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, May 28, 2006

Pliny the Room-Mate

So, back in Berkeley, over spring break, I had a few pints of Pliny the Elder and I rather adored it. If you're not in the know, this is one of the four or five quintessential double IPA's in the country, brewed by Russian River and not really available outside CA. I made a double IPA back in November and I don't mind saying that it's fabulous. Mine is kind of on the elegant end of the DIPA stlye: explosive hoppiness to be sure, but also restrained, sleek, not all that malty, wickedly alcoholic... It kind of wants a brandy snifter.

Pliny, and this is not a knock, is more of a pub DIPA. It has its contemplative side, but it's also brash and inconsiderate; it sits down at your table and has its way with you... I think it's amazing and, seeing as how its (supremely gifted) brewer has freely diseminated his recipe amonst the home-brewing community, I had/have vague designs on cloning it.

Here's the problem: I felt like making a DIPA Saturday, and I really didn't have the right stuff. I had no Centennial, a critical hop for the recipe, and I didn't want to demolish my stock of Simcoe, which would've created a critical set-back for the varietal hop project, seeing as how an all-Simcoe IPA is up next. Also playing into the preparations for this brew day was the realization that I have a seriously excessive amount of hops kicking around and that, while they can live happily in the garage from November until March, at some point you've got to thin the herd...

Thus, I borrowed the gist of Vinnie Cilurzo's grain bill and general procedures, but I completely changed the hopping to work with what I had. The result? Pliny the Room-Mate:

OG 1073-4
IBU 187 calculated, not including mash hops or first wort hops

Grain bill:

14.4 lbs F.B. Pale Ale malt (I bought a sack of this and was running low on Maris Otter)
16.3 oz Cara-Pils
19 oz table sugar
2.3 oz Simpson's Medium Crystal (55 L)
2.2 oz Baird's Carastan

I mashed all this at around 150-1 with 1.5 oz of Chinook in the mash.
I also first-wort hopped with 1.5. oz of Columbus.

Here's the rest of the hops:

1 oz Chinook (90)
2 oz Warrior (90)
1.5 oz Northern Brewer (30)
1 oz Chinook (20)
1 oz Columbus (20)
1.2 oz Northern Brewer (0)
1.2 oz Mt. Hood (0)
1 oz Chinook (0)
1 oz Cascade (0)
1 oz Columbus (0)

I've not decided on the dry hops, but there will be a minimum of 6 oz dry hops, emphasizing the main C-hops, maybe with an Amarillo accent.

Brewing with that many whole-flower hops was a total bitch by the way. Anyway, it won't be Pliny the Elder, but it will be big, hoppy as all hell, and ready in about 6 weeks. Bottle or keg?

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Tripel Karmeliet

This is brewed by Brouwerij Bosteels and it's sort of been calling to me from a basement shelf for quite a while. Now that I'm all psyched about having perhaps really nailed a refined, elegant tripel with no bells or whistles, it's worth remembering that some brewers go a very different route. Tripel Karmeliet is brewed with malted oats, raw oats, malted barley, raw barley, malted wheat, and raw wheat. At least that's what I gather from Brew like a Monk. It's also heavily spiced.

Their yeast could be more flocculant... This bottle has had a cloud of chunky, linty looking stuff kicking around the bottom which has never really settled out, despite having sat since spring break. When I opened it (or, rather, when it opened itself when I looked at the champagne cage slightly askance) the cork blew out. This is a wildly carbonated, heavily sedimented beer but I don't regard that as a flaw really. The carbonation is essential to lighten up the body, particularly since this is lightly hopped. In fact, you'd never guess that this is 8% a.b.v.--feels more like 7. Actually, I think there's a typo in Brew like a Monk; either the alcohol percentage is wrong or the gravity is. Remind me to email Stan Hieronymus.

