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.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006


I was at Beers of the World in Rochester and I couldn't resist a random Lagunitas beer. I've been a Lagunitas fan for some time but they're hard to find on the right coast. They're a pretty off-beat micro from, I think, Petaluma, CA that I used to drink a lot in Berkeley. They feature a very malty IPA, some good chunky session beers, very chunky barley wines, an imperial red I liked a lot, a surprisingly subtle and well-crafted pils, all sorts o' beers really... The house style is highly malt dominated. To be sure, the beers are often quite bitter, but they favor, I think, very large crystal malt additions and/or very hot mashes. Anyway, I've a soft spot for them.

The new beer I found is "Undercover Investigation Shut-Down Ale." This is a big beer (9.9% a.b.v.) brewed in commemoration of the suspension of their brewing license due to some undercover cops busting pot smokers at a brewery event. Said the brewery founder: "We sell to people who by definition are counterculture: They're not drinking Budweiser. We never eschewed it (pot) as if it was somehow an evil thing. If it was part of the world, we let it in."

Yeah, man. . . So the beer is fun. It's a nice bright copper color with a decent head. The nose smells like a mixture of Crystal 60 and probably Columbus and Chinook hops. It smells dense, if that makes any sense. On the palate it's rich and mildly sweet but with a nice balancing bitterness. The finish is jazzy and bitter, not too heavy for a beer of this girth. When I was reading about the brewery's sordid adventures on-line I saw that some taster on Beer Advocate referred to this as a double E.S.B. That's just about exactly right.

I guess what I like about Lagunitas beers is that they taste kinda like homebrew. Are they always good? No. Is the balance sometimes suspect? Yes. Are they fun to drink and full of character? Absolutely.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Clark's and Chouffe IPA

Thought I'd take a relaxing moment out of the tail end of my birthday to ramble about beer.

Yesterday I hung out at Clark's Alehouse with Buck for, like, a long time, man. We chatted about hedonism, travel, children, exotic places, our fathers and grandfathers, you name it. We also had some nice beers. A Celis Grand Cru was a bit of a let-down, but I had a beautifully stored and served Young's Special London, a gorgeous Anderson Valley Oatmeal Stout, this yummy black beer (brewed by Dark Horse Brewing Co. I believe...), and a big gallumphing Middle Ages 11th Anniversary beer (sort of a double wheat type thing). We also had transcendental roast beef sandwiches slathered with horseradish. We hit the Blue Tusk with our ladies afterwards for a postscript, but the Dogfish Head 60-Minute IPA there was extremely forgettable. Badly stored?? It was just kind of pallid with not nearly enough hop aroma. I remember liking that beer the first time I had it, but the last 2-3 or attempts have me about ready to write it off.

And now, to wallow in a big commercial Belgian beer, which I don't do so often anymore. Enter Brasserie d'Achouffe's Houblon Chouffe Dobbelen IPA Tripel. Pretty unwieldy name. Staggering lacework with big, gravity-defying crags and peaks. Lovely pale yellow. Wow. The nose on this is profoundly layered. The first thing you notice is an arresting hop pungency, an almost medicinal, eucalyptus thing. The hoppiness is wildly outside the Belgian mainstream, to the extent that there is a Belgian mainstream. The brewers have taken a Belgian tripel and hit it pretty hard with American hops. They use some Saaz too, but they bill it as using Amarillo and Tomahawk liberally. I'm thinking that there is probably a little bit of undeclared spicing going on too and that that very severe eucalyptus/pine note may be from some spice or other... Maybe the big northwest hops interact with something like coriander in unpredictable ways.

Shit. I could get hooked on this sucker. To "clone" this would be nearly impossible and in some way beside the point; to brew a beer inspired by it would be a snap. I'd just take my Belgian tripel recipe, maybe add one nice character malt (a touch of Biscuit?), go to town with hops like Columbus, Amarillo, or Simcoe, and ferment with Belgian Ardennes or a Saison yeast--anything that favors spicy phenols over, say, isoamyl acetate. The palate, by the way, is really lush. Pure hoppiness creates a memorable body, supported by what I can only assume is good Belgian pilsner malt. The importer's web page says that this has 59 IBU's but it feels like a little more, probably because the beer is beautifully attenuated and doesn't clunk things up with excessive crystal malts or any of the other odd-ball things that find their way into many of the more weakly conceived U.S. IPA's. The finish is hoppy, herbal, lingering. This is a fascinating beer I would drink anywhere, anytime. Go forth, dear reader, and buy yourself a bottle.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

