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.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

a good beer, a bad beer, and some mild ugliness

Today was irritating. I won't go into it. I tried to enjoy the irritation ironically and usually succeeded.

Tried to have a new beer to distract me. Dean's Beans Coffee Porter. Forget the brewery--the bottle's downstairs. It was pretty crappy. Thin. Kinda vaguely acrid without being all that roasty. Some kind of artifical coffee-ness. Poured out the second half.

Now working on my original Saison beer--very limited stash left on this. Having tried some other types of Saisons since, I really notice the presence of the hops. For one thing, there's some delicately spicy Saaz. There's also the Goldings I dry-hopped it with, which lend a distinctly Orval-ish slant to the nose. Note that someday when I do an Orval clone, massive Golding dry-hopping is critical. Not Styrian--East Kent. This beer is over-carbonated. I attribute that not to infection but simply premature bottling. I tended to rush things early on and this is only my third or fourth all-grain beer. It's really a very beautiful beer though. I'd have no qualms about making the exact same recipe sometime. I tweaked a couple things, but it's basically the Randy Mosher Saison from Radical Brewing. Nice job there R.M. At some point I should compare it to my non-spiced Dupont-yeast-using Saisons and see how I really feel about formulating these recipes. This used 1388 and spices, which I still really notice. Others have been more yeast-focused. I love the coriander here. Interesting beer to watch age. I miss the little sourdough twang it had before--but it's getting leaner and more minerally, which is also nice.

Oh, I also had an early bottle of the Autumn Saison. Looks like that might be my best Belgian to date and I'm glad I corked a case. The under-filled sample-me-first bottle was just beautiful. Wonderful malt character--very munich-y and rich and alcoholic without being heavy or bruising. Nice bracing hops; highly complex nose; lot of layers; looked great.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Old Heathen

Just a quick tasting note. Drinking a Weyerbacher (PA) Old Heathen Imperial Stout. It's not bad. Pretty black--decent head. Smells like a stout made with a ton of crystal malts, which give it a nice smoothness and a rich foundation. Subtle nose balances fruit and a relatively refined, espresso-like roastiness. Only problem is I don't want my imperial stouts refined. I'd take Old Rasputin over this in a heartbeat.

And the more I think about it, the best imperial stout I think I've had is Stone's. It's about 2% a.b.v. stronger than this and has far, far more roastiness, which I think is crucial. It's not mindlessly roasty either--it's got chocolate and hops and tar and interesting cherry-ish esters and the whole boatload of sensitive bullshit. (I think that was a phrase from "Howl." Anyone confirm that?) But it is hugely, hugely roasty and I just demand that from an imperial stout.

So to the people at Weyerbacher I say: Up the roast barley, up the chocolate malt, throw in a little black patent or carafa, whatever you have to do. . .

Monday, August 22, 2005

533 Analysis

Trying side-by-side glasses of 533 Belgian Pale. One bottle-conditioned, the other kegged and dry-hopped with an ounce of Saaz for a week.

The bottle-conditioned head is a trifle more durable. Color is virtually identical--slightly clearer and maybe an eighth of a shade richer amber in the bottle. The kegged version is obviously hoppier; I get a bright, grassy, herbal thing overlaying everything else. The bottled one has much more pronounced yeast aromas because of the absence of that other layer. They actually do taste just about exactly the same--they both balance a kind of prickly hoppiness with nutty, very dry Vienna/Munich maltiness. This isn't as interesting as I thought it might be. I'm glad I have a small amount of this in bottles to age and see if it does anything interesting, but I'm also glad I dry-hopped the kegged version as it makes it much brighter and more seasonally appropriate.

Not sure what to make of this yeast (Wyeast Belgian Ardennes). Aging of the bottled 533 may help me decide whether to fool around with this one again. It reminds me of 3787, only a little spicier. I'm not wowed so far though, and it doesn't much remind me of the aromatics associated with Brasserie d'Achouffe, its supposed source. Though as the beer warms up the yeast aromatics get more convincing. Time will tell.

