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, April 20, 2006


On a random whim, I poured my only bottle of Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Ur-Marzen, purchased, I think, in Boston a year ago. Some people hate this beer and regard it as a sausage-y over-smoked monstrosity. To those people I say: FUCK OFF!!

I love this beer. German beer is a weird thing for me. I have little-to-no desire to brew German pils (Czech is better), Marzen, Helles, the main-stream stuff, you know... I like the oddities: I've made three batches of smoked beer; I just bottled a Kolsch; I could imagine doing a Schwarzbier; I'm working on an alt. Anyway, the Schlenkerla is the weirdest, most enigmatic beer made outside of Belgium. It has a hugely smokey nose and a layered, provocative malt character.

Smoked beers have been a mixed bag for me. My first one was a resounding success. My second one sucks at this point. It may come around with more lagering but I'm not optimistic. The third attempt is a smoked pils, which I think should come out pretty well, but the jury will be out until mid-summer.

I'd like to take smoke beer in the direction of lower-maintenance ales. Sometime this summer I'd like to smoke a bunch of Munich and Pilsner malts on the Weber over, say, applewood or something and produce a big, gutsy smoked American ale, sort of in the Rogue style...

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Stoudt's Double IPA + Steam beer planning?

Stoudt's Double IPA was a random grab at Marcy. Pretty, orange-y color; lots of particulate matter; very dense, plush head. I was immediately disappointed by the nose though. It's dominated by thick, heavy crystal malt and smells more like a barley wine than an IPA. Balance is a huge issue in this style and I kinda think they missed the boat.

Some C-hopping comes through but not quite clearly enough to call them--I don't think they're intense enough to be either Chinook or Columbus. The palate is thick and, to me, inadequately attenuated. Their website says that this beer is 10% alcohol, with 75 IBU's, and I think that's the problem. They're going for a big, chunky effect and I'm just not really down with that approach to the style. My own double IPA is a lot better than this, as are, off the top of my head, Great Divide's Hercules and Russian River's Pliny. Any good home-brewer could top this with a little research and an order from freshops or hopsdirect.

Tomorrow I'm brewing a steam beer and I don't have a recipe yet. Crap. I'll fall asleep over Designing Great Beers. This IPA is not anywhere bad enough to be an official pour-out, but right now finishing it doesn't seem worth the 200 calories or so left in the glass. That's a bummer, man. . .

Thursday, April 13, 2006

More Westvleteren planning

I allowed myself to be severely gouged and purchased a bottle of Westvleteren 8 in CA. The 12 is practically impossible to buy, though I have one bottle in my cellar that I got a year or so ago. What with it being declared "greatest beer in the Milky Way" or whatever by some damned magazine, it's even more asininely difficult to obtain than it used to be. And, as a friend of mine has pointed out, now that it's this super-exclusive product, most of it is probably being drunk out of frosted mugs by filthy-rich yuppies who don't know what the hell they're doing. Son of a bitch...

Anyway, the 8 is marvelous in its own right. I am about to order some of this new candi sugar syrup and the question is how much to incorporate into an otherwise fairly straightforward recipe. The nose is relatively subtle, with a rummy complexity. The palate is soft, pretty vigorously carbonated. It's very drinkable really. Beautiful spiciness in the nose--gingerbread? bit of licorice? Delicate, subtle fruitiness--sort of like over-ripe honey-dew. Some of the rummy aromatics swing just toward chocolate as it warms up--not a roastiness at all, but like the dark, winey, fruity quality that a very high cacao chocolate has.

Referring to Brew Like a Monk, I'd be looking at the following picture. OG 1072. 88% AA. FG 1008. 35 IBU. 8.3% ABV. 72 EBC for color, which seems totally wrong. I'm not going to sweat the color too much. To me, it's a kind of burnt umber color, that flares red held up the light, not unlike Westmalle Dubbel, which looks dark and then is not remotely opaque. Should be fermented upstairs, pitching at 68. That'll be exciting. Malts are pale and pils--I'll probably start with 50/50. Hops are Northern Brewer (for bittering, I assume), with Hallertau and Styrian Golding adding fairly negligible flavor--I'm thinking no aroma addition at all.

The question is the proportion of regular sugar for fermentability and caramelized sugar syrup for flavor, aroma, fermentability, etc. If all else fails, we'll start with 50/50 by weight. The idea of doing the 8 is that I can then attempt something in the 12 area. Hopefully a sample of the first attempt can help target the right proportions. We'll see.