New Wit, New DIPA, Belgian Tasting

The other day I drank a couple of my best Belgians with Buck, who has an extremely good palate/nose. He was a big fan of this crazy Belgian pale that I made with Roeslare yeast and lots of hops--it was a sort of tribute to De Ranke XX Bitter, but not at all a clone... It is just insanely aromatically complex and we conspired to jot down the following descriptors on the back of a paper plate. Most of the clever ones are his: Cherry, earth, sage, leather, general greenery, lanolin, retsina (brilliant!), anise, mint, and finally "coconut fading into rose petal fading into lavender." I adore this beer and am very proud of it. All those flashy aromatics are followed by an almost stark, bone dry palate and a lingering bitter finish. It's about as unique a beer as you'll taste and I kinda need to make more. This was a corked bottle, which I think helps... Should I make a Roeslare tripel too? What a yeast...

We also had an old Tripel which is an unusally dark toned example (in aroma and flavor, not color). It hits you with raisin and beet plus cream and mustard seeds. As it warms up the raisin/beet thing swings toward prunes and dates. This beer required tremendous patience, but it's paid off...

Tonight I sampled the first bottle of Pliny the Room-Mate. This will not prevent me from re-making Star Chamber DIPA but it is a worth competitor. It's huge and ball-breakingly hoppy.

Right now, I'm sampling the first pint of Dip Shit Wit, my first attempt at the Belgian Biere Blanche/Witbier style. It's nice and cloudy with a dense head. You get some spicing in the nose, but also some slightly obtrusive phenolics that may need a couple weeks to chill out. The palate texture is really splendid with just the right plushness (from the oats and raw wheat). Balancing the fatness of it is a definite little snap of appropriate acidity. This should be good before too long and it's not bad right now.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

General Update + Blue Hood Revisited

As sometimes happens during rainy periods of summer, brewing has gotten slightly out of hand. Steam beer and wheat beer are both exellent on draft, although it no longer feels like wheat beer weather. An Amarillo IPA is about ready to tap. If my blasted wit every stops fermenting it's next on draft. Also resting in secondary ( it may be ready to keg sooner) is my India Brown, version II. Upstairs are a Belgian double in a vaguely Westvletereney vein that needs racking pretty badly (tomorrow?) as well as a Belgian pale that is just getting going. My long term carboy agers (a Flanders red and a lambic) are getting too warm and need to be gently carried to the basement. There's an altbier in primary and that crazily over-hopped DIPA that'll be ready to bottle in a week or so. Oh, and the spruce beer went well and is chugging away in the kitchen. Shoot. That's a lot of beer. I mean, woo-hoo, that's a lot of beer! The next major project will involve an epic series of Saisons using both White Labs 565 and the Farmhouse strain from Wyeast.

By way of a random check-up I'm having one of the very few bottles of Blue Hood Pale ale. This was a sort of cross between an APA and pseudo-lager and I'd been thinking about redoing it. It was 1053 worth of Vienna mashed at 151 and hopped with Mt. Hood to the tune of about 38 IBU's. In other words it's brewed to Sierra Nevada pale ale specs but with Euro or Euro-derived ingredients. One of its best features is the head; it's like freaking shaving cream and it never goes away. I have to assume that's the Vienna somehow. No P-rest by the way. It kind of combines a full, relatively dense malt character with subtle hopping that feels like Hallertau somehow. I think it's probably worth doing again but I'm not sure how/if to tweak it. I could see mashing it at 1-2 degrees cooler, hitting it with one interesting specialty malt, and dry-hopping it... But I have no idea if that'd be an improvement as such. One way or the other, I've got to use up some Vienna as I have most of a sack. I could save some for an all-Vienna lager next winter. I could also see a Vienna Saison--maybe I'll put a big chunk of Vienna in my winter Saison...

Monday, June 05, 2006

Spruce plans

A friend of mine has spruce tips, which I should be harvesting quite quite soon before they get too big. I should have a nice US-56 yeast cake that can handle a decent-sized beer in a couple of days. I looked into Alaskan's spruce beer, which is more or less an olde ale of 1066 with 27 IBU.

My impulse is to embiggen that slightly. I'd like this to be a big, deep amber ale with plenty of warming malt for winter. It should be a holiday beer basically. I'm thinking 1075, maybe 32 IBU, and plenty of spruce.

Here's a rough grain bill:

9 lbs Golden Promise Scottish Pale Malt
5 lbs German Munich
1.25 lbs Carastan (35L)
1.25 lbs Caramunich (60L)
1.25 lbs Wheat malt

Bitter with a single addition of Northern Brewer (1.5 oz for 60 minutes)
Consider a tiny flavor addition?
Boil with 12 oz spruce tips
Add 6 oz spruce tips with 10 minutes remaining in the boil. Steep while cooling the wort.