Also did some beer re-organizing today. Racked Holly's Chair to secondary. Dry hopped my XX Bitter clone with an ounce of Hallertau and a half ounce of Brewer's Gold. I'm not sure that's going to be enough--will taste in 10 or 12 days and see if I need to order more hops. . . The Emergency Summer beer will go straight from primary to keg this weekend, leaving a large yeast cake for the Smutty-ish Porter I'll brew Saturday or Sunday. All's basically well in beerland.

Another Saison Brew-Day

I've got to get Belgian beers out of my system... I've been making a lot of them lately. Sunday, I brewed another Saison, intended more or less for spring consumption. It features a lean, toasty Saison-de-Pipaix-style grain bill, moderately high hopping and spice additions (coriander, orange peel, grapefruit peel, and tiny amounts of star anise and ginger). I was planning to introduce a small amount of Roeslare sediment to give it some funk and acidity, but I might play it safe and split the batch--maybe bottle 1/2 or 2/3 of it in a month or so, and let the rest get funky for later bottling. We'll see. Meanwhile, I bottled my Autumn Saison, doing a case of 750 ml corked and capped bottles. That proved to be a little bit of a pain, as my corker is a piece of shit. Oh well. I won't do that all that often, but it needs some work. I also bottled my Wheat Doppelbock. Both those beers looked really good and I'm looking forward to early samples in a couple weeks.

I'm about to begin a dark-beer-oriented period of winter build-up. First, a Smuttynose Porter clone. Then the Barclay Perkins 1856 Imperial Brown Stout I've been talking about. Finally have everything ready to go. I also realized that it was criminal to make an 1100-plus beer with like 28 pounds of grain and not make a small beer too. So I'll do some sort of ungodly double brew day either next week, or the week after. I just ordered a different yeast strain, plus extra hops and a little crystal malt to flesh out the small beer. I'll call it "Little Bastard Small Stout" and hope I can somehow eke out 5 gallons and 1040-1048 by re-mashing with some extra dark grains. I figure it'll be about a twelve-hour project and will require borrowing an extra kettle and buckets. In other words, total chaos.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Hop Back Entire Stout

Lately, I'm really digging the subtlety of English beers, particularly maltier ones. This is a particularly lovely stout--exceptionally balanced and drinkable. It's quite dark, but light can definitely be seen through it--several shades paler than the Smutty Porter I drank the other day. Nice retentive head. The nose blends green, leafy Goldings with sharper coffee flavors and deep, black, high-cacao chocolate. Sort of like a dry, Irish stout, it's relatively light and freshing on the palate--no heaviness or noticeable dextrins, but some firm tannins that grasp your mouth and guide the beer through. A hell of a lot more interesting than Guinness.

This would be a nice set of attibutes to shoot for. Something like this probably has a decent amount of flaked barley, some carastan to richen up the base, nice hops, and just a moderate dose of roast barley. Keep it simple, right?

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Ten-Year-Old Saison de Pipaix

Found this at Beers of the World in Rochester. Brewed in July of '95, just shortly after I turned 21, and bottled in October of the same year. I'm making a similar Saison so this should theoretically be instructive, but this is so old it's kind of like, well, not really relevant. Complex as hell though.

It's basically still. Slightly cloudy, coppery gold color. No real head. Smells of peaches, apple cider, anise, lemongrass, dank underbrush--pretty lambic-y really. Despite the stillness, it kind of sparkles in the mouth--prickly acidity dances around and makes the palate remarkably lively overall, tasting like dry Normandy cider, or a very old geueze. The finish is supple and smooth, but definitely tart as well. Quite a wonderful beer.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Caramel Porter sucks

OK, this is just pointless cattiness, but I had a beer I really fuckin' hated today. Spent a little of the evening visiting with our friends Wayne and Marijean. We sampled my pilsner and my smoke beer and then, zut alors, Saranac's Caramel Porter. So F.X. Matt is the big brewer in town. They contract brew for Brooklyn Brewing, they happen to make Mississippi Mud and Utica Club, and I think they brewed Billy Beer back in the day. But their main gig is the Saranac line. These are not bad beers by and large. I hate their lager, but they've got a decent pale ale, a decent IPA, a Mocha Stout I rather like, a Roggenbock, some assorted seasonal things that are quite decent, and so on. They also make a bottled black and tan people here seem to like. But I share the feelings of a friend of mine who wishes they would pour out the tan part and just bottle the black part. They don't have a year-round stout or porter, the dipshits.

