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, November 30, 2014

Randy's Pils and IPA

A homebrewer who's had a big influence on me is Randy Vitullo.  There's no one I know who's a better discusser of Belgian strains--both of us make lots of Belgians...  Also, Randy got me into lagers some years ago, particularly a pilsner formulation that resembles Victory Prima Pils (commercially, does it get any better?).  The idea is to give your beer the extra backbone of some Munich and a slightly higher hopping rate, rather than being wedded to those delicate Czech or German recipes.  Gives you more margin of error, at least in my experience.  The other night, after a Thanksgiving for the displaced, RV sent me home with a couple samples.

A pils brewed in May of 2014 is pretty much note-perfect.  Breezy nose--you know how noble hops sometimes smell like clean mountain air?  Nothing too strong you can put your finger on?  The body has pretty much an ideal balance.  A little extra malty richness (in his recipes, usually from Munich and a carapils or something like that) is supported by a firm hop character--not at all harsh, but more than someone raised on Urquell would expect.  Wyeast Bo-Lager is the strain used, which gets you a clean and soft character.  Good stuff.

A double IPA from September is also a treat.  I think he told me the hops were Amarillo, Citra, and Chinook, but I could be remembering wrong.  Smells about like that, with an electric citrus character. I'm comparing it with a DIPA of mine and getting a typical contrast between our house character.  Mine's a little softer and rounder on the palate.  Randy's is sharper edged.  This is attributable to brewing water, as well as process (my hops are bagged and my water pretty soft; his water is gnarly and overly alkaline, his hops loose in the boil, just for starters).  They're about the same color.  I think we're both blending base malts and avoiding specialty malts, save a little Gambrinus honey malt, at most.

Both beers have huge aromas.  Mine is earthier; Randy's is higher pitched with more orange and grapefruit.  The nose on mine is weighted down, in a good way, by the legendarily dank Apollo.  A hop-head could sit and sniff either one of these for quite a while.

I don't know Randy's abv, but it's a fairly easy-drinking DIPA.  Randy and I both have charted courses well away from the current of mega-DIPA's.  Don't get me wrong:  I'm fascinated by things like Knee Deep's Simtra and Stone's Enjoy-By and other 9-11% DIPA's.  But I feel like the extra couple percent isn't necessary and sometimes even undermines a beer.  Heady Topper is 8.5, I think, and that's where my beer is at.  Randy's can't be much stronger, if at all.  I would much rather have two eight-percent DIPA's than one-and-a-half ten-percenters, if that computes coherently.  It's very difficult to get the hop character to really pop as the beer gets bigger, and it seems to me that the real treat of these kinds of beers is aromatic, not alcoholic.  So I'm keeping mine well under nine.  Let's also not forget that you can make an outstanding IPA at 6.2 or 6.5, get your hop fix, and not feel compelled to bounce between double and triple IPA's and screwy little sessions IPA's, both of which are harder to design and brew well.  I am averse to extremes in this particular area.

I just thought I'd lay out a mini-philosophy there to amuse myself... One more sniff of these for posterity:  I'm going to say Randy's has even gone to kumquat here.  The citrus character is that sharp and zesty.  There's a perfumey-floral character in mine that I'm grooving on.  Could be from Tahoma or Calypso, which are key here...

As a general brewery update, I have multiple sour beers fermenting, which is exciting.  When I have a new stove, I need to do another couple of IPA's, to keep testing NZ hops and to try new US combinations.  I need to bottle a Belgian strong pale.  A beautiful amber Belgian for fall just kicked; a wheat-heavy dubbel on the Forbidden Fruit strain will be the winter Belgian.  Alongside this DIPA is a New Zealand single-hop: Paging Dr. Rudi, which reeks of peaches and mangoes.  I just dry hopped an all-Rakau beer which will be up and running in a couple of weeks.  Recent tastings with houseguests, fellow displaced-Thanksgiving folks, and an actual Belgian citizen suggest that Belgians may be what I make best.  A pack of French Saison is calling me and I'm overdue to make a tripel...  The only problem is available time....