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, March 30, 2006

Assorted stuff

I'm sipping Probation Pale. Unfortunately this beer has lousy clarity because I kegged it without a secondary fermentation--this was pure laziness and opportunism on my part. Dumb-ass. On the other hand, it tastes quite nice. This is a simple recipe. 1051; 42 IBU. Easy on the specialty malts--just a touch of Carasatan and Amber. Chinook and Cascade. Nothin' crazy. The nose blends nice, lively C-hops (mostly Cascade) with the little signature nutty quality that amber malt brings to the table. Clean, nicely balanced palate. Very session-able. I like it.

In more exotic news, I tested my all-Brett Brux Belgian and, hallelujah, it's pretty damn nifty. It's dead pale, lightly hoppy, a little sour, has wonderful leathery, lightly barn-yardy aromatics. Pretty much exactly what I wanted. I'll bottle it within a week or two, doing 6 or 7 corked bottles to lay down and the rest in 12-oz'ers. I think this will be a splendidly refreshing summer beer. I'm psyched. Oh, and it finished at 1.002! I think I'll bring a corked sample to "Belgium comes to Cooperstown" and hope I run into Vinnie Cilurzo.

Also brewed my singel--went pretty smoothly. Should be totally different from my other one. I trust 3787 to make great beer, though you never know when it will start decimating airlocks and taking over whole city blocks, spewing krausen all over an unsuspecting populace. . .

Sunday, March 26, 2006


Gotta love Trappist singels--as a concept, even if one never gets to taste the genuine articles. I'm sipping my first crack at the style for beer planning help.

I'm in a bit of a brewing slump and have been feeling dejected about a few beers. In the next few days I'll do a bad beer tasting and post on two or three failures. In my crazy December burst of productivity I think quality control suffered. To cheer myself up, I thought I'd maybe brew a singel, as I rarely seem to go wrong with Belgians and I've had this pack of 3787 languishing in the fridge that I meant to have used by now.

My first singel was fermented with 3787. It was 1050 (FG 1011) with 37 IBU of Hallertau and Spalt (sizable late additions) on a frame of pilsner malt, with a lb of Belgian Biscuit, a 1/2 lb of wheat, and a 1/2 lb of candi sugar.

The 3787 phenolics took a while to chill out, but they have. The biscuit malt makes a pronounced impact, maybe too much--very toasty presence in the nose and a little burnt tinge to the palate. It's interesting, but could be toned down. Hop aroma is very pleasant, underlain with the eastery depth of the 3787. Killer yeast, by the way. There's a really pronounced herbal aroma I can't quite name. Very annoying that I can't. It's very "green" though.

I think for my next attempt, I'll head somewhere else. I think I'll lose the Biscuit and go for a very elemental malt base. How about 50% German Pils and 50% Belgian Pale? With maybe a little sugar for attenuation? Just as a curiosity, I think I'll model it loosely after Westvleteren Blond, which I've never had. I'll thus target OG 1051, FG 1008, and 41 IBU (data from Brew Like a Monk). For hopping, I think I'll bitter with Northern Brewer and flavor and aroma hop with Styrian and Halltertau. From there, the recipe practically writes itself, yes?

This yeast cake will go on to make a tripel a la Westmalle and at least one Westvleteren inspired beer using that funky new Belgian sugar syrup I'm itchin' to buy.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Another IPA

I guess I'm obsessed with IPA. Once I figured out a few things early on, it has come to seem difficult to make a bad one. They mature quickly; they keg well; a lot of people seem to like 'em; some of my favorite visitors always clamor for them. What's to stop you from making tons, eh?

My latest is an all-Columbus IPA, part of the afore-mentioned Varietal Hop Project, named "Rest-in-Peace First Hydrometer I.P.A." For the Columbus version, I bottled instead of kegging, and I let the IBU's go up a tiny bit, swinging the malt composition just a bit darker. I normally favor a really bright-tasting, straw-colored IPA (think Smuttynose), but for this one (thinking loosely of Anderson Valley's Hop Ottin') I let things swing a touch darker, upping the carastan and Munich a little bit. When working with Cascade or Centennial, I stuck more to the brighter, lighter incranation. The result, in this case, was about 74 IBU; OG 1065; FG 1011. The FG surprised me a bit. Most of my other IPA's have finished around 1014-16. I had intended to stay in that area, but the U.S. 56 must've gotten excited for some reason. Well, the yeast makes the beer, so I had best not complain.

