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.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Valedictions I and II

It's time to bid adieu to a few beers, so I'll pay them tribute on the way out.

Here's the final bottle of Probation Pale, a nice A.P.A. It's got a pretty predictable hop combo (Chinook/Cascade) but there's a little wrinkle to the grain bill--10 oz. of Fawcett Amber malt. Amber malt is tricky. It's over-bearing and too much of it can make a beer into a caricature. But a little bit can give a lovely subtle "black tea and wheat thins" kind of malt character that comes through both in the nose and in the palate. I'd brew this again without change. The malt character is toasty enough that it could support more finishing hops, but I think I'd rather keep the melange of hop and malt that characterizes the nose as it is.

Damn. There it went.

I'm resting, by the way, while my drill recovers. I'm laying cement board in my bathroom and the drill was starting to smell a little like my Belgian Wit (Rim-shot/Ed McMahon sounds). So I decided I'd let it cool off for a bit. Hence one more beer.

This one's gonna hurt: The final bottle of Sub-Committee IPA. The IPA I return to for inspiration. The first time I really nailed it. The hop bouquet is floral and lovely. This got a Chinook dry hop atop late additions of Cascade, Columbus, and Mt. Hood. I love the subtlety and balance of this beer. I see that I only left the dry hops in for six days--that may be what is allowing the elegance of the Cascade and Mt. Hood to slip through and compete. If I didn't know what this was, I think I'd have real difficulty naming the dominant hop, or identifying much of the combo here. I think they melded somehow in a way I couldn't have predicted. The palate is dry and clean but with just enough malt character to hold up to the bittering hop (Chinook of course).

As I'm working on my varietal hop project and making IPA after IPA that is not quite as good as this one, I'm struck by how much I like the rougher bittering hops. The Warrior and Amarillo IPA's, despite having nifty aromatics (especially the Amarillo), were not as bracing and bitter as, say, Columbus, Chinook, Centennial, and Cascade. Simcoe is next I think, which may compare better to the C-hops--we'll see. I think I'm leaning toward a dream IPA that is just a clone of this one. Centennial is really worthy of its own annual single-hop spin-off, as is Columbus. Chinook is staggeringly good for bittering and dry hopping, but it needs a little help from its friends to really go over the top. Cascade is pretty good all by itself. I think Amarillo is a great late hop, but not that great for other things. Warrior is also just a little too soft for me. I've done all Mt. Hood on pale ales (this is sort of an experimental off-shoot). I'll also do all-Santiam and a couple of others for hops that don't seem big enough for IPA's all by themselves. Mt. Hood rocks and is particularly nice in an accent role in any kind of IPA.

Anyway, Sub-Committee was great and it's gone. Good night sweet prince...

That's not sentimentalizing Shakespeare by the way. I'm quoting Walter Sobchack not Hamlet.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

What to brew, what to brew...

I have various brewing priorities that I'm trying to sort out. I have a wheat rye summer beer in primary. I have a Leuven pale in primary, but it's been there so long that it's clear as a bell and can be bottled. I have a multi-grain Saison to bottle. I have a Grisette in primary. I have a Saison Dupont style beer in primary too. I should probably let the Dupont strain go with just two beers produced on it, as I have lots of other yeasts lined up to try. I -could- pitch it one more time and make a super saison. I've meant to do that. We'll see. First things first. Tomorrow I will bottle the Leuven and brew a final beer on the Forbidden Fruit yeast, racking the Grisette to secondary.

Now, what beer?? I have two points of inspiration here, detailed in an earlier post, a beer of Randy's and the Hoegaarden Forbidden Fruit--a gorgeously soft malty beer. After a lot of fiddling around I arrived at the following: OG 1075. IBU 28.

6.5 lbs Vienna
3.5 lbs Wheat
3 lbs Munich
1.25 Carmel-Pils
.5 lbs Special B
2.5 oz Carafa II
2 lbs sugar

Bitter with Perle; Aroma with Saaz + some Coriander.

It just kind of feels right to me.

Friday, July 21, 2006

A Civilized Beer Tasting

How civilized? Pretty civilized.

Randy kindly invited me to Holland Patent to sip some lambics that his brother Rick brought from Belgium. Moderation was the watchword and I tracked the ounces of beer consumed as I proceeded, trying to rectify the heinous excesses of Belgium Comes to Cooperstown.

