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, August 27, 2006

Valedictions VII and VIII

1872 Flower's Christmas Porter meet 1850 Whitbread's London Porter.

Last winter, I was infatuated with making old British beers, after the astonishing revelation that was 1856 Barclay Perkins Imperial Brown Stout. Most were good. There was an oatmeal stout that somehow didn't quite live up to its promise, and an 80-Schilling that was good but not great. But these two porters were spectacular, particularly the 1872 on draft. Small bottled stocks existed and I'm down to the last bottle of each. Well, I was until I poured both of them to help me conceptualize what I want to brew this winter with my remaining brown and amber malt.

They're both almost impenetrably dark. The London has a better head, but it's also slightly over-carbed, so that's kind of a wash. They have relatively similar grists, but the London has a lower gravity; the Christmas has a pound of sugar and 13 less IBU's. Both were brewed with Wyeast 1084. Both have deep, burnt aromatics, but the London is a trifle harsher and the Christmas has richer underlying fruit (figs and red wine?) and a more complex, volatile, aromatic profile overall--plus an eerily numbing palate. Lisa prefers the Christmas and I think I agree, but it's very close.

Yep. I've thought about it more and sipped back and forth for several minutes and I'm a big fan of the 1872 Christmas. It brings me back to how soft and gorgeous it was on draft. I'll do this again sometime in October or November, serve it on draft young, save a few bottles, and step the yeast up into another big porter or stout. Or maybe one of the various interesting strong ales in the book...

One question would surround the yeast. 1084 did an awfully good job. I may have to buy a pack. Otherwise, I could use 1028 London and use the Christmas Porter as a staging beer for a second batch of imperial. Wow. I've missed dark beers... I shouldn't really confine them to winter, but I do find porters and stouts more satisfying the earlier it gets dark.

Imperial Stout Tasting

Thought I'd report, after the fact, that I held a fantastic imperial stout tasting with Buck and Sharon the other day. We analyzed the following stouts:

My Old British Beers 1856 Imperial Double Brown Stout:

We started with this one and it basically won. The nose is all raisins, prunes, and apple sauce. The palate is huge, enveloping, and deeply bourbony with a compelling but subtle astringency holding together a great array of flavors. The finish is all bourbon. I don't how to explain how convincing this beer is. Despite the logistical difficulties, I expect I'll brew a batch at least every other year. It is a huge, expensive, pain in the ass. But I'm NOT complaining...

Weyerbacher Old Heathen:

We decided this is a faux imperial. The nose is quite lovely, with brighter fruit but a little overlap with the above--also some smokiness. I detected a slight off aroma vaguely reminiscent of chicken boullion. The real problem is the extremely slender palate that fades into an acidic, watery finish. Tasting it right after the 1856 didn't help it any, but we worked in a beer of Randy's and mixed things up to give it a chance. It's just not at all rich enough. We tasted an old stout of Randy's just for the perspective created by his liberal use of roast barley; unfortunately the beer was just over the hill and didn't represent his stouts properly. Oh well.

Great Divide Yeti:

I had high hopes for this beer but they were quickly dashed. The nose is noticeably more alcoholic than 1856, despite its lower alcohol... Still a good, deep nose, with some milky richness. The palate is the problem. It's velvet for a moment and then becomes unspeakably harsh. The harsh, minerally bitterness gets sharper and sharper into the finish and then lingers way too long. Sharon cleverly connected the particular type of bitterness to bitter greens, like old, old arugula that you shouldn't eat. We poured out the last third of the bottle. Could bad treatment during shipping in any way explain this beer??

Smuttynose Imperial Stout:

This beer has one of the four or five most outstanding dry-hop aromas that I've ever smelled. It takes your breath away. There's just one problem: The hops totally obliterate the imperial stout character. It tasted pretty good, with a soft palate that provided welcome relief from the Yeti, but we felt the overwhelming hop presence really hurt the beer. Ease off on the dry hops Dave! Where's the roastiness?? It was still a beautiful beer in its own way though. Reminds me that I really have to do a Black IPA. I've been planning to for ages and calling it "India Ink" in the back of my head.

We then side-by-sided North Coast's Old Rasputin and my Raskolnikov--which was based on a fairly well-established clone recipe for the Old Rasputin. I do hope that the Raskolnikov mellows into something great later this winter, but at around 6 months old it's still somewhat harsh. It's not bad, but it's a long way off from the voluptuous Rasputin. The problem is a kind of harshness, particularly in the nose. Buck regarded this aroma as almost skunky--I call it vegetal. Whatever it is, that sharpness detracts from the otherwise nice malt character in the nose. It also has a slightly rough bitterness to the otherwise yummy palate. With that lesson in mind, I totally re-wrote the recipe and brewed another imperial the next day that I think will soften much more quickly. I worked in Munich and more crystal malts, deleting the black patent, going for softer hops than the Columbus I used in Raskolnikov, and omitting the Mt. Hood dry hop that I think might be helping to create the aromatic distractions.

