it's spicy with hops, but in a very unassuming, not in-your-face way. There's an appley component to the yeasty fruitiness. On the palate, the malt character is lush and complex. It's got a nice, direct, uncomplicated biscuity thing, but also hints of tea leaf and a toastiness from the amber malt. It's just a really, really suave grain bill. I could see just upping the quantities across the board to make a special bitter with a little heavier hopping. But I could also see making the exact same damned beer and not touching a thing. The bitter backbone the hops give to the finish is really smooth and dry and appetizing as well. This is just the best.

This is a simple thing to make, but I haven't made a beer I've enjoyed more. Perhaps the key is the Burton Water Salts, which I tried for the first time--they're supposed to produce a crisper beer, and this is definitely crisp. I think future pale ales and English style IPA's will really benefit from that experiment. I didn't want to throw off my delicate mash chemistry and have to acidify, so I mashed as normal and upped the water hardness sharply in the kettle. Here's the recipe:

"Cake or Death" Bitter:

9 lbs Maris Otter (Crisp)
1 lb Victory (Briess)
1/4 lb Crystal 55L (Simpsons)
1/4 lb Amber (Crisp)

Infusion mash at 152 with 1 tsp gypsum.

Add 3 T. Burton salts in kettle.

1 oz Northern Brewer, pellet (90)
1 oz EKG, pellet (30)
.6 oz EKG, whole (2)
.6 oz Fuggle, whole (2)

OG 1047
FG 1017? (It might be a point or two lower--I lost my final reading, but it was 1017 at the ten- day mark, so that's close)

Makes about 6.5 gallons.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Oatmeal Stout Tasting

Me vs. Sam Smith again, only this time it's the second, all-grain edition of the homebrew.

Appearance-wise, mine is a tiny bit deeper black with a slightly darker head. Neither head is anything to write home about, which goes with the territory (oats having some fat content).


Sam: Coffee, winey dryness. Warmer, a distinct creamy note is perceptible, like chocolate Hagen Daaz (sp?).
Me: Substantially fruitier. A little more toward chocolate than coffee. It's not better than Sam's but it's really sultry and intoxicatingly fruity. Less tightly focused, but nevertheless really interesting.


Sam: Lovely, focused chocolatey palate--dry, even ever so slightly sour in spots. Finish is fruity and lingering.

Me: Oily, rich palate. Chocolatey, slightly less dry than Sam's, but nowhere near cloying. Finish is fatter, swinging from cream and coffee toward butter and chocolate.

These are both pretty beautiful beers. I ought to investigate ways to touch up my grain bill to get a little more toward the tighter, coffee-er end, as I think I prefer that. Should ask that on a More Beer forum or something.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Dr Doom tasting

Since Lisa's busy blogging about her damned uncle, I thought I'd review Dr. Doom, now that's it's spent some time in my fridge. It's got a big meringuey head, a pretty pale gold color, and excellent clarity. I'm drinking this one pretty cold--it can be drunk either way of course, but I lean toward fairly well-chilled Duvel. The nose is dominated by pleasant, delicate fruit and spicy esters--I pick up clove and apple particularly, plus a little earthiness from the hops (Saaz and Styrians). On the palate, it's clean and pretty crisp for a beer of its size (about 8.65% abv). It's not quite as paradoxically un-malty as Duvel, but it is pretty tight all the same.

I can imagine all kinds of ways of spinning a beer like this, with spicing, or a louder yeast strain, or slightly stronger hops--I think what I learned from making this is that Belgian Pilsner malt, plus a good yeast and any sense of balance on the part of the recipe writer, equals a potentially terrific beer. As it warms up you can perceive the alcohol a little more, and richer, sort of malt-liquorier flavors start to come out. Which reminds me that it would be very easy to make this just a little bigger, ferment it a little hotter, and get something like Piraat Ale (Van Steenberge?). If you think about it, these Belgian strong pales are really sort of like the classier Belgian cousins of Miller High Life or Old English 800. They're strong, they're heavily adjuncted, and they try to taste lighter than they are. Not that I wouldn't take 11.2 ozs of Duvel over a case of O.E. . .

The only problem with making this style is that they are rather slow maturing. I figure I'll let six or ten of these get drunk at my party and will try to drink the rest in July, or later ideally. This summer I intend to do a series of La Chouffe inspired beers, which may present similar problems, but I think La Chouffe itself is a percent or so lower alcohol lower than Duvel and my experiences thus far suggest that that makes a big difference in how soon a beer gets ready. Scratch that: I just looked on-line and La Chouffe is 8%. Well, it's still a little lighter. I also got distracted and listened to the "Vive La Chouffe" song for the first time in a few years. -Best- beer theme song -ever-. Look for where it says "Download here the Happy Chouffe Song."

Last sip: Now that it's room temp, it smells a lot like a liquer. Heady stuff.