Note upon further web browsing: White beer travels page has the grist as mostly pilsner with some pale. Also only a "small amount of caramel" in the dark beers.

And one other note: my Autumn Saison, which I hadn't had in a while, is really, really good. Very complex. Hides its alcohol. Hell, I brewed it and I was fairly stunned to learn that it was 9.2% (1075 down to 1004-5). Spectacular attenuation, nice texture, chameleon-ish aromatics. I like it.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Westmalle Tripel

How am I gonna do this? In preparation for a tripel brewing session Tuesday, I broke out the big daddy. It's a really delicate gold. Pils malt only. Head is pretty solid. I think Hieronymus says the percentage of sugar is close to twenty--I can do that. I've got a lively 3787 yeast cake. The hopping is the tough part.

The malt character here is lovely and warming. It's also incredibly tightly controlled--not even a hint of chewiness or sweetness.

Shit, running downstairs to pour a couple half glasses of First Tripel. It's not that far off the mark actually, and it may help me calculate hops. O.K. Most of what I'm smelling in the Westy is the yeast. I used (where the hell I came up with this I have no idea) 1.5 oz Saaz at 15 and .6 oz Styrians + .1 oz Saaz at 5. I also over-bittered it statistically. The only thing this really tells me is that a full ounce of finishing hops would probably be overkill. Take the goddamned Munich out of First Tripel and it's really pretty close. What the hell was I thinking?

Anyway the Westmalle was gorgeous. More on recipe formulation to follow. Probably will hit the Westmalle stats, using only pils and sugar, mash at 145 (that got me very close to the correct attenuation last time), bitter to spec with Styrian, finish lightly with 1/3 each Styrian, Saaz, and Tettnang. Maybe a total of .8 oz total with a minute or two left in the boil? I think that might get me the slightly lighter, brighter spiciness of the Westmalle. Is a flavor addition neccesary?

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Oatmeal Ale and Pilsner

I'm sipping my new pilsner while trying to figure out a wholly unrelated beer problem. Years ago I had an "Oatmeal Ale" from McMullen's. It was lovely, sort of a pale ale with oats. I don't have the information to even think about a clone, and I'm not sure I remember what the beer tasted like, but I have a cake of 1028 opening up tomorrow and I must put something on it to prepare for making imperial stout in a couple more weeks. Thus the McMullen's inspiration. I have three ways of adding oats--indeed, I have oats to get rid of: rolled, Fawcett's oat malt, and Simpson's Golden Naked Oats (a sort of dehusked, toasted oat product).

I also have some pellet First Gold hops I've been wanting to try.

So I'm thinking I should lightly Burtonize the water, use Maris Otter as a base, a 1/4 to 1/2 lb. of Carastan as an accent, maybe 2 lbs of oat malt, and a lb of these golden naked things. I think, given that this yeast is pretty hard core, that I'll mash at 153-4 to avoid an overly dry beer. I think I'll hop it to the tune of a .7 BU:GU ratio, reserving an ounce for a final addition at shut-off.

The result is the following un-named beer of dubious potential quality:

OG 1051
IBU 35.2

8.5 lbs Maris Otter
2 lbs Fawcett's Oat Malt
1 lb Simpson's Golden Naked Oats
.5 lbs Bairds Carastan

1 oz First Gold (70)
.5 oz First Gold (15)
1 oz First Gold (0)

Mash at 153
1.5 tsp Burton salts in kettle

On another note, my pilsner is good. First attempt at the style last year was kind of a flop. It is hard to do. This one has no evident flaws. It's just bit bitter for a traditional Czech example, but I wanted to swing more toward, say, Victory Prima Pils. It's got a moderately full body to balance the hops and a lively spiciness from whole-flower domestic Saaz.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

New Belgium Trippel

Katrina kindly tossed this my way as I was packing up and leaving Berkeley. New Belgium is an interesting brewery. I had the experience of trying Fat Tire once or twice before it turned into swill. Used to be a lovely beer. The last time I had it was on tap in Davis, CA, and it was, like, not even done fermenting. It was just miserable shit. Their other beers can be great though.

Their Trippel (that's how they spell it) is only 7.8% alcohol, which, in a way, is cheating. At the lower a.b.v. this kind of thing'll mature much quicker than, say, Westmalle Tripel at 9 or 9.1. I'm thinking that's got to be at least partly a concession to economics.

