Thursday, 28 April 2016

Duvel Doubles With Tripel

I guess it's a sign of how far the landscape has been altered, that an acknowledged 'World Classic' beer can be found sitting on the shelves of most of the major supermarket chains, and yet be simultaneously overlooked by those beer drinkers who are in a state of beery perpetual motion, looking for the new shiny. How we can take such beer for granted...

I'm talking about Punk IPA. Just kidding. Of course, I refer to Duvel, the delicious Belgian golden ale brewed by Brouwerij Moortgat, acknowledged as a World Classic by Michael Jackson in his Beer Companion, and yet, apart from Don 'The Demon Brewer' Burgess, not a beer many of my acquaintances go to regularly. A drinkable 8.5% abv, the beer is hopped with Saaz and Styrian Golding, and undergoes a complex fermentation and cold maturation process before being bottled.

Steve O'Clock being thorough
For the past six or so years, Moortgat has produced an annual variant of Duvel. Called Tripel Hop, the beer has a third hop added at two stages, and the abv is pushed slightly higher, to 9.5%. Thus it was that I was invited to pop along to the Burlington Arms where the upstairs bar had been taken over by Man About Beer Rupert Ponsonby and his R&R Drinkers colleagues, to host a vertical tasting of the different versions of Tripel Hop. Being the nation is currently in election frenzy, the assembly was asked to sample each version, and vote at the Duvel Polling Station. A not unpleasant task, no need to hold your nose before making your mark here.

The idea is that, through a series of tastings worldwide, drinkers, writers, influencers and hangers-on like me will vote and the winning version will be brought into production in 2017. So, in the pleasant company of Steve from the Beer O'Clock Show, Half Pint Gent Matt Chinnery, Jezza P, 1970s Boy Justin Mason, Martin Oates and Mark Dredge, I set to.

This is what I call rigour...
I won't reproduce my tasting notes. I didn't go through the beers in order, even though each bottle had helpful numbering on the label. In release order, the versions contained Amarillo, Citra, Sorachi Ace, Mosaic, Equinox and, for this year, an experimental hop from the Yakima Valley simply known as HBC 291.

I hadn't had a bottle of Duvel in years - I think the last time was around 2004, in the Duke of York pub in Borough, so I went to my local supermarket to pick one up and refresh my gustatory memory. I still got peardrops and a little pepperiness, but I hadn't remembered the dryness of the finish. Useful.

Boggle At The Ballot Box
(pic by Justin Mason)
My order of tasting was 4, 1, 3, 2, 5, 6, but I thought I knew what I was looking for. The hop would need to be able to stand up to all that alcohol, and complement the characteristics of the original. My top three, after revisiting a couple of the beers to confirm - I'm nothing if not rigorous when asked to participate in something so important - were Mosaic, Sorachi Ace and Equinox. The Mosaic and Sorachi were immediately recognisable, but didn't overpower the beer. I thought the Citra was a bit overwhelmed, and the Amarillo made the finish too bitter. The results of this event were declared yesterday, and the consolidated order was: Mosaic, Citra, HBC 291 (somebody name it soon!), Equinox, Sorachi Ace and finally, Amarillo.

It'd be interesting to track preferences in different Duvel markets, and I look forward to the final result. Beer Merchants have packs of the different beers available right now. Thanks to R&R for the invite, and also for putting a World Classic beer I'd taken for granted back in front of me.