Anyway, then there's the seasonal "Caramel Porter." Hated it. Had it before--hated it then too. Lisa was offered one and then crapped out and wanted to nap or something and I wound up with 3/4 of a beer. What a wretched piece of shit that porter is. I had my smoke beer in one hand, and the porter in the other, and I just couldn't help wondering why they have a brewery and I have a pot and an electric stove. . . The first thing you notice about Saranac Caramel Porter is the nose--it REEKS of caramel. Sugary, sugary, sugary. The label says it's hopped with Fuggles and Goldings, but you couldn't tell that in a million fucking years. All it smells like is caramel. You can't even pick out roasted grain aromas for Christ's sake. . . Then it's not dark enough and the palate is just pitiful--it has NO BODY at all. The thinnest porter I've ever drunk. Then the finish swings back toward gooey, unpleasant caramelliness. I just couldn't contain my bile about this beer and went on a long tirade, probably offending someone. Now I've gone and done it again.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

533 Belgian Pale

533 has been on tap for a day or two, following a two-week conditioning. It's not a bad beer, but I'll have to drink it slow--I think it needs rounding out still. The head is really retentive, even in a wide goblet. I've got it holding at about 45 degrees, which seems a decent temperature for starters. The interesting thing about this beer is that I've got 9 bottles that didn't fit in the keg which are totally different. The beer tasted really flaccid, dull, and under-attenuated when I went to put it in the keg--plus it felt really un-summery, so I dry-hopped it with an ounce of Saaz while it conditioned. I have a feeling the bottled version may ultimately be a better beer, especially from a stylistic standpoint. What I'm drinking is really pretty hoppy for the style. But Saaz makes a nice dry hop, and it is refreshing, so, what the hell. Will compare the un-dry-hopped bottle-condition version at some point.

Lovely amber color to this. Some clarity issues, due to the dry-hopping, but so be it. The nose is marked by Saaz, obviously. They give a green, leafy, spicy character--even minty. There's also a fruitiness suggestive of apricot kicking around in there somewhere. Fruity, interesting palate. There's some nice toastiness from the mid-range malts (Vienna, Munich). Very full mouthfeel, enhanced by the pinpoint carbonation. There's a nice woodsy herbaceousness emerging in the nose, which I think is mostly from the yeast (Belgian Ardennes).

Interesting beer--I'll have to see how it develops. At the moment I think it's got a raspy bitterness in the palate and finish that needs to die down a little.

Emergency Summer Beer

Realizing that the next beer I have ready to keg is a moderately rich brown ale, I had to divert my brewing plans a little to fill a keg with something summery. It's too damn hot, that brown will taste better in October, and I'm missing that wheat beer. The result is this spontaneous endeavor:

Emergency Summer Beer (1049 with 38 IBU):

5 lbs Briess Pale
3 lbs Wheat Malt
1 lb Victory
1 lb Flaked Rye

.6 oz Newport (70 min.)
1.5 oz Mt. Hood (15 min.)
1.5 oz Mt. Hood (shut-off)

Ferment with US56.

The idea is to have the lightness and fluffiness of the wheat, complemented by the toastiness and complexity of the Victory, plus a shot of grainy spiciness courtesty of the rye. Mt. Hood is a new hop for me. If what I've heard is right, it'll give me some of the subtle spiciness of Hallertau, with just a hint of a resiny American punch. The result: an a-stylistic beer, vaguely indebted to the American-style wheat beer, only with a little more hops and a little more depth in the grain bill. We'll see if it works tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Merry Monks, my Singel, and Ardennes yeast

Some random tasting. . .

Weyerbacher Merry Monks' Belgian Style Golden Ale:

Something I picked up at Marcy. Rich golden color. Weak, quickly dissipating head. Nose has some interesting esters and a little hint of sourness, but also a suggestion of slightly cloying malt. The 9.3 abv is well-concealed in the nose, but I still find the palate too malty and sweet. To say it's genuinely cloying would be a little harsh, but it lacks crispness and snap, leaning toward the richer maltier end--which is not always bad, but not entirely to my taste for this style. So there's nothing really wrong with this, but I'm unimpressed. It would taste very flaccid next to, say, a Duvel or a Chimay Cinq Cents.