The spicing is nice. I'm thinking the ususal suspects, like coriander and some kind of orange peel, are definitely there. But there's some other stuff too. Lisa pointed out a certain heat factor; I noticed that too and I'm thinking that they use quite a bit of grains of paradise, a brewing spice I really love. A little chamomile seems like a possibility as well--there's a little dried flowery thing going on too. As I drink more of this stuff, it's having a kind of gorgeous numbing effect. What's that? Beyond alcohol... Clove? Wow. I'm promoting this onto my top Belgians list.

This is a tremendously fun beer and I guess what I'd take away from it as a brewer is that one could easily concoct a multi-grain tripel, hop it lightly, spice it freely, carbonate the snot out of it, and wind up with something really yummy. I just might do that...

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Toward an Altbier Recipe

I got a little carried away placing my last Northern Brewer order. I have to make an altbier now that I have the yeast. The timing is not all that propitious, but my basement is about 60 degrees right now and I think that will more or less do. I'm sipping Zum Eurige for inspiration.

The one I'm drinking, if the importer's web page is remotely correct, should have an OG of 1059 and 36 IBU. It's also dry-hopped.

Am I so lazy that I'll just steal a recipe? That would be rare for me, but this recipe of Denny Conn's looks pretty much like right where I was going to head based on my researchs of a few weeks ago:

I like the balance between Munich and pils. I'd like a chance to use up some dark Caramunich (I have too much laying around). The little touch of Carafa is totally appropriate. Sheesh, why screw with it? I don't like the first wort-hopping--I mean it probably tastes yummy, but I'd like to avoid the potential for over-shadowing the malt character. 49 IBU also seems a touch high for what I'm tasting in this (lovely) German example. I have Mt. Hood (and I love that hop) but I could also see bumming some Spalt from Randy as he has them. I'm thinking I'll steal DC's grain bill and satisfy my vague desire for originality by redesigning the hopping. I'll lower the IBU's to maybe 42. I'll ditch the FWH and use a small dry-hop instead as this is key feature to some of the sticke alts. Should I just use Mt Hood or check into Spalt? I have Hallertau too. More on that in a few day--this should be my next beer, but tomorrow I'm bottling the aforementioned Tripel and brewing a loosely conceived tribute to Westvleteren 8 to get a feel for using Belgian dark candi syrup.

Tripel success?

It's too early to say--let's let it bottle condition--but I think I nailed my tripel. My second attempt at the style, this was designed to be very, very close to Westmalle's tripel, the monkish exemplar and one of my favorite beers. I hit the starting gravity and the IBU's, and, following a lengthy warm secondary, I hit the proper final gravity, with a brilliant 88% attenuation. This is the hard part--producing a really dry tripel. I'll bottle it tomorrow. More on what to do with the yeast cake later today.

Flat, the tripel is gorgeous, very much like a white wine. It's a pale, crystal clear gold. The nose is lightly herbal, flowery, very orangey. The palate is both full and very dry with a firm but in no way intrusive hop balance. I'm pumped up. It'll be quite a while before it's really ready, but I'll get the sucker into bottles posthaste and go from there. Yum.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Bad Beer Party

The long awaited bad beer party was a hit. Members of the Amalgamated Brewers' Guild brought their worst to my house, invited a few others, and got fairly well trashed. We kept a comment sheet to record the occasion.

Andrew brought his overly banana-y Belgians, which were nowhere near bad enough to contend for the prize of "Worst Beer." Randy brought a so-so pilsner, a so-so steam, his bizarre lactose-enriched Belgian ( a long story...), and his best entry, a sour schwarzbier. Brad brought a weird IPA that has had problems. There was a point where it smelled just ungodly, but it may be getting better. Except the one he somehow put in a twist-off bottle that was getting ready to go to vinegar--ugh. Buck brought "Nothin' under the kilt" Scottish ale, a profoundly lifeless, uninspired title-contender. One taster noted "Watch out Dasani!" Another noted a profoundly repellant Cepacol aroma. It really blew.

