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 02, 2009

Belgium Comes to Cooperstown

Well, B.C.t.C. was pretty interesting and I managed to survive with a good deal more dignity than the last time I went. Here's a quick breakdown of the sampling, to the best of my imperfect recollection:

Duvel Green: This is a new Moortgat product that the intelligent, pretty, well-informed server explained was a special, new, lower-strength Duvel that they can turn around faster and which is designed to compete with Stella and shit like that. Lighter, simpler, crisper, and brighter than the flagship product and about 50 times better than a Stella. At this station, I also tried the obligatory Houblon Chouffe, which is terrific on draft.

I didn't bother too much with the importers' tables, as I had tried most (nearly all?) of the stuff. I did have a draft Piraat at some point, which was yummy. I have to say that one real weakness was the awfully predictable selection of actual Belgians. It'd be nice if they were able to get a few more novelties. How about a keg of Cantillon Lou Pepe or some representation of De Ranke or other cutting-edge outfits?

Ommegang: Didn't try much of their stuff since I've had it generally. I did not, having had it many times, have an Ommegang Rouge, but I should've talked to a brewer about it. That's an unreal beer that I've become a huge fan of, as it is occasionally available at my favorite local pub, Nail Creek. I need to find out a little about how it's made and I should do it soon. The cutely named "Obamagang," which appears to be a sort of cherry Belgian porter, is delicious. "Adoration," a strong dark, was only for V.I.P.'s. Fuck those guys!

Allagash: These people are awesome and I should make a trip to Maine. They had a beer called Interlude, which was a 9.5% Saison with brett aged in Syrah barrels. It was a JOKE. Staggeringly complex, gorgeous beer--couldn't get enough of it. If I had missed that one I would've been enraged. I mean, I love Belgium and Belgian brewers, but, seriously, fuck those guys: It is all about the American craft brewers and their extraordinary gumption and creativity. A major theme of the day was the awesome stuff we're doing here particularly in the area of wild and/or sour beers. I am not a knee-jerk, drum-beating, self-proclaimed patriot, but I'm honestly, genuinely proud of the American brewer right now. And why shouldn't I be?

It appears I had a Brooklyn "Cuvee de Cardoz" which was a strong wheat beer. Near the end of the day. I just wrote "tasty."

I should go to Captain Lawrence Brewing Company. Where the hell is Pleasantville NY? They had some really cool sounding beers that they were all out of by the time I found them. I did have a "Liquid Gold" Belgian pale which was quite good.

Clipper City, a brewery I've just discovered, came up from Baltimore. The awkwardly named "Heavy Seas Red Sky at Night" Saison was pretty good. I might mention, for the sake of hop-heads, that their Loose Cannon IPA is a real gem, though that was not represented at the festival.

I had something from Dogfish Head. What the hell was it?

I love Iron Hill and they didn't show up. At any rate, I sure as hell couldn't find them. Give us a freakin' tent map, Ommegang! Then I could also have found Captain Lawrence before they ran out of everything.

Ithaca Brewing Company: These guys are doing amazing work. Lucky Fairy was a dry-hopped sour red served from a cute little firkin-ish vessel. Brilliant beer. Brute '09 was a "golden sour ale" at 7%. Also a brilliant beer, very bright and pleasantly sour. I was very chagrined to miss "Sour Flower Power." I love Flower Power IPA and they had it with a brett addition but I was trying to save my palate and when I came back it was out. Damnit!

"Kelso of Brooklyn Brewery": Who are these guys?? Damn, are they talented. Newtown Kriek was simply awe-inspiring. It was made with sweet cherries and yeast cultured from a bottle of Cantillon, a kind, on-site brewer explained to me. I might just try that myself. St. Gowanus was a malty, hoppy, nicely balanced, Belgian pale--not entirely unlike a drier, hoppier Palm?

Peakskill Brewery had a fruit beer spelled "Yeah Peaches," which the perky server kept exclaiming: "Yay Peaches!" It was alright... Not remotely in a class with the other fruit beers, but maybe they weren't going for a serious sour beer.

