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Duvel Distilled

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While beer is obviously my main squeeze, I do like to dip my toes into other realms of boozy glory. I'm far from an expert in these other worlds, but that's part of the fun, and it turns out that there are a lot of intersections between beer and other libations. Witness my near obsession with beer aged in wine or spirits barrels. But there are other intersections beyond that... one of which is distilled beer.

I read a fair amount of beer blogs, but I also check in on a fair amount of whiskey bloggers. One of my favorites is Sku's Recent Eats, and as it turns out, he has a penchant for distilled beer. This has always intrigued me, so when I saw his recent post on Duvel Distilled, I commented that I'd love to try the beer and the distilled version together, just as an experiment. Well it turns out that the fine gentleman who sent Sku his samples saw my post and arranged to send me some samples as well. A month later, and I get to partake in that experiment. Many thanks to Dimitri for sending me this sample (and a few others, which I'm sure I'll post about at some point as well).

I've had a somewhat rocky relationship with Duvel in the past. I was distinctly unimpressed the first few times I had it, but I've had it twice in the past year and in both cases, it turned my head. Perhaps I had gotten bad bottles before. Whatever you may think of this, Duvel is generally known as the quintessential ur-example of a Belgian Strong Pale Ale (this is a pretty generalized category, but that's Belgian beer for you).

I'm no expert on this aspect, but as fodder for distillation, Duvel doesn't seem particularly well suited. It's mostly pale barley malt and very lightly hopped with mild European hops (i.e. very little inherent flavor from those ingredients). Instead, Duvel gets its distinct character almost entirely from the Belgian yeast - huge fruity esters and spicy phenols, with a high attenuation (resulting in a highly carbonated, dry beer). So what we have here is distilled Duvel that is then aged for six years in bourbon and sherry barrels. It's apparently somewhat rare and highly sought after, so it seems extra thanks should be sent Dimitri's way.

I know from reading Sku's posts that heavily hopped beers retain their hoppy character in the finished product. So the question is whether or not Duvel's yeast character will survive the distillation and aging process. Alas, it appears the answer is "not really".

Duvel and Duvel Distilled
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Duvel - Pours a slightly hazy straw yellow color with several fingers of fluffy white head. Smells fantastic, primarily a Belgian yeast joint with huge fruity esters and spicy clove in the nose. The taste follows the nose with big spicy yeast notes, clove and the like, with some fruitiness peeking through. Mouthfeel is highly carbonated and effervescent, but light bodied and dry, making it a good match for food. Overall, definitely better than my first few tastes, and clearly a classic Belgian Strong Pale. I keep upgrading this every time I have a bottle, and so we're up to a B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8.5% ABV bottled (11.2 oz). Drank out of a tulip glass on 8/6/14.

Duvel Distilled - Pours a very, very light yellow color. The nose smells pretty bland, definitely light on the fruity malt presence and heavy on the booze. I get none of the great fruity or spicy notes of the beer in the nose at all. It feels like that generic booze I first sampled as a teenager (not an entirely unpleasant memory, but then, not a particularly trustworthy one either). The taste doesn't change all that much, lots of general alcohol flavor, some grainy malt presence, but that's about it. None of the fruit or spice from the beer, nor any real discernible barrel character either (Sku's comment: "It's hard to believe this was aged in six years unless it was in seventh fill barrels or something like that."). Mouthfeel is actually pretty harsh and boozy, almost rougher than that 60%+ single barrel Four Roses stuff I got a hold of recently. Perhaps that's a bit unfair, but at least the Four Roses has some semblance of balance or at least an intensity of flavor that matches the booze level. Here, the balance is off... Overall, this is a bit of a disappointment. There's no way I'd peg this as being related to the beer at all, and even as a spirit in itself, it feels like a young, unrefined potion. There's nothing inhernently wrong with it, and it's certainly drinkable, but it's not something I'd recommend seeking out. This apparently has a cult following and fetches high prices on the secondary market, but I'm not entirely sure why... C

Spirit Nerd Details: 40% ABV bottled (sample size). Drank out of a glencairn glass on 8/6/14. 2013 vintage (I think?)

Despite not being in love with the actual Duvel Distilled product, I have to thank Dimitri yet again for the opportunity, as I love exploring these intersections between my potion of choice and the rest of the booze world. I felt a little bad about this until I realized that both Sku and Dimitri mentioned that they weren't the biggest fans of this stuff either...

Now if I can just get ahold of some of that Charbay whisky (distilled from Bear Republic's excellent flagship Racer 5 IPA), things might turn around. And some day, I really want to try New Holland's Beer Barrel Bourbon (which is bourbon finished on a third use barrel, with the first use being Bourbon and the second use being New Holland's Dragon's Milk Imperial Stout).