And thus was born Sub-Committee Imperial Stout. We'll see how it turns out.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Rochefort Project

I've smacked a pack of 1762, which was probably a bad idea, and I'm sipping a Rochefort 6 to help me figure out what to do with the yeast. I had a bad experience with it the first time. I attempted to do a clone of the 6 and it got infected. The infamous bad sack of pilsner malt, I guess, made for weak attenuation, then I shook and stirred and sampled too much. The resulting "accidental sour brown" has exactly the right color, but is otherwise not helpful. In fact, I need to start using it in cooking... I can't decide about the attenuation though--was it the bad malt, wrong temps, too much crystal??

I've just glanced at the famous Herman's Bierpage clone formula. I'm about to finish the bottle of 6. It's fantastic. Figs, burnt sugar, anise... It's just aromatically fabulous.

Hmmm... There's no fucking way I'm going to "clone" this. I really don't trust the established recipe as the crystal malt presence seems way too high and I fear poor attenuation. The other time I used a large portion of dark sugar syrup I made a great beer, my Pale Dubbel, which is sort of like a paler, spicier Westvleteren 8. I think I'll follow my own lead there and add 16 fluid ounces of that stuff near the end of the boil. But in a futile effort to incorporate some of these deep, gorgeous, figgy, burnt qualities, I'll draw on some crystal malts. Certainly Special B. Some foundational Caramunich, but not as much as those Dutch dudes used. Screw the whole corn thing. I'll just use sugar this time. Touch of carafa. Lightly hop. Done.

Off to the basement to assess ingredients...

I may reconsider this very slightly, but I like the following beer, inspired by, but not remotely a clone of, Rochefort 6. Hopefully it will get at least a little of that figgy depth and will prove a valuable stepping stone for brewing a big, honkin' 11% alcohol off-shoot.

Ad Hoc Dubbel

19 IBU
hypothetical FG, maybe 1009-1011?

10 lbs Pilsner
1 lb Weyermann Caramunich I
.5 lbs Special B
2 oz Carafa II
2.4 lbs sugar total--including one bottle of dark syrup

Mash at 145 and boil for 75 minutes.

.7 oz Northern Brewer (60)
.5 oz Hallertau (20)
.2 oz Hallertau (5)
.2 oz Coriander (5)

Given good sanitation, how bad can that possibly be??

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Hooky Bitter

It's going to be British ale brewing season pretty soon so this Hooky Bitter, kindly hand-imported by Andrew, is a timely inspiration. It's quite pale, not much darker than my IPA--a little oranger maybe. It's really soft and subtle--almost ephemeral. You could drink about forty of these while playing cards or darts. The nose combines a sutble floweriness and a whiff of walnutty malt. The palate is similarly subtle, but does pick up a relatively bracing bitterness in the finish--though soft, it has beautifully defined contours, thanks to the judicious hopping.

So, I pretty much get how to brew American pub-style beers with few (almost no?) misteps; it's so much easier, as minor flaws are easily hidden by big, gallumphing crystal malt flavors and robust, domestic hop varieties. These British deals are tough and my experiences have been more mixed. Probably this fall, I'll make a bitter and a brown or a porter or something on this Cask Ale strain I have in the fridge. Other British endeavors will probably use 1028 and/or London III. If I know me, I'll get frustrated and drift off into the far larger and more forgiving Old British Beers recipes after a little while... You get a lot more flavor and alcohol and lot more to hide behind if your recipe emplys, say, 4 lbs of brown malt and 5 oz of Goldings. But I'll try to take a crack at some of the modern standards.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Varietal Hop Project / Valediction VI

Comparing a couple IPA's: R.I.P. First Hydrometer IPA (Columbus) and Dirty Hippie IPA (Chinook).

R.I.P. is better, but this may not be all that indicative... There's a problem with inconsistency in these beers where I only bottle a slight keg over-run, which is the case with the Chinook one. R.I.P. has a great, piney, vibrantly fruity nose and a full, nicely bittered palate. D.H. is just eneven and not that great--it was a nice beer on draft, but this particular bottle (probably 1 of only 7 or 8) is ho-hum at best. Eh. It's gone now.

So, damnit, I didn't really learn anything from this one. Except that it's hard to screw up a Columbus IPA. What a great hop...