I had the most entries, as I was the host and had a year's worth of mis-fires close at hand. My Kolsch was described as having a "hint of Irish Spring" as well as being disagreeably sour. My OBB Oatmeal Stout was a psychotic geyser, prompting the note "Holy Volcano Batman!" A jeroboam I've been trying desperately to open and empty contained my over-spiced Belgian. Randy, I think, wrote "hideous aroma, as always." Buck and I shared the final bottle of my way off-style VMO, which has a bizarrely excessive aroma of mulling spices--it almost comes off like a pumpkin ale. No idea what happened to that one. Worse still, I used the yeast cake for my Doppelbock, one of the great disappointments of my brewing career. It garnered the following reviews: "What IS that smell? An abomination. Great with an old boot. Medicinal aroma; solventy malty flavor." My Oatmeal Ale also won few fans. Randy hated it most. I think he wrote down all of the following: "No smell, sour apple cider! Yuck! Awful. Absolutely horrible; a wall-scaler; clarity, head, aroma, flavor."

The best beer of the night may have been my accidental sour brown. This was a beer that was intended to be a Rochefort 6 clone. It was horribly sabotaged by the use of this bad sack of unevely kilned Franco-Belges Pilsner malt. It wouldn't attenuate properly and had some weird flavors, so I wound up heating it, and shaking it, and testing it like 5 times. Lo and behold, it got infected. Everyone agreed, however, that it has a nice sourness that almost seems intentional: "If I have to drink a shitty beer, this is the one!" I'm hanging onto a sizable stock of that one and will see how it develops; it really feels not entirely unlike an oud bruin. Finally, the beer formerly known as Fawcett's Amber, currently known as "Ass-Juice Amber" received the following remarks: "Great aroma, a little bitter and sharp. Aptly named! Mmm, candied prunes. Ugh-blech." This would've been poured out a week ago if I had had a beer ready to go in the keg, but I was glad I saved it for the event.

Buck and I were the last two there who were committed to picking a winner. We probably should've set up a ballot box. Anyway, we used what was left of our palates to decide that a co-winner was in order. Despite Randy's hatred of Oatmeal Ale and his strange appreciation for Ass-Juice, we gave the title to Ass-Juice and "Nothin' under the kilt." It was just too close to call. Thanks for comin' everybody!

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Making a Wit

So I made that all-Amarillo IPA and it's fermenting. The weizen went into keg with no evident flaws and some interesting clovey phenols; the steam beer went into keg smelling and tasting like a million bucks. Could the slump be over??

Right now I've got a Belgian wit protein resting. The grain bill is 6 lbs Belgian pils, 4 lbs hard red wheat, 10 oz oats, and 4 oz acidulated. While it saccharifies I've got to dash out and obtain one or two additional spices. I'm hoping this'll produce a really distinctive off-beat summer ale. At any rate, it's one more style to add my list of beers attempted.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Theories of IPA

I'm thinking about IPA. Brewing needs to be resumed. I have three yeast cakes available: California Lager; 3787; and Weihenstephan. I'm going to let the first and third go, somewhat regretfully. I think one keg of wheat beer will do me. I'm intrigued by German wheat beers but I don't love them the way I do other things. As for the steam beer, it's my first and I don't feel I have a logical basis for doing another one as such; it's also getting too warm for that. Plus, these have been sitting a while and I'm gun-shy given a recent infection or two. Hopefully they're O.K. Anyway, those are getting kegged tomorrow. The 3787 beer will be bottled and a Westvleteren-esque beer will hit the yeast cake; that'll all happen Sunday or Tuesday probably. Unless I decide to just buy a new pack of 3787, which had occurred to me...

The first beer I should make is a Wit--but I didn't make a starter and it's an old vial of White Labs, so I'll let that wait till next week. So, by default, I'm making an IPA with US-56 as I need no starter and I have tons of neat hops. For that matter, everone is always drinking my goddamn IPA's; I can't keep them on draft, or in bottles. The next step in the Varietal Hop Project is an Amarillo IPA. With this in mind, here's my thoughts regarding tomorrow's plan, based on drinking two IPA's.

