Duvel (pronounced Doo-vle) is a beers which is synonymous among beer aficionados. It is a reference point for brewers and a staple for beer drinkers. I’m very thankful that it is always available at the LCBO because about 8 or 9 times a year I develop a thirst that only the Duvel can quench – and it does quench oh so beautifully.
Literally though, without exaggeration, the Duvel has become the summit for Belgian Pale Ales and is mimicked all across the globe; especially in the United States where craft brewing has taken on new excitement and passion, breweries are creating beers witch will in many ways reflect the characteristics of a Duvel. Its golden straw color, majestic and massive pillow soft head, globally defined chalice, and irresistible flavor had been perfected for over 50 years from 1871 to 1923, and since then has remained unmodified.
It is a unique ale which takes 90 days to craft, and only one second to enjoy on so many levels.
Today, Duvel is brewed by the fourth generation of the Moortgat family in their modern brewery in Belgium under the name Duvel Moortgat. It all began in 1871 in Belgium. Jan-Leonard Moortgat and his wife established the Moortgat Brewery and Farm and began experimenting with top fermenting beers which eventually became a favorite in Brussels. At the time there were over 3000 breweries in Belgium.
During WWI, England’s contact with Belgium increased, and thus did their beers contact with the Belgian people as well. Jan-Leonard’s son Albert, who took over brewing in 1900, decided to create a special beer based on the English model. In 1918 Albert was able to obtain a precious yeast sample from Scotland which would prove to be the ultimate ale yeast for Duvel’s mastery. Albert and his brother Victor constantly worked on perfecting the beer, and soon they named their creation “Victory Ale” to commemorate the end of WWI in 1923. This did not last long however, when a notable village shoemaker describe the beer as a “real devil”, they decided to officially name their beer “Duvel”.
Since then, nothing has changed. The beer is still brewed in Belgium and owned by the Moortgat family. It is brewed using water from the Brewery’s 60m-deep wells, blond malted barley, Saaz and Styrian Golding hops, and of course Moortgats now prized yeast. Primary fermentation takes place from the second day to seventh where it is then gently refrigerated in cylindrical tanks for some twenty days.
After being bottled on the thirtieth day, the Duvel begin secondary fermentation in the bottles and ages in warm cellars for two weeks where additional complexity and natural carbonation will grow. Then when all the flavors are primed to marry, Duvel sleeps for 6 weeks in cold cellars and is then finally ready for the public to enjoy it. You should check out the video Moortgat has on their brewing process, it is really amazing.
The Duvel Itself
At the LCBO Duvel is available in 330ml short capped bottles for $3.10, and is 8.5% abv. It is also available elsewhere in 750ml corked bottles, and 1.5L Magnums as shown. All bottles are bottle conditioned. This beer is a Belgian Pale Ale, and should be served cold between 4 to 7C (39 – 45F); Moortgagte suggests 6C. This will allow you to enjoy the beers magnificent quenching and refreshing characteristics, and as it warms gently, added layers of aroma and complexity will show themselves.
One of my favorite things about the Duvel is its chalice, which was designed specifically for this beer. You will notice if you stand the bottle and glass next to each other that the glass is almost double the size of the bottle; this is no mistake. The Duvel should be poured slowly on a slight angle with the glass gently rotating upright and lifting the bottle higher so that just after halfway you are pouring directly into the beer. A large and mountainous head should form a pure white clouds with massive amounts of air pockets filling it.
The head should begin close to the middle of the gold Duvel logo, and should raise to the top of the glass’ lip. This may seem like a large amount of head if you are used to drinking commercial beers, however this is the perfect amount of foam for a beer like the Duvel. Its natural carbonation is going to create a luscious head no matter what you do, it is filled with rich aromas and unique flavors, and the glass was also designed specifically to allow this to happen.
Moortgat also suggests leaving about one cm of beer in the glass so that you do not pour the sediment (yeast from the bottle conditioning) into your glass. This is a personal preference. Depending on the beer, the sediment can add funky earthy flavors to the beer, or can impart a light sour or tart sensation to the beer. Personally, I think its all just more flavor. There are a couple beers which I reserve the sediment and enjoy the beer clean, however I pour every last drop of Duvel into my glass.
The beer itself is golden straw yellow and completely transparent. A laser etched “D” inside the bottom of the glass creates ridges for bubbles to form, and a clean stream of carbonation pours straight up the middle of every properly served Duvel, helping the head stay where it belongs.
The nose is delicate and sweet, it has very soft floral aromas of fresh hops and herbs, tickling spices, ripe soft fruits like peaches, bananas and apple, and a purely Belgian yeast character. It doesn’t pour at your with riches or power; the alcohol is not close to noticeable. The Duvel thus far is very delicate and pleasing, and shows characteristics which should prove to be exceptionally refreshing.
Tilt the chalice gently towards you and be delightfully treated to a smooth and effervescent beer gliding under the head into your mouth – the chalice was designed for a purpose. The Duvel first brings soft blond malt sweetness in a complex and round group of flavors. Light malts, sweet earth, yeast and fruits all show their presence on your tongue and gently into your cheeks.
Easily, light spice and precise carbonation begin to raise your taste buds to attention as the beers floats across your palate. More hints of candy sweetness and the lightest caramel show up on your palate, and soon floral hops bring quenching dry, but soft bitterness in to balance the experience. The mouthfeel is elegant, smooth, and very refreshing. A richly carbonated beer usually is aggressive, but the carbonation here is all natural and pairs with the beer’s flavors effortlessly.
Once again, the soft and hugely aromatic characteristics of the beer have created something absolutely delightful. The alcohol is perfectly hidden by this beer’s balanced and layered flavors, and a severely impressive overall experience. The finish is quick, quenching, and crisp with a sweetly citrus touch – think fresh green apples. It really is a beautiful beer experience, and very deserving of its reputation.
I do love the Duvel with earthy soft cheeses, lamb, salads of almost any variety, and even grilled foods like hamburgers and shish-kabob. But mostly, I enjoy the Duvel, outside, when its hot, and I need to be confidently impressed.