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, June 28, 2007

Hanami Ale

Who's my favorite pro brewer (you didn't ask)?

It's a toss-up. I'm a huge fan of Vinnie Cilurzo of Russian River fame, creator of all those crazy, wild yeasty, barrel-aged enigmas--as well as Pliny the Elder. The guy with DogfishHead is pretty interesting too. Whoever really designed the beers at Anchor is extraordinarily skilled. But I'm going with David Yarrington of Smuttynose. He's a nice guy--I base this on the fact that we shared a couple sociable emails and he parted with four of his grain bills to help my home brewing along. There's also the fact that the beers are just shockingly balanced. No, there aren't the bells and whistles you get with the first two guys above, but if you want a perfect session IPA, a gem of a porter, the tastiest brown ale I think I've ever had, an elegantly smooth, surprisingly drinkable barley wine, and so on, you gotta go with Dave.

As an act of faith I bought a sixpack of Smuttynose's Hanami Ale. It's a cherry beer. It's not a lambic. Characteristically, in my view, fruit beers that are not (traditional!) lambics blow approximately 95% of the time. Exceptions might include a couple of odd beers from DogfishHead and the lesser-known Craftsman Brewing of Pasadena, CA. So the Hanami is good. The beer is not pink. They also refrained from just chucking fruit juices or flavorings into the usual ho-hum hefe-weizen base like everybody seems to do. Whatever they built this around, it's got more substance. I just checked their website to make sure I was right about the grist and I am: No wheat at all, but pils, carahell, aromatic, and a touch of carafa for color. The beer is also, shock of shocks, relatively hoppy, with a delicately raspy bitterness engaging nicely with the earthy sourness of the cherries. You get the flavor of tart cooking cherries, not sweet table cherries here. And the finish is dry, earthy, kinda bitter, almost tannic.

Am I going to go buy a case? No. But it really is a damned interesting, well-crafted beer which, as per their m.o., is perfectly balanced. Just like so many beers--craft brews and schlocky industrial ones alike--aren't.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Beer is a pain in the ass

So, I changed my mind on that saison. The whole jaggery thing felt too cutesy and I'd rather keep to the relatively low-gravity traditions of the style. I tasted one of my old saisons and liked it so much I borrowed the grain bill. 9 lbs pils, 1 lb wheat, 1/2 lb each biscuit malt and sugar. 1053. The old hop bill was very traditional, with English Kent and Styrian Goldings. This time I went with 32 IBU of zappy Perle hops for bittering, plus 1.5 oz each of Crystal and Mt. Hood at shut-off, which should give some really bright aromas that are like noble hops but, well, not quite. I did keep the grains of paradise because the Farmhouse yeast isn't peppery enough for my taste. 1 /2 tsp should give a subtle but noticeable little zip. We'll see.

Only problem is I had to mash the damn beer twice. I have two little dial thermometers. One somehow got to be almost 20 degrees off. I discovered this during a routine check; I don't think I brewed with it anywhere near that far off. Well, till today. I had set it aside to calibrate it. So I doughed in the mash for the saison at 145. 20 minutes later, while checking the temperature of my coffee brewing water, I realized my grievous error. I checked the mash, checked the thermometers, swore, and contemplated solutions. I HATE under-attenuated saisons. I was almost positive that I had more or less totally denatured the beta-amylase. (For you non-brewers, that's bad!) The idea of spending all day on what I feared would be mediocre at best was just too oppressive to continue with the same beer. I contemplated throwing in some crystal and shit and cobbling together "Accidental IPA," but, you know what? I HATE overly chunky IPA's too. I have no use for an all-alpha-amylase beer. So I started all over again. There goes 5 bucks worth of grain and, more importantly, an hour and a half.

Everything else went fine, except that I kept spilling constantly and zoning out and doing dumb things--including breaking my hydrometer. You know you've given yourself second-degree burns while brewing, when you think mashing twice and breaking your hydrometer still leaves you in the ballpark of a relatively good brew day.

To add further stress, the 3787 beer (much smoother process) is climbing out through the airlock. I should've done a blow-off tube. It -always- does that. I love that yeast though so, like, whatever. I think I just heard the airlock pop out. Better go check. Anyway, somehow, I have two new beers fermenting, plus a keg of pale ale and a keg of stout for my trouble.