The color is a coppery gold. Head is pretty solid. Nose is emphatically citrusy, with vivid pine-resiny tones just underneath. The body is bone dry with a sharp, palate-clinging hoppiness. As it warms up the nose gets really gorgeous and highly complex. Seeing as how it sat on 1.5 oz of whole-flower Columbus for 19-20 days, it damn well oughta be. In addition to the dry hop, I hit it with 2.5 oz at shut-off, operating on my theory that sizable late additions provide a deeper, earthier base for the more perfumey, floral qualities that dry-hopping produces. This is a pretty damned good beer. Tomorrow, I'll dry hop the all-Chinook IPA (built on a very similar base); soon, I must order some more hops to continue the project. Simcoe and Amarillo are the next order of busines, I think.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Final travel update

I'm back, but must reflect on my final bay-area drinking. I just spent my mid-day cleaning out my basement: Sweeping, putting away tools, cleaning up the beer fridge, laundry, beer reorganizing, etc. So a brief rest seemed in order. I'm polishing off the final kegged pint of Blue Hood Pale Ale to wash the dust out of my mouth. I continue to like this beer a lot and will probably do a repeat batch when summer nears.

Anyway, the last day in Berkeley, we wandered down a beautifully sun-lit College Avenue (my favorite rue de Berkeley) and went to Ben and Nick's. The first order of business was a pitcher of the astonishing 8% a.b.v. double IPA from Russian River, Pliny the Elder. Apparently it's not supposed to be given out in pitchers, but the cool, dread-locked waitress cut us a break. At 13 bucks for about four-and-a-half pints, this struck us as a damned good deal. While some members of our crew worked on glasses of Maredsous 8, I cradled my pint of Pliny, giving it several minutes to come up to temp. Even good places over-chill everything, damnit. The Maredsous was in its own glass but it was too cold as well. Anyway, Pliny is spectacular. I love my double IPA but I think theirs is better. As you get good at brewing, finding commercial beers that trump yours gets harder. When it comes to U.S. micros I find the real show-stoppers are usually the odd-ball local finds like this one, as against bottled stuff at your liquor store which has usually been through the wringer, giving your homebrew a real edge. By the way, my friend Kier had the amusing experience of moving back and forth between pints of Pliny and Hoegaarden--quite a challenge for the palate.

The Pliny had a huge viscous body, but still felt pretty well attenuated. The hop character was overwhelmingly huge and unspeakably complex. Before closing the afternoon with a second Pliny, I sampled, from a hand-pump, Drakes Denogginizer (I take the liberty of adding an extra "g" to make the pronunciation clear). This was more like a triple IPA--10%, maybe 11%? The body was thicker, the hop aroma a little more muted but with a huge earthiness to it. Quite a beer. I'm going to nose around and research Pliny. There is a MoreBeer kit available and if it seems authentic, I may call someone there, or track down the details on line, and work up a comparable (and far cheaper) example. Either that or I'll just do mine again and shoot for a touch more viscosity by upping the mash temp.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

More drinking updates

I'm at Jeremiah's mom's house, where we're having some assorted food and beverages. Jeremiah and I lined up Murphy's and Guinness from those damned cans alongside one another. It is Saint Patrick's Day, right? Anyway, for a homebrewer, these damned Irish stouts are so fuckin' thin. Bleh. They're just not so interesting. We decided that Murphy's is slightly less watery than Guinness.

Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale is good though. Nice Centennial-ish nose with a rich, malty body.

Next up is a Bigfoot, after which point it'll all go down hill.

Friday, March 17, 2006

More vacation drinking


First of all let me correct something from the previous update. Jeremiah's steam beer wasn't actually that bad. I don't know what in holy hell happened to the two pints that smelled like dead wharf rats, but the pint the next day seemed just fine. Maybe what was in the hose was scary bad and contaminated the beer coming out of the keg for a brief period. Not sure.

