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, January 25, 2006

Westvleteren 8

Well, I had one of these laying around and seeing as how I have that 3787 yeast I'm getting ready to use, I thought I'd try it out. The sediment got kicked up, which annoys me. Why it wasn't better compacted I have no idea...

It's very much in the same color range as Westmalle Dubbel. The nose is a little like the 12, but lighter. It has a similar tropical character (coconut rum; pina colada jellie-bellies; banana; a heady whiff of alcohol) with no real perceptible dark malt presence--which is good because it isn't supposed to have any dark malts in it. The palate, like the 12, seems sweeter than the beer actually is. It's enveloping and lean at the same time. It's also just a touch more bitter than a typical trappist beer in this color range--according to _Brew like a Monk_ it's 35 IBU's which is a reasonable high number. The palate is quite bewitching: bitter, sweet, and quite earthy all at the same time. The palate is also earthy, but lean and focused at the same time.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Stone 5/5/05

I felt like tasting a commerical beer, after a long, long day... I just got out of a night class. Somehow I grabbed Stone's 5th Vertical Epic beer. I've got two of them. I still have the one Cynthia got by cozying up to our hot waitress at the Stone beer dinner. I'm aging that one, along with a bottle of 4/4/04. And I think there's one other Stone beer kicking around the cellar. At the dinner we had it with something really good. I think some sort of squash or pumpkin soup. It worked really well. By itself, right now, I'm not wowed. These Stone offerings can be so hit-and-miss...

It's color is pretty close to my dubbel--it's got a little darker head which suggests more roasted malt. The nose is full of dense dried fruits, a light layer of Belgian yeast phenols, and some hints of roasted malt. On the palate it's heavy and caramelly, with barley-wine-like levels of caramel. I checked the homebrew recipe version of this released by the very hip Lee Chase (their head brewer) and it's got a fairly large amount of Caramel 150L, which is a wicked dark crystal malt. I think it's too much and that it'll be 12/12/12 before that even begins to age out, but I could be wrong.

I guess my gripe with this beer (and my gripe with a few other Stone beers) is the issue of heaviness. I'm all for heavy beer where appropriate... You need major depth in an imperial stout, richness in a barley wine, yaddah, yaddah, yaddah, but it needs to be done with balance. A beer like Westmalle Dubbel, or Chimay Blue, is, while being high alcohol and rich, nevertheless paradoxically light and peerlessly balanced--and I've drunk both of these within the last five days. This is not balanced. It's just kinda clunky. It operates on the logic that more is more. And more is not always more, as has been well established. I'm not knocking it totally--it's not a bad beer by any means, but I find it cloying and would not want to brew something similar. The finish lasts, like, twenty-five minutes and that's just not necessary. Use more sugar and less crystal malt and you'd probably have something.

I need an antidote... Down to the cellar...

O.K. Let me just say that, whatever that beer's good points. I _HATE_ the finish. It will NOT go away.

So I'm resorting to the palate-scrubbing power of hops, hence a bottle of Eastern Thing IPA, which I've not had in a while:

Lovely cob-webby head. Medicore clarity, but dry-hops will do that. Aroma is marked by resiny, grapefruity love--the glory of the whole-flower Chinook dry-hop mellowed into elegance by extended bottle aging. The palate is a touch over-carbonated and may need to sit another moment (this sometimes happens with older beers), but I like the quality of the hop flavor--a little rough, but vigorous and lively. This being a highly-hopped beer, the finish lingers, but it does so cleanly, not cloyingly, and the bitterness disipates nicely after a few moments. I feel better now.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

APA: The Style I Sometimes Forget

I like IPA's so much that I forget about APA's, what we beer geeks call American Pale Ale, that large family of American beers that are indebted to the English pale ale tradition, but which have branched off in other directions. Basically, they use American hops, not English ones. They almost never use adjuncts--the Brits often do. They tend to be a couple points higher in gravity and a little hoppier overall. The classic commercial example would be Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Taste British to you? Didn't think so.

I'm tasting the only semi-traditional example I've ever made. An offbeat variation using more Teutonic ingredients is keg conditioning as we speak. But it really is a style I tend to forget about. Mine is indebted to my favorite commercial example, Smuttynose's Shoals Pale Ale, which, the brewer concedes, is really more of an ESB, but let's not even get into that very hazy distinction.