We warmed up with some samplings of Randy's beers. A Forbidden Fruit Singel was highly promising; an old Spring Saison was a knock-out (on the hoppy end of the style, but balanced and intriguing with a stunning orange-copper color). A 3787 Dubbel was tragically spoiled, but we sampled a few other assorted Roeslare beers to cheer ourselves up.

The lambics were as follows: Mort Subite Oude Geuze was kind of a revelation. It upsets me terribly to know that the vast majority--like, basically, all--of their output gets sweetened and ruined to produce those sticky, unpleasant fruit beers. This was a seductive lemon-custard of a beer with prickly sourness and a mouth-grabbing, very full palate. Boon Kriek Marriage Parfait (several years old) was lovely with an oxidized color and much deeper flavors (less overtly acidic and more earthy). But it also had a little delicate acetic prickle. Oud Beersel was a pinker, perkier Kriek, but no less complex. Bright and musty at the same time, it was a teasinly tart beer that provided a perfect contrast to the moodier Boon.

Randy and I then compared Brett beers--this was less illuminating. We'll have to line them up next to each other next time. They're very similar beers. And very good ones, with subtle, soft, wheaty palates and nice fruity, delicately horsey aromatics.

We also had the others compare our pilsners, brewed a week or so apart some months ago. Two out of three tasters preferred Randy's, which was a trifle brighter and a little more emphatically hoppy. But mine had a fuller malt character and was, to me, just a little more balanced. It was really a coin flip and I had no real preference between the two myself. I'm just pleased I figured out how to brew Pilsner. My first try sucked. I plan on making two batches next year: One I'll make just the same and the other I'll head for non-Saaz hops just to mix it up.

Anyway it was a successful exercise in relative moderation and self control. Who knew it was possible?

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Old Bottle of Cat's Paw Pale

I'm sampling the final bottle of some 14-month-old pale ale. This is Cat's Paw Pale, named for the trusty hand tool. It's a little past its prime, but there's a lot of good stuff still going on. I based this on Smuttynose's Shoals Pale Ale and what it shares with that beer is a really firm, full malt base marked by more and darker crystal than is common--12 oz. of Crystal 120 for instance. It would be well worth repeating without major changes.

Or, on the other hand, I could redo the hopping just for fun, dropping Chinook and Cascade for, like, Warrior and Santiam or something. Usually I tend to be pretty restrained with the specialty malts in pale ales and the like, but this is a special case and it would probably be best conceived as a nice late fall seasonal--this'd be great after raking leaves on a chilly day.

I'm sick of not brewing. I haven't brewed in over two weeks, simply because of stress and paranoia relating to home ownership. Fuck that, man. I'm waking up early tomorrow and making the second version of my E.S.B. (Emergency Summer Beer). This was a beer I made up late, late last summer when we had a mysterious heat wave and I was pissed about having a bunch of Fall beers on draft. It was designed to be a U.S. Wheat beer, but hoppier and with rye. It was fucking great. The slightly re-touched second version will use a little more wheat to correct for my lousy wheat efficiency and will replace Newport with Perle for the bittering hop.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

What a disaster...

Belgium Comes to Cooperstown was a total catastrophe. I drank way too much, made an ass of myself, and passed out to the justifiable displeasure of my wife who fended off people taking pictures of me passed out. Ugh. There's a reason that one of the seven Duffs is named "Remorseful."

Here's what I remember of the beer mixed with various exclamations about things I missed cuz I got too hammered. Ommegang appears to have offered two new/small batch beers that I never tried. DAMN. I'm just going through the list of breweries and importers trying to reconstruct... American Flatbread's Gruit was kinda crummy. Interesting idea though. Appalachian Brewing's Obbie's Grand Cru was OK. The Reverend and Salvation from Avery were pretty good--both a little on the heavy side though. Brewer's Art apparently makes a green peppercorn tripel. How did I miss that? Boulevard Brewing was a bright spot. I tried a Dubbel, a Trippel, and "Saison with George Bret" and chatted with the brewer about technical matters. Real good brews with the appropriate respect for simplicity and complex but uncluttered flavors. I had an IPA from Brooklyn just to shake hands with Garrett Oliver and tell him I like his book. I was probably already slurring my speech though. Sigh.