In other news, I had a Bear Republic Hot Rod Rye. Eh. No big deal. Kind of overly tangy malt character. I grabbed an Old Rasputin at the same place and it was predictably great.

Lagunitas Brown Shuggah is a huge (1100) beer of indeterminate style. I don't have any deep thoughts, but I desperately needed a strong beer and it hit the spot. Their semi-barley wine called "The Hairy Eye-Ball" was also pretty cool. Suprisingly dry but with a hugely gooey, rich-smelling nose.

Russian River's Temptation (Belgian Blonde aged for a year in Chardonnay barrels with Brett) was totally spectacular. It's sort of like a lambic, but without real sourness, and with a rich buttery character instead. Beautiful brett nose; big, oaky vanilla quality, very dry with just a little bit of sourness in the finish. A marvellous beer.

Drie Fonteinen Oude Kriek had a fabulous color--almost purple. It's very subtle: The nose is lightly sour with cherry notes and a kind of nutty, almondy quality; The body is lean, slender, and moderately sour, with an interesting shivery finish.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Travel Update

So, there's been pretty steady drinkin' during all the hangin' out here in the S.F. bay area. Let's try and reconstruct. . .

On the plane, after I got upgraded to first-class since they screwed me over, I had a Heineken (better than the alternatives), 3 gin and tonics, and a scotch on the rocks, which made the trip considerably nicer.

Once settling in here, we've been dangerouly prone to excess. I think we've had following:

Jeremiah's regular saison and apple saison were quite nice. His steam beer was unspeakable--the keg spoiled horribly somehow. Nice, foetid, boggy aroma. But the saisons were delicious--right on for the style. The apple one is a little different but I enjoyed its exceptionally dry spritiziness. He says it finished at 1.0005. And, no, that's not a typo.

We also had some cool commercial beers, Whole Foods being a fairly good source.

Cantillon Iris was marvellous--extremely hoppy, semi-lambic abnormality. I'm a fan.

A domestic saison (Farmhouse Brewing Co.) was mediocre. Nice aromatics, but not tight enough in terms of attenuation.

Zum Eurige Sticke Alt was a revelation. More on that when I taste another one and start planning an Altbier.

The new organic Belgian-style offering from North Coast (Cru d'Or) is quite nice. As with many domestic Belgians, it was maybe a trifle sweet, but it had a very 1762-ish nose.

Lagunitas Imperial Red was delicious. Goofy quasi-style, but great Columbus-y nose and flavors. Stats: 1072; 40.63 IBU; 7.6%.

Lagunitas Maximus IPA was heavy and a little tangy in a way I didn't love, but great hop nose and flavor.

Maredous 8, which I hadn't had in a while, was better than remembered. Extraordinary head texture--left these neat, chunky, gobby bits. Nice aromatics--dry, tightly articulated body.

A Girardin Geuze was absolutely top-drawer--not excessively sour, bone dry, white-winey-oak quality, brilliant complexity.

The Unibroue beer produced for Trader Joe's was good--kinda like Trois Pistoles I think, but maybe darker with more noticable black malts floating around.

Russian River's brett beer, Redemption, was also wonderful. Not about sourness, as some mistakenly anticipated. Just clean, dry, and psychotically carbonated, with a delicately funky nose. A very playful beer. Their Damnation was also good, but not as tight as I remembered overall.

I think that covers everything. I went for a run in the Berkeley hills today to work off some of the guilt and most of the hangover.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Death and Saison

I'm getting ready to leave for a spring break trip and this has me stressed out. Part of me, at such moments, inevitably imagines the hypothetical consequences of my untimely death--please, O higher power(s), prevent such an occurence . . .

Anyway I need a beer to settle my jangled nerves and help me pack and I was perusing my commercial selection. I'll probably have a home-brew too, but one expensive purchased beverage seemed in order. So I stared at the shelf and imagined my weeping, bereaved friends drinking my tiny stash of Westmalle, Rochefort, and Westvleteren. . . and then I grabbed a bottle of Saison Fantome, which I adore:

Beautiful crystalline gold color--head's not quite as dramatic as some of my saisons, but it's nice. Wonderful, prickly carbonation. Nose is quite earthy and spicy--I think of Styrian Goldings, a whiff of cork, green apples, and citrus (mostly lemon). The palate is beautifully prickly and lightly tart, with a peculiar mouth-coating quality. This is just a gorgeous saison--hadn't had one of these in a while. . .