Sub-Committee IPA was my first big break-through in IPA. It's gorgeous and I based two subsequent IPA's on it. It used a melange of hops and was quite pale. It's almost pilsner colored. "R.I.P. First Hydrometer" IPA is an all-Columbus affair. For my Columbus and Chinook IPA's I diverged from the Sub-Committee model, bumping up gravities slightly and incorporating a touch more crystal and/or Munich. Sub-Committee was 1062, finishing at 1013 with 66 IBU; specialty malts included wheat, Carapils, 6 oz of Carastan, and 1.25 lbs of Munich. R.I.P. was 1065, finishing at 1011, adding 1 oz more Carastan and another 1/2 lb of Munich. IBU=74. R.I.P. is a noticeably deeper gold.

Now, you could do a lot worse than R.I.P. The head retention is great. The color is nice. The Columbus pungency in the nose is pretty arresting. It has a deep, full palate that belies the rather high attenuation. There's just one problem...

Sub-Committee dances. The hop nose is bewitchingly complex (finished with Cascade, Mt. Hood, and Chinook). The palate is the thing though; it's tremendously lively with a sort of brisk vibrancy to it.

So the moral of the story is as follows. Bigger, thicker IPA's are great. And nobody loves DIPA's more than me. BUT, my preferred house-style IPA is in the lower 1060's and keeps the specialty malts to a minimum. This is, as a side note, probably in keeping with my commercial preference for Smuttynose's IPA over, say, Dogfish Head. It's also why I liked my Centennial and Cascade IPA's more than the ones with Chinook or Columbus, where I got cute and thought the heavier hops mandated a slightly different treatment.

As a result, tomorrow I will use the exact grain bill, statistics, and water treatment for Sub-Committee. The only change will be the use of 100% Amarillo hops. Here's hoping it comes out comparably lovely. In the meantime, Sub-Committee will continue as my session-IPA nirvana.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Some older beers

I sampled some older beers the other night to help me think about things that are and are not worth reprising. I had the final bottle of Holly's Chair, a rye brown ale. This had a nice malt character and a mysterious graininess (the rye). Good beer, but didn't wow me. Brown ale is not a favorite style though. Ruddy Brown, an India Brown Ale, was more interesting. It was quite spicy and hoppy. I may well brew this again. The kegged version was better as it got a Columbus dry hop. Next time I might dial the IBU's down just a little, maybe 10 lower? But the dry hop was what made it. I also had a bottle of 1909 Maclay's Oatmeal Stout, an Old British Beers endeavor. This was definitely the least successful of my historical forays. It's just somehow thin and dull and just a little tart. Blech. Another oatmeal stout was basically made from a More Beer kit recipe. It was quite good. If I tweaked it my goal would be to keep the richness while making it just a tad drier--this might involve a slightly cooler mash and some flaked barley--not sure.

Right now I'm working on a Sax-a-ma-phone. It's going through a bit of an awkward phase. It was great young, but now there's something a little funky going on in the nose. I may avoid this one for a month or two. It'll come around again though. Belgians... They are fickle mistresses.

Friday, May 12, 2006


One more quick update from the brewery:

I continue to be in a slump. It seems like every third beer I make is awesome, but the intervening two sometimes blow, or are mediocre at best.

Here's two:

I brewed a beer I called Fawcett's Amber Ale a while ago. It's been on draft for a while now. The recipe is simple and, I think, sound. I didn't do anything wrong, but the beer is unsatisfying. For an all-malt beer it is peculiarly disinclined to form a good, sound head. Visually, it's a disaster. I've taken to calling it Ass-Juice Amber: it's just horridly cloudy and kinda unpleasantly brown. I am at a total loss as to why it refuses to clarify. The nose is all toast and coffee, strongly marked by the amber malt at the core of the recipe and the total absence of finishing hops. I like the nose. I even liked the taste until the last week, when it began picking up a slight tartness. I may dump the last couple gallons--it just disappoints me.