BullFrog Brewery I was not wild about. Their Honey Super Saison was really crappy. Dogfish head brought Festina Lente, their peach lambic--it was delicous. I should have gone back for Fort and Raison d'Extra but I blew it. Harpoon had an IPA and a Belgian Pale and I apparently really liked the IPA, but don't remember why. I was headed rapidly downhill when I made it to Iron Hill, which is really too bad. I tried all the beers and loved them, but I have no palate memory at all; they brought a wit, a Flemish sour, a lambic, a strong, and a quad. North Coast's Brother Thelonious was a real stand-out with stunning malt character. Offshore Ale Company from Martha's Vineyard had a very chatty likeable brewer and terrific beers. Hop Goddess was a kind of XX/Orval inspired beer made with Sterling and Styrian Golding hops. I loved it. His Kolsch was absolutely textbook perfect and the Tripel was great too. He recommended the White Labs Kolsch yeast which I might try next time.

Then there's The Shed Restaurant and Brewery. "Substance D," a saison with Brett was good; Double Hoppy Illumination was good; Silent Illumination Black Saison was a real stunner. Bone dry; great malt character; all kinds of good things going on. Stone poured me a big glass of 6/6/06 (hastening my demise). It was good but predicatably a little on the heavy side. Southampton Publick house made a great impression too with a Grand Cru, an Abbot 12, a Tripel, and a Double White. They were fantastic beers. I wonder if the brewer was there? I should've asked because I love his Farmhouse Ales book. Stewart's Brewery offered a totally unmemorable Abbey Hoffman Dubbel. Stoudt's Tripel sucked. Stoudt's pretty much just sucks overall in my experience. Rogue now makes a Saison--it wasn't bad. I apparently had another Gruit brewed by Zero Gravity... What's with all the Gruits? Victory Whirlwind Wit was lost on me I think. I forgot to go to Unibroue.

I missed an embarassment of riches in the area of imports. I had a De Konink (blech), a Gulden Draak (yum), Rochefort 6 and 10, Westmalle Tripel, Maredsous 10, and Lindemans Pomme. The last one, actually, I think I just smelled and dumped. Somehow or other I appear to have had La Moneuse, Gavroche Red, and Thiriez Blond, but I don't remember them at all. Shit. The most grotesque omission is that apparently Shelton Brothers brought Fantome's Brise Bon-Bons, an IPA Saison of sorts. I didn't see it. Oh and I really wanted to see if Vinny Cilurzo was at Russian River so I could offer him a brett beer. He may or may not have been there but it would've been cool to at least try.

So, yes, it was a total disaster and I still feel a little ill. And remorseful.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Take-Two Tripel, Weizen, London Ale III

Three random notes:

My new tripel is off the charts. Wonderful herbal nose is highly reminiscent of Westmalle--thyme, bay, lightly spicy hops, delicate citrus. I'm so pleased. Now I just have to give it more time, but for being relatively young, it's just fantabulous.

I also tried a Rainy Saturday Weizen. I have just 8 or 10 bottles. Bavarian style wheats really ought to be bottled. It's a lot more interesting, especially from a textural standpoint, than it was on draft.

And one other note. I learned today that Wyeast 1318 London Ale III is the Young's strain. Why have I not used this? Come fall, I'll have to go on a little British beer kick... 1318 plus the cask ale strain in my fridge would be a good place to start. 1318 could be taken through a bitter, an oatmeal stout, and a barley wine. That would be just cracking I think.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Dulle Teve

This beer and I have a vexed history. It's a pretty inconsistent product, but every time I've found it at least interesting and sometimes it's really blown me out of the water. The name means Mad Bitch, either in Flemish or some odd-ball local dialect, and it's brewed by de Dolle Brouwers. It's pale and heavily sedimented with a decent but unamazing head. The nose is dominated by bright mint/basil/grassy herbaceousness with some woody cork notes. The palate is sexy and full with more apparent malty sweetness than I suspect the beer actually possesses, from a statistical standpoint. That grassiness in the nose has at times reminded me of pot--and it does this time too. What a quirky, complex beer.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Beer Design Problem

What to do? What to do?

