Duval, Delirium Tremens, Piraat
Categorizing Belgian strong ales can be a bit of a mug's game but I am going to try to distinguish between golden stongs, dark stongs, triples and dubbles over the next few weeks by finally taking apart a small collection I have gathered over the past months. Today, the smallest of the groupings will go with a little freezing rain outside and a reciprocity of NFL from the sofa inside. Pierre Rajotte in Belgian Ale collects golden strongs and dark strongs as "special ales" as a convenience, a way to make sense of the Belgian brewers' sense of invention and the consumer's appreciation of it. At page 35 he writes:
In this category you will usually encounter hoppy beers. However, what the Belgians call a hoppy beer is not quite the same as what a North American would call a hoppy beer. To Belgians, hoppiness is more subtle and more refined. Traditional American brewing aromatic hops such as Cascade are unknown. Belgian brewers use generous amounds of low bitterness varieties such as Saaz, Hallertaur, or Styrian. This gives a generous hoppy and spicy aroma without the accompanying bitterness.From my recollections of homebrewing, one thing the Belgians might also do is age their hops to dissipate most of the acids which cause the bitterness, giving a richer rather than sharp or green hop effect. All in all just the thing for a winter's day.
- Piraat: Whisky hot at 10.5%. The pour leaves a fine white light foam head. The colour is medium straw and cloudy what with the swirl of real yeast at the bottom of the bottle. The taste is sugary mousse with a fine pale malt seam running through the middle, empire biscuit faintness of cherry. Quite juicy despite the sugar levels. The hops are subdued by spicy, with perhaps a bit of corriander, their aroma sitting below the smell of cotton candy. Not very complex but a treat given the utter disappointment with this brewer's pathetic amber. The Advocatonians approve.
- Delirium Tremens: At 8.7% this beer is noticably lighter than Piraat - which is saying something about how hot Piraat drinks. A lighter shade of straw, the head fades quickly. The nose is spicier with less of the cotton candy smell of Belgian candi sugar, a crystallized sugar 100% fermentable sucrose that is used to lighten body and raise alcohol. The taste is more malty with a nice citrus tone from the hops which also provide background spice - maybe some corriander and white pepper as well. The brewer, Brouwerji Huyghe, founded in 1654, makes some really delicious low alcohol summer beers under the name Florisgaarden and this is an honourable corresponding expression of a winter's ale. Like Piraat, the weight is not as great as the alcohol might make you imagine but this beer is more flavourful and somehow moreish, not something I thought I would think with this sort of ale. Quite a fresh finish. Towards the end of the glass, I am loving the green apple and vanilla flavours. Very fine ale. BAers approve greatly.
- Duvel: a snow white souffle of a head explodes from the bottle - be prepared. The smell is of orange-lemon icing. At 8.5% it is the lightest in strength as well as colour. The subtleties of differeence between this and the other two strong ales I have reviewed this afternoon are a bit of a challenge as this one has a little less complexity than the Delirium Tremens and a little less heat of the Piraat but otherwise they are very close. One the mouth, there is some orange peel and a milky rather than creamy effect from the yeast. If the Delirium Tremens has a hint of green apple, this is more like gold delicious - less acidic and sweeter. The hops are the most subdued and it is the least malty - finesse. Lots of lacing are left in the glass and a decent foam remains at the end when I might be tasting passion-fruit and maybe faintness of nutmeg. If you are into such things, as dedicated a website or actually websites as I have ever seen to one brand in a brewery's range. The history page alone is worth the time. Big ups from the BAs.