We don’t normally do all-foreign beer reviews, but with Duvel being such a classic it’s probably a good one to have in the archive. Plus, we recently reviewed the Baird Bureiko Jikan Strong Golden Ale, which is essentially a Japanese Duvel clone, so this is probably a good time to do it. We’ll look at the regular Duvel along with the Duvel Tripel Hop 2016 version, which uses the HBC 291 hop.
Package: 330mL bottle
Misc: Hops – Saaz-Saaz, Styrian Golding
Pour – Very creamy and foamy, straw gold
Aroma – Lemon, grass, hops, very sweet
Flavor – Sweet and tart at first, earthy and bready bitter on the finish, still some tartness at the end
Duvel, of course, is one of those iconic Belgian beers like Orval and Chimay that are basically only known by one name (which happens when you get big enough, like Jesus, Madonna, or Hammer). Unlike the others Duvel is not a monastery, but rather a family owned brewery that is officially called Duvel Moortgat. They’ve got kind of an interesting history to their beer that varies a bit from the traditional monk narrative – they were founded in 1871 by the Moortgat family, but when World War I happened they were exposed to English ales and inspired to try something closer to an English style. When the war ended they went to the UK to acquire a yeast sample (which apparently the UK brewers weren’t so forthcoming with), and they’ve been using the same yeast ever since. To commemorate the end of the war they brewed up a new now-Belgian pale ale called “Victory Ale”, but when a local shoemaker tasted the beer and remarked that it was a “duvel” (which mean devil in the local Flemish dialect), well, there was the new name!
Of course they’ve grown tremendously since then, and they are generally credited with having created the first tulip beer glass as well. The Duvel glass is actually now kind of a flagship product and giant marketing tool in and of itself, where they invent prominent artists to design their own take on the Duvel glass. Beer-wise, although Duvel don’t produce a lot of different kinds of beer under the Duvel name (in fact, they only basically produce three beers, two of which are the same recipe: the main Duvel in the standard bottle conditioned format and the single-fermented tap Duvel Single version, along with the added hop Duvel Tripel Hop that we’ll get to in a moment), they’ve been fairly active in the acquisition market. In addition to Belgian breweries like Achouffe and De Koninck, they’ve also purchased well-known American craft breweries like Ommegang, Firestone Walker, and Boulevard. That said, as they try to expand into the American craft beer world, Duvel is still their flagship product, so let’s see what it’s all about.
Duvel is certainly a very flavorful beer, with a lot of different things happening. Initially, especially straight out of the bottle, it’s very sweet, and it gets you thinking for a second that it’s too sweet to finish. But the flavors develop nicely, and the sweetness tones down into a nice citrus tartness. The transition to the finish is quite nice, and the Saaz hops really come out in an earthy hop finish, while the tartness and zest still remains. In some ways it plays as a stronger Belgian witbier – of course there are no added ingredients, but the citrus is quite strong, and it has that yeast quality to it that is like a good witbier but much more bitter and stronger overall.
With that kind of flavor and balance we’ll definitely give Duvel its classic status, but let’s see how the Tripel Hop version compares.
Duvel Tripel Hop – 2016
Package: 330mL bottle
Misc: Hops – Saaz-Saaz, Styrian Golding, HBC 291
Pour – Similar straw gold color, also creamy and foamy but foam settles more quickly
Aroma – Strong tropical fruit aroma, still some earthiness, lemon
Flavor – Very fruity, initially citrus, than passion fruit, finish is hop bitter and dry, becomes somewhat herbal as it warms up, spices are still there
Given that Duvel have a fairly limited product range, it’s not surprising that they would experiment with variations on the Duvel. In fact, they’ve tried adding a third hop to the usual Saaz and Styrian Golding hops since 2007, although it was only productized relatively recently. Every release (which tended to be every spring, although it wasn’t quite so regular early on) they tried a different hop: Amarillo in 2007 (the original) and 2010, Citra in 2012, Sorachi Ace in 2013, Mosaic in 2014, Equinox in 2015, and HBC 291 in this 2016 version. Eventually it devolved into a online marketing stunt, where they had people vote online for their favorite Tripel Hop version, which would then be turned into a regular product (spoiler alert – the Duvel Tripel Hop is officially now brewed with Citra).
As we mentioned above, this 2016 version uses the HBC 291 hop in both the standard brewing process and with additional dry-hopping. If the HBC 291 hop sounds familiar despite its futuristic alphanumeric name (although now it is called Loral), it may be because of Tamamura Honten’s usage of it in their Drunk Coffee Kibiru and Baby Miyama Blonde beers. It’s a hop that has very floral characteristics, so we let’s see how that impacts the Duvel.
The Duvel Tripel Hop is a very different beast from the regular Duvel. The most prominent aspects of the original Duvel are tart, spice, and earthiness, but the Tripel Hop is very fruity, hoppy and herbal. If you didn’t know that the base beer was the same I think it would be hard to discern that. That’s not to say that this is a bad beer, though – in fact, although it’s very different, it’s also quite a flavorful and good beer. Starting with the aroma, you can see the impact of the dry-hopping, as it is quite strong on the fruits and hops. That carries over to the flavor as well, along with the grassy herbal effects from the HBC 291 and some of the spice and zest from the original Duvel, and it all combines to make what ends up being a very nice strong Belgian IPA.
It’s hard to decide which of these I prefer, as while they are quite different from each other they are both very good. I suppose I’d just leave it at that and call it a draw – and note that I’m very curious to check out the new from-now-on official Citra version of the Duvel Tripel Hop and see how it compares to the HBC 291 2016 version we tried here.