I had Forbidden Fruit in Canada. I loved it. 9% a.b.v. Other than that I don't know much.

I also had a beer Randy brewed a month or two later. It was called Dutch Castle II and had the following rough recipe: 2.3 English, 2.0 German, 2.30 Munich,2.25 Vienna, 3.5 Wheat. 9.3 ounces CaramelPils, 13.6 ounces Special B,3.5 ounces aromatic, 9.3 ounces caravienne. HOPS:1.5 ounces of Northern Brewer @ 60; 1.0 Saaz @ 1 min. 9% and 3.2% resprectively on the hops.

The recipe sounds scattershot, but the beer has a lovely soft maltiness that reminded me of the F.F. On tasting it again I get a tiny roughness that I think lowering the specialty malts would smooth out.

What if I were to design a recipe for my F.F. yeast cake along the following lines? Upper 1070's. Perhaps 25 I.B.U. Use wheat and Vienna as base malts. I have a lot of both and they should conspire to create a softness and a sound maltiness respectively. Munich could work. Special B and Aromatic would both be good. Sugar would also be appropriate to foster dryness. Orange peel and coriander would be fine too. Caramel-pils is a nice malt in a beer like this too.

I'll mull this over with a cup of coffee tomorrow. Not sure how to tackle it.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

House, Reconciliation, Redbach

Lately my life has revolved around the house... No brewing for several days. Turns out my downstairs toilet had been slowly leaking for years, effectively demolishing the floor of the bathroom. It's now about 2/3 of the way fixed. I have nevertheless tapped two new kegs, a very promising, but slightly green, Belgian pale (roughly in the manner of De Koninck) and a lovely, balanced India Brown. Must keg an IPA tomorrow, get back to brewing (Belgians, a summer ale, a porter?), bottle a saison or two, a Belgian pale, and an altbier... I'm swamped. As a side-note, my Wit blows. I may never bother with that style again. What a pain in the ass it was to produce a crummy beer... Complicated adjunct mash, long brew day, long fermentation and the damned thing smells a little like an electrical fire. Shit.

Anyway, I'm sipping Reconciliation, my brett beer. This is a great summer refresher. The wheat-heavy grist has a little twang of sauermalt. The hopping is almost non-existent, just enough to give a teensy background bitterness. The nose is rather like a fruity white wine. It's not as horsey and sharp as it was before--this'll probably change a lot from month to month. I'm serious about the wine thing--this has practically everything I like about a nice dry white. I can see why the Russian River crew would've thought to do a long-term, chardonnay-barrel-aged brett beer (which they did--it's amazing). My only gripe about this beer is the lousy head retention--not sure why that should be... Otherwise, I love it. I could brew this every year as a fluffy summer beer, trying out different brett strains (this was Brux), or I could adapt it to be a stronger, longer-aged beer and work in some oak or other flashier elements.

So, on a related note, Rodenbach was unavailable in this country for quite a while. About a year or so ago, the beers reappeared with a new importer and different labelling. I had the basic blended Rodenbach on draft at Clark's with Randy and Andrew--it was lovely; I also had it from a corked bottle purchased at Party Source. It's a great kind of session sour beer--not too prickly, but still tart and a great aperitif. The grand cru is the best--bordering on vinegar-y, it's about as sour as beer gets and mind-blowingly complex. They used to make a beer called Alexander Rodenbach which incorporated cherries--I don't remember it all that well. This seems to have been reinvented as "Redbach: Rodenbach kissed by cherries." It comes wrapped in a suspiciously soda-pop looking label and then, lo and behold, it's a twist-off bottle... This is not a good sign. The color is drop-dead gorgeous but it's downhill from there. There are some definite hints of the trademark Rodenbach complexity in the nose, but the palate ruins it completely. It's just too sweet. "Wickedly sour" my ass. I'm dumping the rest of the glass and I will not be buying this again... Fucking cherry soda.

