Quite often on my trips over to Europe, there's the hope to find one-oh please let there be at least one- really good beer to help soften the landing after an upside down day of red eye flights, GPS navigated foreign highways, and game-face-on meetings. Duvel almost always fits that bill. I've turned many a colleague on to this alternative to Stella, so it certainly fits that craft beer gateway designation of accessibility. It also has earned its reputation, many times over, for giving crushing hangovers. But for its fair complexion and the unassuming 330ml squat bottle, you can easily down a couple, or even 3 if there's a wait for a table before dinner has even started, only to be met the next morning with the Devil's pitchfork squarely planted in that throbbing nerve that's holding your right eyeball in place.
So, I've learned, very much the hard way, to take it slow. Let the glass in front of me warm a bit and not just do what you'd otherwise be inclined to do - just get after it and slug it down. I've even gotten the colleagues to tolerate, if not enjoy, the process to create the classic, the near unrivaled head that forms when you pour it down the middle in to a matching laser etched glass.
Of course, the beer that created the style is (well, feels) painfully simple to the complexity seeking (geeking) homebrewer-"just" pils, sugar, styrian and saaz to ~30IBUs, duvel yeast w/ the proper fermentation and lagering schedule, bottle condition to big CO2 volumes. There's really no sense in trying to clone this (or other) beers, as you can grab bottles in so many places around here. Of course the simplicity of the recipes belies the exacting nature to successly hit the mark. I think of this beer as a process and fermentation-first beer; no room to hide behind layers of roasted and crystal malts, mounds of masking hop resins.
I felt like exploring the realm of a belgian golden strong with the tenets of duvel yeast, loads of white sugar (6lbs in a 10 gallon batch), base pils malt, but add some push-pull to the easy going grist with some softness of wheat malt and that full spicy feel that you can get from rye. Long, cool mash to help with fermentability. Up the bitterness a bit to match the more-ness of the not just pils grain bill, and good amount of late additions with Styrians and Saaz to keep the impression of an attempt to keep it in the family. Decidedly American influence from the Amarillo. Dry hop with a touch more of each...is this becoming a belgian golden farmhouse IPA?
Brewed on 12/4/2010, 1 liter starter stepped to 5000ml w/ 1.040 wort. First use of the comically sized 5000ml Erlenmyer (which actually has 6500ml total volume).
Started fermentation at 62F, held low 60s for 36hrs, then free rise to mid-70s. Finished very dry to 1.006, ~9.4%abv. No protein floc aids...but even after 2 weeks in primary, this beer looked almost milky with proteins in suspension. Despite turbidity, kept on schedule and dry hopped for 7 days, then racked 1/2 batch to keg to lager 42F, 20PSI (~3vols), 1/2 to bottles. Not milky any more, but permanent haze after 1.5 months of lagering.
Substantial head formation, retention, lacing. Tight protein pillow persists through the quaff. The commercial counterpart still has me beat, however. Clouded, pale orange. Appearance is darker than SRM due to the cloudyness? Amarillo nose, spicy Duvel phenols. Hoppy! Amarillo muscles out the other, more polite hops. But, you know what...I don't want it to be an IPA stacked on top of a Duvel. A firm coarse bitterness is OK, but need to give way to the grainy-ness and yeast metabolites. Rye fullness to the palate despite high-ish carbonation. Wheat cushion keeps it from being too spritzy even when right out of the bottle.
But...uh-oh...the bite of higher alcohols rear their ugly heads. Burn at the back of the nose/throat is screaming at me "I AM A HANGOVER IN A GLASS" ...not in that subtle whispering way that you ignore when you have a Duvel in your glass.
Bitterness is firm and cleansing, to snap back the fusels on your breath... but you hesitate to go back for another whack. As it warms, it actually becomes more pleasant. The hops become more apparent/masking the fusels. Spice and duvel yeast show up well and the rusticity of the grains sit on your tongue with the bittering hops. But you still need to pay the fusel toll. Likely culprit: not enough O2 (aerated, didn't O2 inject). I'll shove these bottles to the back of the cellar, take another look in a few months. Wonder if it'd ever drop bright.
I know this one is closer than its drinking now. Still a bit of a guess w/ the fusels muddying the impression, I have expectations for major tweaks on the next go:
- though it feels wrong for a farmhouse beer, whirlfloc
- O2 inject (duh)
- amarillo bittering addition change to northern brewer (for rustic woodiness)
- pull back on late hop additions by 1/2
- eliminate dry hop