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 - 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).