By way of an apples-and-oranges comparison, here's my own "Trappist" Singel:

Still pale gold, but a slightly duskier shade. Big, billowy, retentive head. Interesting nose: Sour fruit, tea, herbs, sourdough bread, definitely caraway seed. Palate is crackery and dry, but not without body. Moderately sour, which is crucial for balance here. Lingering noble hop character and some delicate graininess to the finish. The grotesquely hot weather gives this lighter, sharper beer an advantage over the commerical one, but I wasn't really trying to have a contest. I like my singel though. It was a shot-in-the-dark recipe, blending pilsner, wheat, and biscuit malts with Spalt and Hallertau hops and the rather declamatory Wyeast 3787 yeast. I'm trying to get a little more disciplined and precise in my Belgian recipe writing, but if you use a characterful yeast and good quality malts, it's actually hard -not- to make a relatively yummy beer. For the record, however, I think the 3787 is better suited to bigger beers.

On one other note: I'll develop this thought later, but I just tasted the first glass of my new Belgian pale ale on tap and I have two observations. 1) Saaz dry-hopping comes out really Belgian-y. 2) The Belgian Ardennes yeast strain produces a spectacularly complex spiciness. I dig it. Reminded me of some of the things I picked up in the Fantome last night. I could imagine a really profound set of aromatics coming out of a Saison beer pitched with a combination of the Dupont and Chouffe yeasts. That might make an interesting project next summer--they both like the hot temps.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Summer Beers and Fantome L'Ete

I've just discovered that wheat beer is a stunning match with Indian food. Dinner was pork vindaloo, spinach dahl, and rice. My hefe-weizen was a natural, cutting through the richness and starch, lifting the heavier flavors, and playing off the fruity-spicy aromas with its banana/clove thing. That beer turned out pretty good. Unfortunately, it's also gone. Damnit. Next summer I will brew roughly the same beer, but keg condition it longer. This one came into its own only just as I was finishing it up. So I need another summer beer. There's a Belgian pale that will be ready to tap in a couple days, and it should be good, but I wish I had something brighter. So perhaps I can make something with a really quick turnaround for early September, which'll still be a little hot.

For inspiration, I'm sipping a Brasserie Fantome L'Ete, which is bowling me over. Nice gold color (pilsner malts with a hint of munich?). Incredible lacework--a head you could basically eat for lunch. Prickly carbonation. Funky, offbeat nose melds noble hops, a little cork character, some barn-yardiness, and brilliant, juicy, pear fruit. The palate is totally beguiling--sweet and sour at the same time with some slightly rougher graininess. Could this be an alternate grain like rye or spalt? The Fantome beers are always just totally engrossing and it's hard to figure what exactly they're putting in these things, as nothing is off limits. Witness their heart-rendingly beautiful dandelion beer. As this warms up, a huge spiciness bursts into the aromatics. Coriander plus a hot ferment? I just drank the chunky sediment at the bottom--these are rustic beers--but I'm inclined to get another bottle, learn to culture yeast, and brew something similar in December for next summer. Am I crazy?

Note to self: Fantome website, en francais, gives some hints about some of their weirder ingredients: Chamomille, apple juice, juniper, etc.

That apple juice thing might just be too suggestive, but that has me thinking that my last few sips feel a little like a half cider. Could it be? Now that I'm thinking this, it really smells like a jazzier apple cider. . . I think I just might try that.

Anyway, that was an enchanting beer and an encouragement to allow random fantasies and impulses to govern one's brewing.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Titan IPA

This is rather close to my IPA. I like it. Notes will be crappy, as I'm chatting simultaneously. But note spectacular hop character--very herbal, resiny, and earthy at the same time--explosive aromatics. This is balanced but also supremely hoppy. I recommend this without hesitation. There's an elite group of IPA's I really regard highly and that supercede most wussy IPA's and most impressive but hopelessly unbalanced IPA's. That list, at the moment, involves, Anchor Liberty (sort of an IPA), Victory Hop Devil, Smuttynose IPA, and the Dogfish Head IPA's. I'd count this in the same company.