The second was a recipe designed to use up Fawcett's Oat Malt and Simpson's Golden Naked Oats from Northern Brewer, hence the idea of an oatmeal pale ale. This one has no head whatsoever. And for some damned reason it seems like it just refuses to even carbonate properly. Visually, it's not got anything on the above. It's cloudy too, just paler and sort of, well, almost gray-ish. The nose is all about the naked oats which are supposed to give a bright berry fruitiness. I get apricot actually. Almost nothing else, but very fruity. The palate is bright and light. It's not a terrible beer actually, though it's not at all what I intended. I'm going to go monkey with the keg and try to get it a little bubblier.

Smoked Pils

In my effort to stock up on summer beers well in advance I brewed, a couple months ago, three would-be summer beers. I'm following up on that now with a wheat beer or three. But the three I brewed early were a Czech Pilsner, a Kolsch, and a Smoked Pilsner. The Czech pils is about as good as it gets--I adore it. The Kolsch is a tragic disaster. I read a whole fucking book on Kolsch, came up with a great recipe, and the damn thing is sour. I may pour it out. I'm seriously pissed about that and I am on a mission to never fuck up a beer again... Sigh.

Anyway I'm trying the smoked pils now. It's been in bottles for like two months, the last month or so in the cooler at 34. It's very, very pale with an O.K. head and nice clarity. I can't remember what I hopped it with and am too lazy to track down the brew book. I think I used Hallertauer. This is much less hoppy (appropriately) than my Czech pils. It follows almost exactly a recipe in Smoked Beers for a sort of subtle North German pils with a small percentage of smoked malt. The nose is delicately hoppy with a subtle bit of phenolic smokiness. I have a feeling this will grow more subtle and mellow over the next month or so. I have this beer slated for heavier consumption in July and August when it's really good and lagered. It is ready now though and shows no flaws (sigh of relief). The palate is a little unusual. It's modestly hopped so there's almost a little malt sweetness coming through alongside the little noble hop bite. It's somehow fuller bodied than you'd expect. Anyway, yay, it's a pretty good beer and I need something to go right. I also tested my smoked marzen which is starting, I think, to come around. I was worried for a while as it had a weird tanginess I didn't like, but I believe that is going away with aging. Fingers crossed.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

New singel

It's been a while... The term is almost over at which point I'll be able to devote more attention to beer and other fun stuff like home repair, gardening (my hops have broken ground), and scholarship. I can't freakin' wait for summer vacation. The allure of a whole day to do with as a please makes me salivate. I'm planning to slowly redo chunks of the house interior (mostly painting, trim-work, and hanging shit), hiring somebody to touch up the roof, and putting a good solid week into finishing off the landscaping work, which I rather enjoy. I'll also get exercise 5-6 days a week, get back to cooking, revise 2 pieces for submission to a journal, and brew . . . In the not-too-distant future I'm seeing another weizen, an altbier, a wit, an IPA, a double IPA, a hoppy brown, another 3787 beer, and a deKoninck-inspired Belgian pale.

Just for the sake of test-driving a new beer, I'm sampling, at about two weeks of age, Sunset Singel, which was based loosely on Westvleteren Blonde. It's pilsner-pale with a decent head. The clarity sucks, which has been an issue for me lately. Hopefully that will fix itself after a few weeks in the basement. The nose is pretty nice. The 3787 phenolic character is restrained, which was a goal. But it does give a little spiciness that melds well with the fairly generous dose of, I think, Hallertau Mittelfruh. The malt character is good. I used 50/50 pils and Belgian pale and that gives just a little more nutty depth than straight pils. I think this will be a dynamite beer in about 6-8 weeks. The Dude continues to learn the virtues of simplicity.