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, December 15, 2005

Olde School Barley Wine

A Dogfish Head offering I've not previously sampled, this is a massive 15% abv barley wine, brewed with 100% Maris Otter with dates and figs, in secondary I think. It's pretty distinctive. I don't know how old this sample is. I've had it sitting around for five or six months, so it's probably over a year old.

The head isn't so durable, but the color is gorgeous--fairly pale for a barley wine and sort of a deep, deep orange-gold. The nose is rather creamy, with noticable alcohol, some citrus-y (particularly orange) notes, a certain herbaceous quality, and moderately pronounced hops. The palate is pretty huge, with waves of deep fruitiness and velvety malt. Alcohol dominates the finish, which really lingers. As usual, DFH somehow manages to make huge beers drinkable.

Those of us in the know realize the many ultra-high-gravity beers actually suck. EKU 28 is so treacly sweet as to be barely drinkable. Sam Adams Triple Bock is a veritable chamber of horrors (imagine soy sauce and molasses and 18 or 20 percent alcohol in one hideous package). DFH makes 15% beers (and even 18 and 21% beers) that come off as pretty balanced and drinkable. This isn't as remarkable as, say, DFH World-Wide Stout, but it's a really lovely barley wine.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Stone 9th Anniversary Ale

I remember it took me a while to come around on Arrogant Bastard--my first instinct was to regard it as an exercise in marketing: great name, great ploy, etc. I thought it was just plain out of balance--too hoppy to be a real barley wine, way too chewy to be an IPA. Well, I was wrong; I learned to like that beer, particularly when it was paired beautifully with roast pork at a Stone-themed dinner in So. Cal. I suppose I have minor philosophical objections to a brewery that tries to make every beer over the top. . . What about a brewery like Smuttynose where most of the beers are driven by an obvious obsession with balance??

Anyway, that quibble aside, I really really like the Stone beers. Ruination isn't bad. Arrogant Bastard is fun. The Double Bastard is good on occasion. Their imperial stout may be -the- finest U.S. commerical interpretation of the style. And now I'm drinking the 9th Anniversary ale which is a gem. It's a souped-up wheat beer.

It's a lovely orangey color and the nose has a bewitching hop character. The website says it's dry hopped with Amarillo and Crystal. There's a funny thing about Amarillo--they smell sweet somehow (a funny thing in a hop), which results in tremendous fruitiness, like pears mostly. This is a big beer (7.8%; 1079; 50 IBU), which balance a zesty, tart wheat character, spritzy carbonation, and a mouth-coating, alcoholic depth.

This makes me want to brew two things. 1) Given the spectacular hop aroma here, why not a Crystal/Amarillo IPA? 2) I've been thinking seriously of making a Wheat Wine. There's something really bewitching about high gravity wheat beers. They combine a dashing lightsome quality with depth and alcohol. I may just tackle that challenge and design one in the near future. . .

In the meantime, here's to Lee Chase.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Belgian planning

If I'm going to brew this weekend I need a plan. I kinda wanted to brew a barley wine, but a) the beers whose yeast cakes are appropriate all should dry hop a few days longer and b) I'm out of 2 or 3 critical specialty malts. I toyed with the idea of an imperial stout, but I'm missing a thing or two for that as well. So much for those ideas.

This leaves a cake of 1388, Belgian Strong, to work with. I made a nice, light Saxo-style strong pale before, so I would logically move to a darker, richer beer. I could do a double, but I'm feeling conceptually challenged there. I have just enough specialty malts to pull it off, but, durn-it, I feel the need to really find inspiration when it comes to these Belgian things. I refuse to just fling in 4 different Belgian specialty malts on a Pilsner base, hop it lightly, and call it a day. That's how I made my first dubbel, and it's good--quite good actually--but not amazing somehow.

So while I taste, read about, and cogitate upon dubbels over the next couple of weeks, I'm leaning toward this instead: A strong-ish, earthy, moderately hoppy, Belgian amber. Two beers jump into my head on this note: The French classic St. Sylvestre Flanders Pale (musty, earthy, creamy, spicy) and Brasserie des Rocs' Montagnarde (honeyed, woodsy, oaky, bitter).

Here's an incoherent first draft recipe. How 'bout we head toward a beer just a shade darker than a pale ale? We dose it fairly heavily with mid-range specialty malts (not too dark, not too light). We give it a little hit of Belgian Special "B" malt to tweak it toward a slightly red color. We use sugar and mash pretty cool to get a very dry beer of maybe 7.5% alcohol with a starting gravity in the neighborhood of 1068-9. This results in the following:

8 lbs Franco-Belges Pilsner
2 lbs Table Sugar
1.5 lbs Best-Malz Munich
1 lb Dingemann's Biscuit
1 lb Weyermann Vienna
1/2 lb Thomas Fawcett Amber
1/4 lb Special "B"

We then hop it pretty aggresively, as if we were working for De Ranke or Kerkom, allowing for the use of one great American hop late in the game:

3.25 oz Hallertau Herrsbrucker (60)
.5 oz Czech Saaz (60)
1 oz Styrian Goldings (15)
1 oz Mt. Hood (15)
1 oz Styrian Goldings (0)
1.5 oz Mt Hood (0)

That's a generous 57 IBU.

I'll mull this over and may or may not brew it Saturday or Sunday.

Thursday, December 01, 2005


Tasting a De Dolle Brouwers Arabier:

Beautiful color--pretty close to my Pipaix-ish Saison. Lovely, very fine lacework--huge head.

Very interesting earthy, farmhouse ale kind of nose. This is probably a pretty old bottle. I've had younger ones that had a fairly explosive dry-hopped nose, which I love. Here, it's more subdued but also more complex. There's a little funky sourness, which is part of the house character. The aromatics are super-complex, with lots of fruity/floral tones and some definite vinous qualities. The palate, to my mind, is a little off--the bitterness feels a teeny bit coarse at the end and the malt character is just a little heavy, but it's still a really intriguing beer.

One other brewing note. I have produced my first offically fucked-up, spoiled beer. Keg of UK-style pale ale is getting quite sour. On the one hand, I'm pissed and paranoid something else will catch it. On the other hand, it was a mediocre beer anyway. I'm consulting with someone and may add fruit and see what happens--treat it as an accidental lambic.

I'm off to my neighbors to deliver a glass of my hoppy brown ale.