It's very pale, with lovely clarity and a pillowy white head--which could last a little longer. The nose is pretty smooth, with some nice, lightly fruity esters and a whiff of Saaz. Very soft and subtle on the palate. They did a nice job avoiding excessive maltiness which is sometimes a problem with new-world tripels, although, again, the lower alcohol content makes that easier to pull off.

This actually reminds me a little of my own last batch of Belgian strong pale--which is also pretty soft and subtle, used Saaz, and probably had around the same gravity. . . So, anyway, NB's tripel is a pretty beer and I think it's brewed very well. If you're keeping score, I'm not that big on their Dubbel, or Abbey, or whatever they call it, but I like the Singel a lot. 1554 is not bad. Loft is nice. I wish I could get my hands on their uber-exclusive, weird, oak-vat-aged beer, La Folie, but I've never seen any.

The reason I thought I'd have a tripel is that I think I'll be brewing one next Tuesday if I can free up the time. I have a 3787 yeast cake to use. With that in mind, tired and disinclined to grade more, I'll sample my old tripel. I did one last April and, for lack of a catchy name, it's come to be called "First Tripel." With the NB one fresh in mind . . .

Mine has a better head--better textured, longer lasting. The color is a deeper gold, which is probably a flaw. I used 2 lbs of Munich because the base recipe in Randy Mosher that I was vamping off of used it. That'll be the first thing to go when I try it again. Why add rich malt character when the whole point is to brew a beer that is low in malt character while being high in alcohol?? It is a pretty color though.

The nose is pretty subtle. Malty underlayer; light phenolics; definite spiciness (hints of cumin, coriander, slight pepper). It's 9.4% a.b.v., so this beer is operating on a slightly different wave-length than the new Belgium instance. It's quite a bit fatter on the palate, though it's pretty well attenuated (FG: 1011).

This is a pleasant and interesting beer, but it's not really what I intended. I was trying to make, without really having any idea how, a loose clone of Westmalle and I missed by quite a bit. I have one bottle of the ultimate commercial exemplar in the basement and will probably try it in a day or two for inspiration. Anyway, the first attempt at the style was not all that bad--at least it's pretty dry and has some complexity. Belgian tripel is a really tough number and they take just forever to mature. Oh well--I'm dumb enough to keep trying at least a batch a year. More on formulating take two in a few days. Hey, that's not a bad name: Take Two Tripel.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Bad Beer Tasting

Since that Fantome put me in a good mood, I thought I'd bring myself down by doing a bad beer tasting. Plus I need to free up some bottles--and I am in a bloggin' mood. So let's try the six worst beers I've ever made as of right now. This excludes two or three early extract efforts which are mercifully gone. Just a few sips of each should suffice:

Lisa's first beer (but I supervised) is called "Brunette Strong Pale." It's intended to be a Belgian Strong Pale. Two things went horribly wrong. She used (as did I on 3 or 4 other occasions) a defective sack of Franco-Belges Pilsner malt. It was wildly uneven in kilning if you really inspected it, but it took me a while to realize. The other thing that went wrong is that the otherwise-trustworthy 1388 yeast mutated and started spitting out major isoamyl acetate. It smells too banana-y. It's way too dark. The palate has an offensive, cloying sweetness, and yet it's also slightly sour somehow. It blows. The malt is mostly to blame.

"Franco-Belges Dubbel" was lovingly designed to exploit the range of nice F.B. character malts--caramunich and the like--ordered from North Country. Unfortunately, it was sabotaged by the same base malt as above, plus an inexplicably arrested fermentation that had to be restarted via hot-water baths--hardly ideal practice. It smells much better than the above, so I have hope. Nevertheless, the palate is slightly tainted by the sweet-sour, uneven quality of that malt. It's just kinda tangy, in a way I don't like at all. All I can do is hope some of this ages out and that it matures into a moderately good Dubbel, as opposed to a decidedly mediocre one. Could be worse though.

