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 30, 2009

Seriously Old Beer Tasting II

Continuing to thin out or eliminate some old library stocks, reflecting on when I knew what the hell I was doing, when I didn't, what works, what doesn't, why, that sort of thing:

Multi-Grain Saison, brewed 6/16/06: This has been an interesting beer. Seems like it was never the same twice. The final glass is highly pleasant. The notion was to do a Saison in the manner of an early-twentieth-century farmer, who (the books say) would use whatever was handy. I brewed this with pilsner and wheat malts, plus a gruel of spelt, buckwheat, and rye. Lightly hopped and fermented with 565, which worked this time. The result has often reminded me of Brasserie de Blaugies. I forget the names of their different beers, but there's one or two of them that have low original gravities (this one is only 1046) and that are therefore exceptionally delicate and light. This is one of the palest beers I've ever made and it is dry, slightly tart, and crisp with notes of apple and citrus and a touch of cellar funk. I brewed a similar Saison a couple of months ago but, in search of more old-timey authenticity, added the dregs of a brett beer. The brett got a little excited, the beer is a little funky, and I've elected to make it a raspberry Saison as a way to hide some aromatic imperfections I suspected were unlikely to age out. Should be tasty anyway. It's currently resting with the remains of almost four lbs of raspberries in it and will be kegged fairly shortly.

XX Bitter-er, brewed 7/30/05: The name indicates the inspiration. I was obsessed for some time with De Ranke's XX Bitter, a remarkable beer to be sure, though not what it was. Back in the day when they used a mixed culture from Rodenbach, I thought the beer was beyond stunning; with their current, more conservative, less expressive yeast the beer is only damn good. Anyway, long ago, I tried to "clone" it, a dubious notion to begin with. I pitched Roeslare into a super simple, wildly over-hopped, pils-and-sugar wort. The result has been a consistently odd beer, but one that can at times be quite tantalizing. It is so intensely hopped (66 IBU on a 1054 frame) that it's held up beautifully and I've got a couple more bottles, at least one corked. As one would expect, the balance has shifted as the beer has gotten a little more funky and a little less bitter over time. At some point early on it was quite a bit too bitter and that clashed weirdly with the brett aromas and the ultra-lean, dry body. Right now, it has a very exotic brett aroma, rather like the earthy/leathery quality of Orvall, only much more prominent and incorporating more fruitiness. The palate is too thin, as it always has been, with a weirdly astringent pineapply quality. After brewing with brett and with mixed cultures in general for a few more years, I think the way to do this "style" (Wild Belgian pale ale? Orval et al.? Whatever you would call it), would be to ferment with something like a Saison strain and pitch brett later. There's got to be a way to keep the beer a little more stable, a little more balanced. It was also probably stupid to pitch a mixed culture in mid-July, something I don't do anymore. Anyway, XX was a great experiment and it's always been an interesting glass o' beer. I have a pack of Wyeast's special 3789, billed as the mixed culture, more-or-less Orval strain; whenever I smack that, I'll be making something broadly similar to this, though not quite so damned hoppy. Sometime this fall...

Houb-Doublon, brewed 11/11/07: Not nearly as old as the others, but, what the hell? I'm getting ready to brew another IPA tripel and this one went awfully well. I took a pale/pils grist, added about the same proportion of sugar as for my usual Westmalle-style tripel and hopped it in a way inspired loosely by the La Chouffe version: Chinook, Simcoe, Santiam, Saaz, Amarillo. It was a great beer the minute it was conditioned and it's been lovely ever since. Sometimes, to my mind, it's even better than its commercial inspiration. At close to two years old, it still shows pretty vivid hoppiness. The nose blends tripel-y phenols and esters with the dry hopping, which is beginning to fade a bit. This isn't really a problem, is it? The goal in designing a beer like this is to create a flexible balance that will shift elegantly at the beer ages, hence it's more IPA when it's young, more tripel when elderly. Might be different in a commercial setting, but when you're brewing six or more gallons and you're anticipating drinking four of 'em yourself, it makes sense to create a beer that will develop with some panache and keep you guessing. The hops help it age well, avoiding the thinning problem I was talking about yesterday with my more conventional tripel. I think it might keep eight to ten years, honestly. The palate of this one is full, rounded, balanced, but bristling with hops--is there a more distinctive bittering hop than Chinook?


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