The sad thing is that I'm thinking about doing one more tomorrow as long as my research project is frustrating me and I don't feel like doing yardwork...

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Belgians to brew

So, despite it being lovely out, despite not really feeling like brewing, I forced the issue by smacking two packs. Otherwise I'll wake up in 4-6 months with no beer and I'll be seriously pissed off.

The yeasts: 3787 Trappist High Gravity and 3726 Farmhouse.

It's hot and it's the right time of year to ferment beers of this type. If the enthusiasm (such as it is) holds, I'll do an IPA and something else to keg next, but for now, it's Belgian time. I'd like to make some British style things inspired by my travels, but I'm concerned about the heat and run-away fermentations. British beers suck when they overheat... Belgians are safe and so is US-05.

Anyway, I'm sipping a Westmalle Dubbel for inspiration. It's delicious--all plummy and spicy.

Relevant supplies: Should I wish to spice anything, coriander and grains of paradise abound, plus other shit. Relevant hops: Mt. Hood, Crystal, Perle, Hallertau Mittelfruh, Sterling. Relevant malts: Pils, caramel pils, carawheat, Vienna, Munich, wheat, Biscuit, Caramunich 40 and 120, aromatic, Special B, debittered black.

The Saison... I haven't made a spiced one forever and I just ate a grain of paradise and it's yummy. I also just ran across, in some old notes, a vague plan to produce a jaggery saison. How about an experimental saison? Quite peppery. Super dry but with a weird unrefined sugar thing in the background?

I'm imagining roughly this recipe: 1048 ish. 7.5 lbs pils, 1 lb wheat, 1 lb carawheat, 1 lb jaggery. Cool mash. Crystal hops to 25 IBU with 1.5 ounces at shut-off. At least 1/2 tsp grains of paradise at shut-off. Maybe more. Have to consult with a brewer who's used more of them. I've only done 1/4 tsp as part of a melange. Will brew Monday so there's time.

Now, as to the 3787...

I'm going to stay close to the key stats for Rochefort 6, with absolutely no intention of cloning it. Wrong yeast. Don't want to anyway. But I like the soft balance of that beer a lot, hence I'll aim for 1072 and a mere 18-20 IBU.

After a lot of fiddling around, I settled on this:

1071: 9.5 lbs Pils, 10.7 oz Caramunich 40, 5 oz Caramunich 120, 1 lb soft candi sugar, 1 lb table sugar. Correct color with debittered black as needed. Bitter to 20 IBU with 1 oz Mittelfruh. .5 oz of same at shutoff. Touch of coriander if I feel like it at the time.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

New brews?

Well, it's summer. I've just returned from England a little over a week ago. I should do a huge post on the beer I drank there. I have notes on paper...

After close to five weeks off, it's time to make some beer. I have too many yeasts in stock and am not sure where to start. I need a couple of session beers for kegging--British style things or U.S. pales and IPA's. I am way overdue to bang out a barley wine and a DIPA. I also have Belgian yeasts to use--Farmhouse, 3787, and Ardennes for starters. Plus lambic and Roeslare packs. Sheesh.

The Farmhouse will produce two saisons, a relatively slender little hoppy Saison and, later in the summer, a big over-blown honey Saison, loosely in the manner of Dupont's Biere du Miel. Ardennes was acquired specifically to do a big hoppy IPA Tripel fusion thingy, but I'm inclined to do a littler beer to get it going--not sure what yet. 3787 is a standby of mine with which I've made great singels (had one last night), great dubbels, and very Westmalle-esque tripels. Since those Saisons are all pale, I'm inclined to maybe take this year's pack of 3787 somewhere different.

In case it helps, I'm going to drink a Rochefort 6 from my stash. I tried a Rochefort cloning project, but had real issues with 1762, their supposed yeast--it doesn't attenuate enough for me. The 6 is sooo soft, with a delicate spiciness to the nose.

Perhaps one solution to my dearth of dark beers and my tendency to do 3 or 4 pale Belgians for every 1 dark one would be to craft a medium gravity darker beer to be fermented either by 3787 or Ardennes in lieu of a singel or Belgian pale. I could target 1072 or so (what this beer is) , incorporating plenty of a liquid candi sugar or the "soft" candi sugar and one good crystal (Special B or a Caramunich). Very simple. Bittering hops only. Perle or Northern Brewer to a very delicate number of IBU's. Seems like that couldn't go far wrong...