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Valediction V

The last bottle of D.Y. Porter: This is a Smuttynose Robust Porter clone--the affable David Yarrington gave me the grain bill and I designed the hopping. And seeing as how I am, like, fucking damn near out of dark beers (excepting imperial stouts) I had better make more next week. It's imperative. I'm partly looking forward to fall and winter because they inspire me to make darker and chunkier beers. IPA's stick around, but wheat beers and summer ales and the lighter pale ales tend to go out the window in favor of more browns and stouts and porters in the draft fridge.

This is a seriously opaque porter, loaded with chocolate and carafa malts. There's a little citrusy twinge in the nose from some Cascade, but mostly we're talking dark chocolate and more dark chocolate. Special B and other dark crystal malts lend a warm, rich support structure and some deep raisiny fruit on the palate and in the nose. There will be no significant changes to this recipe and the next one is going on draft, which may make it even better...

In other news, my Altbier officially sucks. I seem to be totally jinxed on German ales, seeing as how the two I've tried have both had contamination issues. God-DAMNIT! Is there a Ralph's around here?

On the other hand, my multi-grain saison looks like it'll be a rousing success. An early bottle was utterly delicious.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Sterling Wheat Saison

Had a random Saison idea the other day. I have Wyeast Farmhouse, which is supposed to be the Blaugies yest (they produce uber-dry, traditional Saisons). Around the time I was thinking of using this yeast, I also realized I had some things to use up. 1) Sterling hops, which are one of those kind of noble hop a la U.S. kind of things--they're supposed to be Saaz-y. 2) Franco-Belges Caramel Wheat Malt. It's hard to say the Lovibond on this, but it's probably in the upper twenties. It's just something I bought as an experiment and have somehow failed to use...

So this got me thinking: How about a wheat-heavy Saison that actually uses a caramel malt? And how about those Sterling? I had a Sterling-based Saison at BCTC that was terrific. The goal is to produce a fearsomely dry, relatively low-alcohol, subtly hopped Saison that is also fluffy with wheat, having just a little bit of toasty depth from the carawheat.

How bad can it be?

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

XX Bitter

It's the ficklest of classics: XX Bitter.

Brewers all know it. Before I headed into the ether at Belgium Come to Cooperstown, I talked to a brewer (from Offshore Ales) about his "Hop Goddess." It was a consciously XX Bitter/Orval- inspired beer. It was great, by the by. My version from a year or so ago is way off the mark, but great. I brewed a hoppy Roeslare pale, trying to harken back to the days when XX was brewed with Rodenbach yeast. Drinking XX right now, mine is actually more interesting, but perhaps less balanced... It's a tricky style. Mine has amazing Roeslare aromatics, but an awful lot of bitterness for the slender, wild-yeast-attenuated body. The actual XX is more balanced than I recalled. It's bitter and lean, even a little severe, but balanced by a delicate maltiness and some subtle yeast aromatics.

The more I drink it the more I think I can compete. My next Roeslare pale will be less hampered by imitation. I'll just compose a simple, hearty grist, hammer it with characterful hops, and relax.

In other news, I've thought of a new Saison profile. With the Wyeast Farmhouse strain, I'll be brewing a Spring Wheat Saison with pils, wheat, and cara-wheat malts and lots of Sterling hops. Should be good.

Valedictions III and IV

Ah, so painful.

I'm sitting in my SWELTERING office sipping beer...

My original U.S. IPA, Eastern Thing, is next on the chopping block. I like old IPA's and this one is a good 18 months old. The nose is earthy and floral--Chinook and Cascade and such have lost their sharp grapefruitiness and faded into a more ethereal forest-floor thing. And the malt character has worked its way into the aromatics more. The palate has this particular, old IPA quality that's hard to describe... It's still bitter. The hops are bracing and a little tannic, but there's also a malt warmth that makes this feel almost like a mini barley wine. It brings me back...

And this one is really gonna suck...

"Log Jammin,'" my Bamberger Rauchbier. The first of its kind. I tried to improve it on the second batch and it was not nearly as good. It was perfect. Why did I try??

I guess I wanted to compete with the insane sausage-y smokiness of Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier and that's really hard to do without a smokehouse. Next winter I will return to the original: A simple 1/2 Munich 1/2 Rauchmalt grist with a touch of Carafa for color. To wit, this:

Glorious, deep, crystal-clear amber. The nose has a pronounced, but not overbearing smokiness--very young, I remember it smelled a little like hot-dogs. Mature, it's always felt like a distant camp-fire with steaks and single malt. The palate has a terrific, very Munich-y maltiness. None of the thickness of caramel malts--just even, subtle, suave Munich. The smoke flavor carries through into the finish, which is both sweet and smoky. It's pretty much a perfect smoked lager.