Duvel Tripel Hop HBC291, Breendon-Dorp, Belgium
Date: November 19, 2018
The Story— Julio’s all-things-boozy emporium is in Westborough, Massachusetts, a long half hour west of Boston (and longer in traffic or bad weather). But it’s worth renting a car and driving out and lugging back a case or two of remarkable beers you just won’t see anywhere else.
Several years ago, we started to pick the two cases we could manage on our return rail journey to Baltimore when our self control failed us and we wound up filling the back trunk of our sedan. We called up the rental company and they approved a drop off at BWI rather than Logan and we drove that treasure trove back home.
We’ve planned better, but have driven home five, ten and sometimes fifteen cases from Julios — we reached fifteen by augmenting the Julio Haul from an equally dazzling selection at Half Time in Poughkeepsie and topping off the load with another valuable stop at State Line liquors just off I95 and over the Delaware border into Maryland. Those three stores remain the trifecta that most reliably fills our shelves for a snowbound winter, though we’ve found a wave of surprisingly good stores ranging from Berlin, Maryland to Phoenixville, Pa.
Duvel skated out of World War Two on thin ice, but hard work and good decisions – and a partly lucky, partly inspired decision to produce a pale golden very strong ale and name it after the devil– has turned it into an international craft powerhouse. Duvel was one of the first beers we encounter that really had flavor. Ellie detested it (“there’s something wrong here”) and though I withheld judgement, I didn’t order a second.
Not long thereafter we struck up first a conversation and then a friendship with Walter the bartender in one of Europe’s early pioneer beer bars in Amsterdam (sadly no longer with us.) he introduced us to a friend who happened to be good friends with the Moortgat family that owned Duvel. He drove us out, arranged for a tour by one of the daughters and then walked us across the street to the Matriarch of the family– and business. it seemed like even the closest family members called her “Ms. Moortgat.” We sat on the formal back porch, talking beer and watching her prize winning chickens strut around the yard. She served us Duvel that had been carefully cellared in the mansion’s basement for exactly one year and this time neither of us had any problem recognizing it as one of the best beers we had ever tasted.
At the time, Duvel was a one-horse rodeo. Though it did produce other beers, including some tasty secular “abby” beers, Duvel Ale paid the bills. The brewery did its own malting and sourced hops that were not at all common in other better known breweries.
Fast forward to 2018 and the Duvel Moortgat company’s umbrella now includes at least 15 quality brewing ventures that include Ommegang, Boulevard and Firestone Walker in the US as well as Belgian brands including Liefmans and almost any beer with “chouffe” in the name.
Like almost every brewery in the world now, Duvel comes out with seasonals and one-offs to help remind people of the flagship. For most breweries, and for most of the time, these one-offs pale in comparison to the originals. But here, Duvel has produced a winner. A taste that approaches unique almost in the way the original used to (before hundreds of copycat versions sprang up all over the world) won’t appeal to everyone, but it certainly appealed to me.
The Beer— I’m a sucker for experimental hops that don’t steal the fruit vendor’s push cart. Ellie keeps her head. Spicy hops ride over a very slightly funky pale malt and the malt asserts itself just a bit more as it drinks. A Mild fruit and a later bitter finishes. Pepper and fruit from the very interesting hop– marries well with the Duvel base
Value — Good. No one gives away great beer, but Julio’s keeps its prices under control as well as any beer store of its quality.
This week we feature a half dozen really good European beers that we found in the United States. We make pilgrimages to some of the best beer stores in Eastern America once or twice a year and we also just bump into incredibly good beer in places we don’t expect. Not all of these are on the shelves, but beers much like them are.
Next week we return to the US to highlight some great American craft beers, some of which we’ve found in researching out first US Beer publication: Brews and Snooze-– Breweries you can visit and walk back to a fine place to spend the night. Look for it in 2019.
About these posts: We taste and evaluate over a thousand beers every year. The beers posted here rank in the top quarter of those tastings. Values: “fair” is a good beer at an above market price, “good” is worth the money, “very good” is a bargain, and “excellent” is a steal.