Just to get that rather substantial disappointment out of my head, here's something totally different: D.Y. Porter, my tribute to Smuttynose Robust Porter. David Yarrington, their very friendly and seriously gifted brewer, shared the grain bill with me. I followed it almost exactly and came up with my own hop schedule--it still has the same IBU's though, more or less. The flaw with this batch was uneven carbonation--some bottles had an overly spritzy carbonation that really didn't fit with the rest of the beer. Otherwise, it was a great success. It's dead opaque, with a massive chocolate-y fullness. It's loaded with chocolate and carafa--so much so that it could easily be mistaken for a stout. Underneath the chocolate is deep, dark fruit, which has to come from the large quotient of Special-B. The palate is bracingly bitter, full, delicately sweet, yet totally uncloying. I see no reason to fiddle with this recipe and will be brewing it again more or less a.s.a.p. Whenever my home-repair / academic research schedule allows...

Saturday, July 08, 2006

DIPA Pre-Race Routine

I'm running a 15K tomorrow. I thought I wouldn't drink but then I decided that might throw my whole system off. Star Chamber Double IPA seemed like the way to go. I love this beer and need to make a whole 'nother batch pronto--it's nearly gone. Hopefully it will lull me quickly to sleep...

Beautiful citrus/floral hop nose with a rich, piney under-layer. Lovely amber color. Succulent, malty palate swinging into a finish full of hop viscosity. The balance here is just spot on, which is why I have to reproduce it. If it reminded me of a commerical beer it might be Dogfish Head 90-Minute, which also has some of the same depth of malt and elegance on the palate, but this is more bitter over-all and more emphatically hop-scented (lots of dry hops here). This is one of the four or five best beers I've ever brewed. OK, off to bed.

Monday, July 03, 2006


I've had a couple really productive days of general household cleaning and low-level maintenance/decorating. Yay me! I find that peculiarly satisfying. I love sitting down in a room and doing whatever it is you're supposed to do in that type of room with no clutter, or bullshit, or mild filth to distract you.

So, here's a bottle of Nostradamus to celebrate. The only other Caracole beer I've had is Saxo, which I thought was spectacular. I got this at Beers of the World in Rochester.

This is a 9.5% alcohol beast with a color that's a shade lighter than Westmalle Dubbel--still a deep ruddy brown though. The nose is splendid: Cream; alcohol; milk chocolate; boysenberry; deep, savory licorice; penetrating malt.

The palate is full and malty sweet in that weird Belgian way, where the final gravity is actually pretty low. There's a beautiful, deep, bready taste that I find intoxicating. The finish is warm and long with just a little bit of bitterness keeping it lively. More and more port-like as it warms up.

This is an absolute knock-out and I suck for not buying more Caracole beers while I could--they had at least one other one I had never tried. Oh well.

Brew Like a Monk lists some specs/vague ingredients for this as I recall. Might make the start of a great recipe...

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Designing Great Grisettes??

I wanna brew a grisette. Mostly just cuz I like the word. It's an odd style. Apparently grisettes were the rather light, fluffy quasi-saisons that were served to Belgian miners. It's a practically extinct style. Hennepin used to bill itself as a grisette but they seem to have changed their minds and their website now calls it a saison. Why they're "grey" beers is somewhat debatable, but apparently the women who handed them out to the miners wore grey frocks, whatever exactly a frock is, hence they were grey-ettes, or (it sounds better en francais) "grisettes."

At any rate, I have a packet of Wyeast's Forbidden Fruit yeast. I'm building up to a bigger darker beer in the style of Hoegaarden's Verboden Vrucht, but I need a lighter weight beer to kick things off. So, why not a grisette? There are few style parameters to fret over. It should be low gravity, in the vicinity of 1044-6. I can do that. It should be light and refreshing. How 'bout some wheat? They should be refreshingly hoppy, but not all that bitter. I took a rough hop inventory and I could use to move out some Mt. Hood and some Perle. Both would be appropriate I think. On second thought, hold the Perle for something else. This is going to be too subtle a beer for a higher alpha hop. Mt. Hood all the way.

Malt-wise, I'd prefer to hang onto as much pilsner malt as possible, as I have a lot of beers in mind that are gonna need it. So I'll balance the light, fluffy wheat element by using some Vienna to round things out. I love Vienna malt anyway. Here's a recipe:

Forbidden Grisette:

OG 1044
IBU 19

Grain bill:

4 lbs Pils
3.5 lbs Vienna
3 lbs Wheat

Mash at 148 or so.

1.5 oz Mt. Hood at 60
.5 oz at 15
.8 oz at shut-off

With Belgians, simple is almost always good. How bad can it be?