Thursday, January 14, 2010

Boulevard Amber & Dubbel

I took a quick tour of Boulevard Brewery yesterday with the Kansas City Plaza Rotary Club, and the highlight, of course, was the tasting room. (Not that the tour was anything less than wonderful - they do a superb job of summarizing the brewing process and impressing people with all their cool equipment. They use video effectively in the tour; if you haven't done one recently, I highly recommend it.)

The two new tastes for me were Boulevard Amber and Boulevard Dubbel. Surprisingly, I'm more excited by the amber.

Amber ales are a tricky style. They are usually medium in color, medium in strength, medium in mouthfeel, medium in hoppiness and medium in malt. That many mediums usually make a boring beer. On the other hand, they tend to be a popular beer, because they're approachable and balanced. Some brewers unfairly consider them a "sell-out beer" - a beer designed to appeal to the masses.

Boulevard Amber
will be wildly popular, and will appeal to a broad swath of industrial beer drinkers, but it's not a "sell-out beer". It has that certain spark that makes it a great beer instead of just an easy-drinking one. I predict that it will earn a place in the selection of year-round brews that Boulevard produces.

Boulevard's version of an amber ale is surprisingly malty and rich. The hops are light in this one; it tasted to me almost like a slightly sweeter Oktoberfest. Whatever variety of ale yeast they used was well-chosen; it allowed for a great malty taste without a cloyingly sweet finish, and it was perfectly clean, to the point I would have believed it was a lager yeast. The hops used are just enough to provide a mildly bittering contrast to the malt sweetness, but they play only a supporting role. If I had to recreate this beer using widely available commercial beers, I would start by blending 3 parts of a classic Oktoberfest with 1 part of O'Dell's 90 Shilling.

As for the Boulevard Dubbel, I'm not quite as enthusiastic. Where the Boulevard Amber added malty life to a style that is often bland, Boulevard Dubbel took my favorite beer style and smoothed off the interesting parts. It's not a bad beer by any means, but I don't think this version of dubbel has any real greatness in it.

A great dubbel is a decadent beer. It is rich in belgian malts and enhanced by belgian yeast. Hops are an after-thought, and the abbeys where these brews originated often aged their hops such that the hop flavor was virtually eliminated while the hop bitterness persisted to balance the malt. A great dubbel has tastes of raisins and dark dried cherries. Go buy a Corsendonk Abbey Brown Ale, a New Belgium Abbey Belgian Style Ale, or a Chimay red. That's what we're talking about.

Belgian Dubbel didn't hit those heights in my sampling glass yesterday. To be fair, I only had a couple ounces to taste, and the great ones only really achieve their full greatness as you enjoy an entire bottle. It's a complex beer, and sometimes it takes more than a few sips to get that complexity.

To be even more fair, the sample poured was way too cold to allow a dubbel to really show its full range of flavors. Some of the decadence I look for in a dubbel might have been hidden in the chill.

Even with those excuses, though, I think the Boulevard Dubbel may need some tweaking. I was picking up a bit of bitterness or harshness. I don't think it was hops, though it's possible I was catching a too-heavy hand with the bittering hops. I wonder if the problem could be in the water; Kansas City water is pretty hard, and some of those ions can enhance a beer's bitterness without additional hoppiness. (If you want to taste this impact for yourself, taste Bass Ale - where minerally water enhances the hops - compared to Anchor Steam - where the hop bitterness is not enhanced by minerals. They're different styles, of course, but focus on the bitterness.)

Boulevard Amber is a great beer that I hope the brewers will be releasing soon to an adoring public. Boulevard Dubbel is made in a great stule, and I hope the brewers will be refining the recipe to a point that it will belong with the great Dubbels of the world, and earn a place in the pantheon of Boulevard products.

(For more Boulevard news, go read about the collaboration between Boulevard and the brewer from Orval. Bull E. Vard of the KC Beer Blog managed to get a free bottle from the brewery, and does a great write-up of a beer I am excited to taste.)

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Blogger Bull E. Vard said...

I went on the tour today and had just the opposite views of the dubbel and amber. I liked the dubbel and would gladly drink it regularly. You may be right that they may have smoothed over the dubbel style to appeal to the masses, but I still think it was a fine drinkable beer and a nice representation of the style.

The amber, however, was awful. I would never again drink that and I wouldn't recommend it to anyone. Its nearest comparable would be water. If I'm going to ingest all of the calories in a beer, I'm going to want to taste a beer like substance. It tasted like a beer that someone had put a bunch of ice cubes in and then let it sit out for the afternoon and then picking it up and drinking it or Keystone Light whichever you prefer.

Tour was fun though.

1/16/2010 7:39 PM  
Blogger A Librarian said...

Now I can't wait to try the Dubbel!

1/23/2010 4:20 PM  

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