"Accidental Oud Bruin" was made in the following way. I tried to do a clone of Rochefort 8, loosely following guidelines from a renowned Dutch homebrewer. It was made with this bad pilsner malt though. The dextrins (I hypothesize) from the unevenly kilned malt made the beer quit fermenting WAY too soon. I was anticipating an FG of something like 1.007 and got 1.021 instead. I swore and screamed and ran around pointing heaters at it and shaking it and taking wine-thief samples. The result? It got fucking infected. The nose mingles a genuinely Rochefort-ish caramelly quality (from homemade candi sugar and Wyeast 1762 yeast) with a definite vinous sourness. The palate is sweet and sour, in a strangely balanced way. Doesn't bother me nearly as much as in beer 1 above. Call me crazy, but I have hope for this. It might actually age into a semblance of a free-style sour Belgian-style ale. I'm sort of hoping. But I do wish I had less of it sitting around. . .

My first year brewing I made my second lager, a smoked marzen derived substantially from the Bamberger Rauchbier recipe in Smoked Beers. The result was a first-class lager with subtle smoke character and a lovely Munich-y richness. My second year, I tweaked that recipe substantially to try to get more smokiness and tried it again. I'm very concerned something went wrong. The smoke smell is there, but raw, as this is relatively young. What concerns me is another kind of tangy palate. I cut the Munich and upped the smoke, working in a little melanoidin to compensate for the lost Munich. It may or may not have worked. It might be good in 2 or 3 months. Right now, it sucks--the malt character is way off and I'm pissed. I should've done the same thing again.

This one stings. "Amalgamator Doppelbock" was pitched on a yeast cake from a very solidly made amber ale (sort of a pseudo-Oktoberfest beer). Something's up. The nose has a seriously out-of-place fruitiness. It's a lager yeast! It fermented cool! It's aged for quite a while! What the fuck happened? It might actually be a pleasant nose in a Belgian ale, but it's dead wrong here. I'm at a loss. The palate is O.K., but it's not going to come around aromatically at this late a stage.

This last beer was intended, sometime last spring, to be a loosely conceived clone of N'Ice Chouffe. Didn't work. I designed a big, brooding strong dark ale kind of grain bill, hopped it lightly, employed the Chouffe yeast, and I spiced it with the N'Ice Chouffe spices. As I recall, they are coriander, vanilla, thyme, and something else. I had some lovely fresh lemon thyme from a friend down the street. I was drinking and brewing. I threw in way too much. Fuck me. Plus, I've learned a lot more since then and I'd now mash this way cooler. The result? "Over-Spiced Belgian Barley Wine." It makes a great Ny-Quil substitute if taken with cold medicine. Otherwise, it's WAY too thyme-y and is probably only good for stewing chicken. I suck.

So there you go--I have now created six bottles to put something better in. To the sink to dispose of the remains!

Fantome Black Ghost

Today was a little annoying. Lots of problems, lots of lost time. . . Had a lengthy faculty senate meeting that, though interesting and moderately productive, was kind of exhausting.

Decided to direct a little energy into a beer I brought back from California, Fantome's Black Ghost, which I'm pretty sure I've never had before.

It's hardly black; I'd put it in within a half shade of Westmalle Dubbel. It's sort of dark and sepia-looking, but when you hold it up to the light it's kind of a reddish amber. It pours a decent-sized off-white-to-tan head.

Being a Fantome beer, it's pretty off-beat. I made a dark Saison in roughly this color range last year which turned out well--it plays toward more predictable Dubbel-ish fruit and spice notes. This, on the other hand, smells quite earthy, with some definite musty, cellar character and a cork note. There's something in the spice character (yeast or spicing?) which reminds me of Chinese food. I'm thinking it may be star anise.

Not unlike the regular Fantome I drank a couple weeks ago, this has a curious, minerally, super-dry thing going on. To steal my previous phrase, more or less, it's strangely tannic and crawls around your tongue. Kind of reminds me of tonic water, actually. I don't detect any suggestion of crystal malt, or dark candi sugars, so I'm thinking this is probably very like the regular saison, only with a touch of carafa or something for color. Anyway, for a dark beer, it's splendidly dry, sharp, minerally, lean--in short--totally unexpected in overall character. I wonder if you could tweak a Saison recipe in the direction of Fantome via a judicious addition of quinine???

Neat beer--I feel better.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Drinking in Toronto

So, I mentioned the wonderful beer bar, Volo. Here's how it went:

Visit 1: Lisa and I stopped and tested the waters. Our kind waitress let us know that they do three five-ounce tasters for five bucks--not a bad deal. Hence we tried the following Canadian items, trying to get a feel for what the good breweries were:

Church Key Biere de Garde: I was not a huge fan. It had a weird aromatic element that reminded me of perfumed lotion or soap. Aloe?? Weird.