Anyway, mine is good, I've only got two bottles left, and I should make more. It's quite a bit darker than a conventional example--almost in the Marzen color range. Head's O.K. Nose is lovely, marked by Cascades and a little teeny whiff of burntness (like a black tea)from the dark crystal malt employed. Palate is crisp and dry, but also a little caramelly and not without body--I employed both Carastan and Crystal 120. This could sell in a brew-pub and it'd be dandy with a burger. I think that next time I'll lower the overall proportion of specialty malts just a tad to get it a little brighter. Better get on that.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Westmalle tasting

So, in the next few weeks, I will at some point smack a pack of Wyeast 3787. This is the yeast used, supposedly, at three trappist abbeys: Westmalle, Westvleteren, and Achel. I made a Dubbel with said yeast last March 30. Let's see how it stacks up against Westmalle Dubbel, bottle age unknown, but probably greater than ten months realistically. These things do have to be imported and they tend to sit on shelves.

Color/Appearance: Both beers pour a lovely, dense, retentive head. I think the foam on mine is maybe a tenth of a shade darker. Held up to a sheet of white paper under soft light, mine is visibly darker and more opaque. Held up to a soft white light bulb, they're both gorgeous. Mine is a deeper hue, a little more toward a deep purple-y red. The Westmalle swings toward almost a pinkish red, like a deeply colored blush wine. Clarity is excellent for mine, jaw-dropping for the Westmalle.

Aromatics: Mine shows nice fruit (some banana, a little cherry) with a definite dark chocolate presence. The Westmalle is a little more tropical (kind of a coconutty, pina colada routine--but in a good way) with little to none of the chocolate routine. As they warm up, the Westmalle is swinging a little more toward hints of rum/prune with maybe a whiff of chocolate. Mine really is in the ball-park--some of those explosive tropical fruity things are present--it's just a little darker toned overall.

Flavor/Mouthfeel/Finish: Both beers have soft palates--no rough edges. The Westmalle palate is just a little bit more even from start to finish. Despite the fact that my beer has a higher final gravity, it is not cloying at all--nevertheless the Westmalle is a little crisper and more brightly articulated. As they warm up they actually feel more and more similar; something about the cooler temps twenty minutes ago accentuated the slightly heavier palate of my beer.

Huh. That was really interesting. I'm very pleased that my beer was not crushed by adjacency to one of the quintessential Belgian dubbels. Is Westmalle better? Yes. But not by some disgustingly large margin.

I have a feeling that the best way to brighten my Dubbel up is to swing away from heavier specialty malts and rely more on caramelized sugars. According to Stan Hieronymus, Westmalle Dubbel is brewed with pilsner malt, caramel malt, "a dark malt valued for its aroma," and dark candi sugar syrup. If the goal were to "clone" Westmalle (which I'm not sure it exactly is), I would drop the Munich and aromatic malts I used and restrict myself to pils malt, maybe one layer of caramunich, some special B, and plenty of invert, caramelized sugar syrup (which I just learned how to make). I could also drop the little bit of Carafa I used and let the beer be just a tad lighter. I could also mash cooler just to help the beer dance on the palate a little more.

So there. I blogged.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

random shit

I've been a bad blogger lately. A few random beer thoughts:

Lisa and I conducted a side-by-side tasting the other night, comparing my own Old Crowbar with its barley wine inspiration, Sierra Nevada's Bigfoot. The dude did all right. The commerical exemplar was a touch older and therefore a touch smoother, just a little more rounded and suave. But mine was great--even a prettier color, with a more dramatic head, brighter hops in the nose... The only weakness was that mine had a slightly tangier, less rounded malt profile on the palate. Should probably round out in another couple months.

Tonight I drank a bottle of 2- or 3-year-old Guldenberg. That was nice. I sat outside in a lawn chair since it was sunny and 55 degrees.

My brewing life has spiralled out of control. I have, counting one beer Lisa made, 12 (TWELVE) active fermentors in the house, four upstairs, five down, and two lagers in the basement. This means that there is a lot of bottling in my future. I must go and procure bottles posthaste.

Tried three new beers in the last couple of days. "Sax-a-ma-phone" Strong Belgian Blonde is pretty good, but needs time, as stronger pale beers usually do. "Star Chamber" Double IPA has a jaw-dropping dry-hopped nose (1/2 oz each Chinook, Columbus, Simcoe, and Warrior will do that). I love it. "New Year's Belgian Amber" is a gem. Wyeast 1388 produced layers of interesting esters over an elegant toasty malt base. Remember: People don't make beer. Yeast make beer.