If you love great beer, you are probably more than familiar with the Duvel Moortgat Brewery in the Antwerp Province of Belgium, or at least have sampled their strong, golden Pale Ale Duvel. Any list of classic craft beers is not complete without it. And while it is certainly one of the most prolific classics, Duvel remains as fresh and exciting today as when it was first released in 1918. Of course, like many of humanity’s greatest accomplishments, exceptional beer is also truly timeless.
It all started in 1871 with Jan-Leonard Moortgat founding the Moortgat brewery farm, Jan coming from a line of brewers in Steenhuffel, Belgium. At the time, Belgium was in a bit of a brewing renaissance with over 3,000 breweries in operation, and it took a uniquely delicious beer to stand out in that crowded market. While Moortgat had success in the local market with his ales, it was his son Albert that sought to create a beer inspired by the popularity of British ales.
One of the major keys to the flavor profile he sought would be a yeast strain he procured from a Scottish brewery. Although the idea of using such a yeast strain was frowned upon in Belgium, according to Duvel’s website, he maintained this vision for a new beer utilizing the strain, and eventually developed Victory Ale to commemorate World War I. The infamous strain is still used to this day, but the beer is now just Duvel, (Dutch for devil) after an early brewery worker once referred to it as a “.. devil of a brew.”
The signature brewing process, which includes lagering and bottle-conditioning, takes around 90 days and is a global affair, incorporating the aforementioned Scottish yeast, Belgian spring water and malts, plus Czech and Slovenian hops. The final sparkling beer is complex with subtle hop bitterness and light malt sweetness, an interplay that, combined with the yeast, imparts light fruit, spice, alcohol and the fluffiest, aromatic head you will find in a beer.
At 8.5% alcohol by volume (ABV) Duvel can be a “devil of a brew” if you aren’t careful, due to its smoothness. Thankfully, the brewery has a nearly equal counterpart to the flagship called Duvel Single, which is only fermented once and results in a more sessionable 6.8% ABV. One of the most elegant beers you can readily find on the shelf, few beer experiences beat diving into the frothy, meringuelike head of a draft “Duvel Single.” A fondness my palate can’t seem to forget.
This week’s recommendation: Duvel Single, a Belgian Golden Ale with subtle hop character, and light fruit notes. 6.8% ABV. Puurs, Belgium.
Colin Hubbell is co-owner of the Green Onion Pub and the Hop and Goblet in South Utica, New York.