Almost ten years ago, a Belgian brewery launched an dry-hopped version of its signature strong blond ale. Intended as a one-off, it sold out within just three days – after which its fans demanded it be brewed again. The brewmaster agreed, on condition that they could gather 10,000 signatures. In short order their petition had 17,000 signatures, and the legend of Duvel Tripel Hop was born.
Needless to say, the beers became fan favourites, with each new release eagerly awaited by beer lovers. Duvel Tripel Hop even helped inspire a new beer style or description: Belgian IPA. It is a term that Hedwig Neven and other traditional Belgian brewers don’t much like, though – to Duvel, it’s still a strong blond ale, albeit a hopped-up one.
But the fans faced a problem: while you could compare each new release with your notes from past years, comparing the actual beers wasn’t really feasible. Sure, you could save bottles from year to year, but hop character wanes with time, so comparing a fresh brew to one that’s two or three years old would be quite unrealistic.
|The original rebrewed|
Sadly, they then went a step further. The plan is that the winning variety will become the new permanent Duvel Tripel Hop. On the plus side, this means the beer will be available all year round, but the downside is it also means no more annual variations. I guess they figure that, in today’s hop-driven market, if they can get a boost in sales to the wider market it will compensate for losing the mystique and the fan following.
That’s the story, but what of the beers? I was lucky enough to be invited to taste all six varieties at a Duvel-hosted event a little while back, and it was fascinating to see that while they were the same base beer and they obviously had a lot of similarities, that one change in hopping had quite dramatic results.
For instance, #1’s Amarillo offered up aromas of sage and pepper alongside a peachy aroma, and gave herby-spicy notes on the palate, while the Citra hops instead gave #2 distinctive aromas of grapefruit pith plus a bitterness of bitter lemons and dry grass.
With #5 (Equinox), the new brew diverged a little from my previous notes. There’s still hints of Saison funkiness and pear drops on the nose, and touches of tangerine and honey on the palate, but this brew seemed a little more fruity and the honey notes verged more toward caramel.
Using an experimental hop called HBC-291, from the Yakima Valley, #6 is the new edition for 2016. I found it rather more subtle, smooth and less bitter than the other five, with faint notes of rosemary and ground pepper on the nose and a light lemony tartness.
It was also intriguing after the tasting to compare notes with the other tasters and see just how varied our top choices were. It was a difficult choice, but Mosaic was my favourite, just ahead of Equinox and Sorachi Ace, but others preferred Citra or even the original Amarillo version.
Now we wait to see the results of the popular vote. In the meantime, several online shops still have the six-packs in stock (eg. Beermerchants) if you fancy making your own choice. I also hear some people have experimented with blending the different editions, typically all six together (Octo Hop?) but it could also be interesting to try mixing them in pairs...
My thanks to Duvel for supplying free beers and arranging the 'vertical tasting', and my apologies for how long it's been since I last posted here!