Pale Ale. The name rolls euphoniously off the tongue almost as smoothly as what it describes. The pale varieties of ale have proliferated in recent years, each branching off into seemingly infinite and opposite directions of the basic characteristics of what defines this most popular of brews: Amber, American Pale, Bière de Garde, Blonde, Bitter, Irish Red, India Pale, Strong pale, American Strong, Scotch. Yet despite their differences–and provenances–all of the following share the singularity of the Pale Malt.
Say “malt” five times fast. A bit of a strange word, isn’t it? From Old Norse, similar to melt, malt is kiln-dried barley that has been germinated. Kilning at higher temperatures than lager malt gives pale malt a toastier flavor well suited to pale ales. Unlike some specialty malts, pale requires mashing, the hot water bath process to hydrate the barley, which activates the malt enzymes, and converts the grain starches molecules into fermentable sugars*. Because the yeast need to eat before they excrete ethanol and they like it sweet.
The other important part of the singularity of pale ale is the Saccharomyces Cerevisiae strain of yeast which differentiates the Ale from the Lager. Cerevisiae, as well as being central to the fermentation of wine-making and baking, likes warm temperatures, and is generally, if not anachronistically, called top fermenting, unlike lager yeast, which sinks to the bottom. There is a joke there somewhere, but I’ll leave it for now.
The prototypical pale (although specifically a Belgian Strong Pale) is Duvel. Produced by Duvel Moortgat Brewery, Duvel is not the traditional Belgian brew. The main difference between other Belgian Beer and Duvel is the Moortgat strain of yeast still which stems from a culture of Scottish yeast bought by Albert Moortgat during a business tour of the U.K. just after World War I. And although surrounded by Trappist beer, the Moortgat family has been brewing delicious beer for generations using a simple recipe of pilsner malt and dextrose, and hopping with Noble Saaz and Styrian Goldings, the Slovenian variety of British Fuggle. Yes, hop names come from the characters in Harry Potter.
Duvel – Blonde Devil
Why so pro Duvel? All expenses paid first-class trips to Belgium? Ha! Are they paying me in cases of beer? I wish…but alas I have to buy it just like everyone else. Truthfully it is the seductive combination of the following:
Appearance: Golden Blonde with a clear body and thick white head.
Aroma: Fruit, Straw.
Flavor and Mouthfeel: Lightly but firmly hopped with a fizzy, almost champagne-y touch of dryness on the tongue. Low acid and lack of bitterness lend ease of drinkability fooling the palate into thinking for itself and ordering ahead of schedule.
Alcohol Content: Strong 8.5 ABV with slight aroma of alcohol present in the head.
Beyond the basic Duvel, they also produce the stronger Triple Hop Pale Ale (adding the American Cascade hops to the 2014 version for a special variety of bitter devilry), and recently they licensed the Maredsous Abbey name to produce the dark, rich-bodied Benedictine brew Maredsous Triple, which at 10° ABV, packs a powerful punch yet remains amicably drinkable and overall gives off an old oak-refined finish with a light tinge of fruit, wrapped in a lush summertime breeze of hops, leaving only its smooth creamy head behind. Once you have entered the Maredsous universe (also a Maredsous 6° Blonde and a Maredsous 8° Bruin) there is little else that can grab your attention. Something your toothless uncle would drink on Tuesday mornings because it’s better than Muesli.
The Duvel Moortgat brewery acquired Brewery Ommegang, the US-based Belgian style craft beer kings in 2003 (which brewed a Game of Thrones series of ales last year…I’ll have the Blonde Khalisi please…) and recently they bought a majority stake in one of my favorite American breweries, Boulevard Brewing as well as California Craftbeer King Firestone Walker Brewing. It is nice to know that with AB-InBev assimilating all of the craft breweries they can, there are some brewing companies that will remain as independent and insulated as possible from the growing onslaught of adjunct lagerfication. You know, heat rises, but this little devil, when mixed with the pale malt and any variety of and combination of hops, will take you down to the baddest place around.
*Thanks to John Palmer’s excellent resource How To Brew.