Octobeerfest

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Tonight was beer club, a meeting of beer minded individuals from my work who get together once a month to share good beer, a good meal, and good company! We typically congregate at a local BYOB, and this time we hit up America's Pie, probably the best pizza joint in West Chester. Lots of food and beer and mirth was had by all. Things started small but grew as the night progressed, so this picture doesn't quite capture all the beers that arrived later:

beerclub1012.jpg
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For the sake of posterity, some thoughts on each beer are below. As per usual, these beers were not consumed under ideal conditions, but hey, these were really fun conditions, which, come to think of it, are ideal enough for me. But you may want to take these notes with a giant rock of salt. Anywho, here's the impressions I'm left with (in the order of drinking, not necessarily from the picture above):

  • Lakefront Pumpkin Lager - A strangely muted flavor profile that features all the typical pumpkin pie flavors nonetheless, this was actually a decent way to start off beer club. Very aromatic, light, spicy, straightforward beer. Not going to light the world on fire, but a worthy brew. B
  • Duvel - This is generally considered to be a classic beer, but I have to admit, I've always come away somewhat underwhelmed by Duvel. I feel like this bottle was much better than any of my previous tastings. Sweet, spicy Belgian yeast character in the nose and taste. Last time I had this, I was a little turned off by what I perceived to be tart, lemony notes, but that didn't appear to be in tonight's bottle at all. Strange. I still wouldn't call this one of my favorites or anything, but I could bump it up to a B
  • Original Sin Hard Cider and Dana's Homemade Applewine - I tend to call this event "beer club", but lots of other alcoholic beverages make appearances. This usually amounts to wine, but some folks who don't like beer will go for some cider too (especially this time of year, I guess). Me, I don't really care for that sort of thing. I tried a couple offerings and thought, yep, that's got apple flavor, and left it at that.
  • Cigar City Guava Grove - One of my contributions for the night, this is a big, delicious ball of spicy, fruity saison goodness. Great orangey color, spicy Belgian yeast character in the nose and taste, with a level of fruitiness, presumably coming from the guava. Generally considered to be the best beer of the night, I jokingly mentioned that I wished I kept it all for myself. But I kid. Anywho, exceptional beer. I really must figure out how to get my hands on some more Cigar City stuff. A-
  • War Horse India Pale Ale - Probably suffered a little in comparison to the Guava Grove, but yeah, it's an IPA, focusing on the earthy, floral notes, with a strong malt backbone and a fair bitterness in the finish. I found it to be somewhat unremarkable, but it was generally enjoyed by the group (we are easily amused). B-
  • DuClaw Mad Bishop - Ah, it was about time someone broke out the other major seasonal style, the Oktoberfest. Not one of my favorite styles, but as these things go, I found myself enjoying this one quite a bit. It seemed a little sweeter than your typical, authentic examples of the style, but that's not a horrible thing in my book. Very nice. B
  • Lindemans Framboise - Another offering that was popular with the cider/wine crowd, I found it a little on the cough syrupy side of things. Nice raspberry flavors and it's pretty thick and sweet for such a tiny ABV beer, but I don't know, maybe I'm spoiled by better lambics at this point. B-
  • Great Lakes Nosferatu - This is one of them Imperial Red Ale beers that goes heavy on the citrus and pine hops, certainly a welcome development at this point in the night. Even with my palate probably being in pretty bad shape, I found this to be quite good. And you've just gotta love the label/name of this beer too. I should pick up a bottle of the stuff and give it a fair shake, though I'll still hand it a B+ rating, making it one of the better beers of the night.
  • Lagunitas New Dogtown Pale Ale - One of those late arrivals, this one actually held its own against some of the bigger beers I'd been drinking. Big citrus and pine character in the nose and taste, making it seem more like a straight up IPA than a lowly Pale Ale. Quite enjoyable and again, one of the better beers of the night. B+
  • St. Bernardus Tripel - Another beer I've actually reviewed before, though this time my feelings on the beer haven't changed much. I didn't have a lot of it tonight, but it's pretty much exactly what I remember about it. Excellent Belgian Tripel, if not quite my favorite.
  • Yuengling Oktoberfest - At this point in the night, my palate is pretty well wrecked, but again, it seemed like a really solid, traditional take on the Oktoberfest style. Not exactly my thing, but I could probably put a few of these down in a session if duty called for such. Indeed, I might even prefer this to the ubiquitous Yuengling Lager... B
  • Lavery Stingy Jack Pumpkin Ale - My other contribution for the night, I think this one comported itself quite well. It's got that big, chewy pumpkin pie thing going on here, but the balance of malt, pumpkin, and spice was pretty well honed here, as I really enjoyed it. Now, again, I was pretty well in the bag at this point, but the bomber I brought seemed to go pretty quickly, and folks seemed to enjoy it. I'll give it a provisional B+
Phew, that ended up being quite a list of beers. Oddly, they were all pale colored - not a single stout to be had. The closest thing to a dark beer was Nosferatu, which probably couldn't be counted as pale, but it's no stout either. Not that I'm complaining. Indeed, I shall declare this gathering yet another success. I'm already thinking ahead to our next meeting...

