Doctor Duvel

I'm like a sommelier, but for beer.

My Photo
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 23, 2009

Style-bending: Hoppy Belgian Pale

In search of a really perfect session beer, I may have stumbled into a style experiment with some merit and I'm not sure who else has done so. It's certainly not just me as at least one of my fellow brewers has been nipping around the same problem with notable success... Belgian pale ales are a weird family, codified in the iconic De Konink (if you'll forgive the phrase) and its sweeter, maltier cousin, Palm. I had a Palm in a Brussels cafe last summer and was pleased but not enthused: It's a simple, straightforward, malty beer that could almost pass for English, topped with a pleasant soupcon of spicy/fruity yeastiness. I've heard De Koninck is magic in the Antwerp cafes but I haven't had the pleasure; bottled over here it's OK, but I don't think it travels well. I suppose an account of the style ought also to include the brilliant Rare Vos from Ommegang, a beer that is flat-out perfectly composed, combining the best of a variety of mid-gravity pale and amber Belgians.

So I went looking to brew a Belgian pale sometime in my first year of brewing and have run through a variety of attempts. I've tried grain bills with pale, pils, Vienna, Munich, and some Belgian and German crystal malts in various combinations, simple to elaborate. I've tried yeasts including 1388, Ardennes, Leuven Pale, and Schelde. Originally I kept the hops well in the background, as a Belgian would, and at some point I decided I was sick of them being relegated to that role and I started fantasizing about a beer that would combine the yeast-derived aromatic complexities and soft, pleasant Belgian malt character with a balance that was maybe closer to Sierra Nevada pale ale than De Koninck.

Somehow what I came up with is a hopelessly deviant Belgian pale concept that I've made twice, starting June '08, quite differently each time, but with the same essential parameters: I shoot for a gravity in the mid-50's; I want a malt character that is fully and toasty; I want primarily noble hops or their U.S. derivatives but delicate touches of sharper Pacfic Northwest standards are not out of the question; I'm a sucker for a spicy floral hop over the top (think Tettnang, Halltertau, Mount Hood) as these are hops you don't always get to enjoy on their own merits outside of the broad family of pilsners. The malt character can be gotten with British pale ale malt, touched with Caravienne, or, as in my current version, all-Vienna.

Here's the current one, named "Petit Houblon," indicating that the beer is in some sense a playful, diminuitive cousin of the new IPA-Tripel style:

10 lbs Vienna, mashed at 147
1 lb of table sugar in the boil
Water lightly Burtonized
1.6 oz Willamette, first wort
1.1 oz Amarillo to bitter
.75 oz each, Mt Hood and Amarillo at shut-off
OG 1053; FG 1012
40 IBU or so? (using older hops so there's a little more variance than I'd like...)
Fermented with Belgian Ardennes
Dry-hopped in the keg with Saaz and Tettnang

It comes out that beautiful shade of gold you only get from Vienna. The nose is marked by pronounced hop spiciness (like Pilsner without the lagery aromas) underlain by sweet fruits (one taster identified lychee for instance). The palate blends a bracing, but rounded hop bitterness, complemented by a toasty maltiness that feels fuller than the gravity might indicate (always a good sign in a Belgian ale). I think some version of this beer will be an annual event, brewed sometime from early spring to early summer. It's direct enough that you can knock a couple back playing darts; it's also pretty elegant and you can sit and think about a glass if you want to; better yet, it serves nicely on draft and seems to reinvent itself every couple of weeks.


Anonymous honkymagic said...

Sounds like a great experiment. I'm not a huge fan of the Triple-IPA style (though I love each side as an individual style), but this strikes me as a better way of balancing some American hop-interest with light Belgian fun. What have you found to be the most successful level of carbonation with your different takes on this "style"?

10:29 PM  
Blogger Jason said...

Yeah, that's exactly the idea.

I love IPA-tripels when they're done right, but they're a positively awful session beer because the hoppy/dry factor makes you want two or three of them and then you want a pizza or something. But they're 9 percent, so you're screwed...

This has been a draft beer only so far and I must admit I don't pay attention to numbers on the carbonation. I prime the keg with 2.5-3 oz of table sugar and then just adjust the CO2 as needed to give a rocky head that doesn't quite foam over and occupies the upper half of a Duvel glass... A little higher than a pale ale I guess. If I were bottling it, I'd adjust the basic 4oz/5gal ratio I use for pale and pils and whatnot up to 4.5 for a little more fizzle...

9:40 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home