County Durham Signature Ale: This was citrus-y and light, served at a good, warm temp. Pretty nice ale; pleasant dry hop character. Cask dispensed.

King Pilsbock: This was very well-made. It reminded me of some of Randy's Hellesbocks. Very balanced, rich, malty, precise, totally uncloying, brightly hoppy while still being teutonically restrained. Basically, I was impressed.

Church Key Holy Smoke: I thought the chocolate malt character over-ran the smoke character, but it was an interesting beer nonetheless.

Mill Street Coffee Porter: Good beer overall--very nice coffee aromatics. The palate was less exciting.

Wellington Imperial Sout. Nice aromatics; a little thin on the follow-through. Seemed to need more crystal malt.

Visit 2:

This was just me, grabbing a couple beers before noon to help get me through a day of over-wrought students and dodgy musicals that turned out to be better than expected.

Hoegaarden Forbidden Fruit: Had never had this and was really pleased. 8.5% a.b.v. Correct glass; good temp again. Lacy, poofy head. Medium amber color. Beautiful, soft, malty palate; light spice; just overwhelmingly mellow. I loved this beer.

Rochefort 6: Had only had this once before and it sounded good and was reasonably priced--less than it cost in a liquor store in Boston anway. Delicate amber color; gorgeous head. It's spicy but subtle, with some appley aromas. Soft, enveloping palate; very dry finish; relatively bracing and surprisingly hop balanced.

Visit 3:

This was the bad one. I got completely hammered with an assortment of undergraduates, most of whom were also seriously compromised.

Jenlain Blond (6): This was mediocre. I had never had a Jenlain. They had three varieties and this was the one I arbitrarily requested. It was pleasantly light, but also a little sweet. Basically unremarkable. Oh well.

Scotch Irish Sargeant Major's: Whatever exactly this beer was, it was very nicely balanced and briskly hoppy, with a nice little tea-like quality. Very English-tasting and fun-to-drink. Nice hopping and worth looking into.

Achel 8: Better than I remembered. Had a marvellous, pronounced spiciness and a yummy appley fruitiness. All this was balanced by a slight tartness. A beautiful beer.

Somewhere in here I also sampled some Canadian wheat beer, helped Lisa out with a Duvel, borrowed a sip of Megan's Rochefort 10, and had a half pint of that lovely 8% Pilsbock from the day before.
Great Divide Hercules: Connor and I wanted to try Philips Amnesiac, for the sake of trying a Canadian IIPA, but they were out. I was annoyed not to try a beer from either Philips or Granite, which are supposed to be amongst the best Canadian craft breweries. Anyway, this was the best substitute and I'm not complaining. I had had this once before. It was absolutely awesome, with a HUGE earthy hop character and a drop-dead gorgeous nose. 85 IBU and 9.1%.

Scotch Irish Tsarina Caterina '05: This was an imperial stout. At this point in the evening I was completely destroyed but I did write that it was "good." I think it really was, and that it was much better than the other imperial above. I also recall that I thought it needed more of the big, dried fruit aromas I expect from Old Rasputin and other distinctive new world imperial stouts. Still a well-made beer though.

Back at the hotel, utterly shattered, I also had some random bottled IPA that I think might've sucked, but I don't remember.

The next morning was unpleasant.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Safe return

Lisa and I (and my sizable crew of student tourists) have returned from Toronto. Yay!

We did some quality drinking while there and I have notes to transcribe.

Canadian liquor laws are absolutely asinine--or at any rate the ones in Ontario certainly are. You can basically only buy beer at two places. LCBO stores (Liquor Control Board of Ontario) sell wine, beer, and hard stuff; a chain of places called "The Beer Store" sells beer. The former is not allowed to stay open past nine or ten and their beer selection varies from deplorable to mediocre; the latter also has limited hours and is this weird thing where you can't browse around--you have to go to a little window and order stuff from a kind of wall menu thing. The selection there was not much better. What a disaster. . . The importation and distribution practices are bizarre and punititive and, according to the owner of my favorite Toronto beer bar, often make obtaining good craft brews both harrowingly difficult and pointlessly expensive.

However, you can go to Volo Birreria on Yonge St. and drink some amazing beers, served at practically perfect temperatures, and offered for pretty fair prices. I'll dig out my notes and post my findings when I get to it. In the meantime, our Ontarian brothers and sisters should contemplate a revolt of some kind. I'm happy to help plan.