One of my favorite beer-store games is what I'll call Belgian Beer Roulette*. I'm sure you're already familiar with the concept of Russian Roulette, but a quick google search yields a Belgian variant where instead of placing a single bullet in a revolver, you place rounds in all but one chamber, spin the cylinder, point the gun at your head and pull the trigger. Fortunately, Belgian Beer Roulette is not nearly as insane or deadly to play. To play, you need 5-10$ and a bottle shop with lots of Belgian beers you've never heard of. Purchase one of said unfamiliar Belgian beers, chill, and drink. I'm quite the fan of Belgian beers, so I daresay that my odds of "winning" are probably more like Russian Roulette (5 out of 6 win) than Belgian Roulette (1 out of 6 win).

Generally I look for something with a tasteful label (I'm a total sucker for a coat of arms). This is, of course, not always the most reliable indicator, but that's how I stumbled on to some of my favorite Belgian breweries, like Westmalle and Affligem. So one day, I see a series of beers from Maredsous. Nice clean label design and the store had a blonde, a dubbel, and a tripel (i.e. styles I love), so I picked up the Dubbel. As I write this, I now find out that the Maredsous brand is actually brewed at the Duvel Moortgat brewery. Maredsous is a Benedictine abbey, apparently famous for their cheese, but in 1963, they also began to license their name to Moortgat. I don't know how much the monks contribute to the actual brewing of the beer or the recipes or whatnot (sometimes monks direct brewing efforts outside their abbey, but I can't tell what's going on in this case), but I'm willing to bet that they drink a shitload of the stuff.

Maredsous 8 - Dubbel

Maredsous 8 - Dubbel - Pours a nice reddish brown color, decent head with bigger sized bubbles in it. The nose is a bit light, but that typical spicy Belgian yeast aroma is there and maybe some dark fruitiness as well. Taste has a sweet malt backbone, with a little spiciness and just a hint of tartness in the finish. Ample carbonation and a medium mouthfeel make it readily drinkable. Alcohol is reasonably well disguised too. Certainly a solid effort and a good representation of the style, but not particularly close to the top of my favorite dubbels. B+

Beer Nerd Details: Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (750 ml, caged and corked bottle). Drank from a goblet. Drank on 2/19/11 (yeah, I'm really behind on this review.)

It seems my thoughts are pretty much in line with the Beer Advocate nerds, and they say the other Maredsous beers are about equal quality. I won't be rushing to the store to pick some up (and now that I've had one, I see them every where, so it's not like it's a rarity or anything) anytime soon, but I'll probably get to the other two varieties at some point...

* I'm not the originator of this term as a way to describe this process - I have Jay from the Hedonist Beer Jive (now just Hedonist Jive) to thank for that. It's a fantastic term though, and it fits how I sometimes shop. Thanks Jay!

Duvel

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So I'm catching up on a bunch of beers I've had recently. I usually jot down some notes whilst drinking, then polish them up later (and maybe throw in a movie review or write a screenplay or something), but I've been slacking on the polishing piece, so I've got about 5 more posts ready to go here. First up, one of the more common Belgian beers you'll find in the US:

Duvel

Duvel - My true gateway into the world of craft beers was Brewery Ommegang, which was sold to Duvel Moortgat in 2003. Back in the day, I got me a case of Duvel, expecting something... Ommegangy, but I remember being a bit disappointed. It was better than most of the swill I was used to, but it wasn't a revelation, like the Ommegang beers I'd had at the time. But that was a solid 6 or 7 years ago, so I figure it's worth giving them another shot.

It pours a light, clear yellow/gold color with a billowy head and lots of lacing as I drink. It's very aromatic and smells strongly of Belgian yeast, cloves, etc... Taste is very sweet with an unexpected tart finish. Hints of a lingering tart bitterness as well. Mouthfeel is a bit on the harsh side, lots of carbonation. It has a bit of a bite to it, no doubt due to the lemony tartness, but is otherwise not quite as complex as I was hoping for... It works well enough for one glass, but the entire 750ml bottle was a bit much for me and it was grating towards the end. It's a fine beer, certainly a step up from something like, say, Stella (and a mile up from typical macro junk), but I think my initial impression way back when was probably right on. B-

Beer Nerd Details: 8.5% ABV bottled (750 ml, caged and corked bottle). Drank from a tulip.

I didn't realize it, but I had another beer from Duvel Moortgat in my fridge (Maredsous 8, a dubbel), which I'll be reviewing sometime this week. I liked that one better than this, but it wasn't particularly mindblowing either.

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Hi, my name is Mark, and I like beer.

You might also want to check out my generalist blog, where I blather on about lots of things, but mostly movies, books, and technology.

Email me at mciocco at gmail dot com.

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