The mouthfeel on this beer, the more I drank it, is just flat-out extraordinary. It literally crawls around your tongue, leaving bitterness, sourness, some sort of mineral (chalky?) thing, an almost tannic-feeling dryness. It's clingy. It leaves this sharp carbonic prickle way after you swallow. It's fuckin' awesome. As a brewer, I think I can take a pretty good swing at the Dupont models--you know, ferment hot, hop 'em right, little spicing in some cases--it's hard to go too far wrong with this style if you have instincts and the right ingredients. But the Fantome beers, when they're on, are a completely different kind of standard. I have _no_ idea what makes this beer what it is. Dany Prignon rocks.

All hail Vienna

The malt, not necessarily the city--never been there. I'm just sipping Blue Hood Pale Ale. Near the end of the keg and I wanted to pause and reflect on a pretty yummy beer. This was an APA, sort of: 1053-ish with 37 IBU's. Vienna + Mt. Hood. End of story. I -love- the color Vienna gives--a very clean, elegant gold. The head is scary good--almost kinda shaving cream-y. It's highly drinkable. Nose combines subtle hop spice and a little bready maltiness--very uniform palate follows through on all of that. It's just a really elegant, under-stated beer. I'd brew it again without change. I'd also considering adapting lager and Saison versions of the same. Maybe even like a Euro-barley wine or something like that. It's good that I'm enthused, cuz I have another 40-odd pounds to use up. . .

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Biere Darbyste

In an effort to cheer myself up (frustrating day) I poured a nice Belgian ale from my small commerical cellar, to whit: Brasserie de Blaugies's Biere Darbyste, an orange, ferociously cloudy, heavily sedimented, 5.8% abv, Belgian ale brewed with fig juice by a sub-microscopic brewery operated by a couple of Belgian school teachers out of their garage. The original brewer is Marie-Noelle Pourtois, but apparently her son has taken over as brewer.

I've had this before as well as a couple other beers from this odd little brewery. They tend not to stay in the bottle, but I conveniently forgot this fact and popped the cork in my office. After spraying beer around a bit I had to run downstairs and get a second glass and a roll of paper towels. As a result of this, the sediment is totally kicked up, but I almost think this is part of the house style. . . Unless it's some function of transit.

Because it's effectively a home-brew, this is on the rustic end of the Belgian range. The nose is dominated by an earthy, corky aroma which makes the beer feel a lot like a Saison. Their summery, quaffable Saison d'Epautre also has this note. The palate is just a little sour and brilliantly attenuated. Hop character is quite restrained. Earthy fruit flavors (the figs?). Profoundly spicey nose as it warms up. Some white wine elements--gooseberries, a la Sauvingon Blanc?

There's nothing predictable about this beer. I wonder if it'd be better on-site and less prone to explosion, but I still find it pretty compelling and fun to drink. So here's to garage brewers. Oops, I mean car-hole brewers. . .

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Another beer recipe

Tomorrow's my last brew day before taking off for spring break. You gotta leave something fermenting when you leave, right? This is simplicity itself. It's an amber-brown ale loosely in the English tradition. The whole point is to show-case a couple of really good malts, creating a simple, elegantly malty beer that can--I hope--be drunk quite young from the keg.

Fawcett's Amber Ale
OG: 1054
IBU: 36.5

9 lbs Thomas Fawcett Golden Promise
3.75 lbs Thomas Fawcett Amber Malt

Mash around 153
Bitter with 2.4 oz of Fuggle
Ferment with 1028 London Ale.

We'll see how it goes, but a few friends of mine have been tinkering with fairly large proportions of amber malt (we shared a sack) with great results. I'm hoping I can one-up them be removing all distractions from the recipe and using the supple Golden Promise as the base. Less, as they say, is more.