Smuttynose: I love this brewery and I wanted to meet David Yarrington, who was there, but I kept missing him. I did talk to another brewer of theirs and I took the liberty of glowing about Dave's kind assistance to home-brewers and open-ness about their recipes. They had an oak-aged version of the Hanami Ale, their spring cherry beer. It's marvellous with the oak addition--lots of oaky-vanilla yumminess. The Gnome, their take on the Houblon Chouffe style, was also pretty cool. It was aged since 2007 and had a deep, full, malty palate (typical of the house style, by and large) and layers of interesting hopping. The tripel, brewed with Chimay yeast, was also extremely pleasant.

Southampton Publick House: Another brilliant outfit. Cuvee des Fleurs was a lavender-spiced Saison. Very offbeat and reminded me a little of the Brewer's Art's spiced beers. The "trappist IPA" was loaded with hops and oak and quite tasty. I just had a couple sips of the tripel but liked it too. Southampton Grand Cru is the best thing this side of Westvletern 12, which it strongly resembles. I wonder whether the recipe for this is anything like the "Abbot 12" detailed in Brew Like a Monk, 163-4?

Stone Brewing brought a phenomenal "Hoppy Tripel." Not unlike the vertical epic beer that was an IPA strong pale type thing from a year or two ago. Just a gorgeous dry hop nose on this one (the hop aroma of the day really) and a very friendly hip guy from the brewery leaked information about the secret new vertical epic beer, which I promptly forgot. A Belgian porter or something?

Troeg's, a brewery I'm liking more and more, brought a nice, orangey, fruity Belgian Strong called Naked Elf. Good stuff.

Finally, this being in no coherent order really, Victory impressed, as always. They had a particularly subtle, dry "Abbey 6" that I thought was very distinctive. Nice combination of interesting malt character and lean dryness. "Wild Devil"was also delicious, balancing wild yeast character, lots of hops, and a fairly full, malty palate. A dipshit volunteer in a red T-shit (most of them were quite cool) had no idea in hell what I was talking about when I guessed it was a Brettanomyces beer. He thought I said something about potatoes. A nice guy from the brewery confirmed my guess that it was the Hop Devil recipe fermented with Brett, a neat idea.

Some overall pro's and con's:

Con: We had to park our car on a surface that appeared to me to be about 60% fresh manure.
Pro: Free parking, I guess...
Con: The ticket is, in my view, over-priced. Yeah, it's a pretty exclusive set of beers to try, but it's 2 to 3.5 times as expensive as a lot of similar events. In the final estimation, it is worth it though, partly because . . .
Pro: Most similar events involve staff that know NOTHING about beer. B.C.t.C. involves a lot of on-site brewers who can tell you a tremendous amount about the products. That's a big pro, especially for enthusiastic homebrewers looking to push the envelope...
Pro: It's also worth noting that they've improved dramatically the range and availability of food since a couple years ago. Pretty reasonably priced in that regard as well.
Con: Silly NY state law involves using a ticket for each sample.
Pro: I probably had close to thirty samples and only had to use two tickets. Interesting...
Pro: Cute little mini Duvel glasses are way cooler than the crappy mini tumbler you used to get.
Con: I obliterated two of them in a uneven, manurey terrain / structurally unsound styrofoam cooler incident...
Pro: Glossy program with lines for tasting notes.
Con: The paper repels ink. Oh, and nice proofreading, guys! "Omplex flavors?" Rodenbach has 56% alcohol?
Pro: Two kinds of cave-aged beer available (Ommegang plus Hennepin).
Con: Holy crap, they've raised the prices on those. Jesus...
Con: Too many white beers.
Pro: I needed one style to consistently skip to reduce alcohol intake and palate confusion. The solution? No white beers for me.

My strategy, incidentally, was to steer toward dryer, hoppier, or sour beers where possible. Palate fatigue was not nearly as bad as other times I've been to this and other events. I put off anything remotely sweet or rich until the end. Good strategy. It'd be even better to do all the sours and then all the dry and/or hoppy ones, and then go around looking for the big hitters, but that gets a little bit ridicuously unwieldy to execute. I found a nice middle-of-the-road strategy that meant I tried a lot of good stuff, only missed out on a couple things, kept the palate basically functioning, kept a nice buzz, and didn't feel shitty later. It is, unavoidably, the kind of event where you're going, dear reader, to glance down at your glass once or twice and say, "Hey, what the fuck am I drinking again?" But that was kept to a real minimum by this participant... Thanks to Lisa for providing the impetus for the excursion and for driving us home.


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