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The Duvel Made Me Do It!

It starts simply enough. There is no finer Road Soda in the world then Duvel. As a fan of Belgian Beers, I make it a point to keep at least three beers on my drinking radar at any given time. They are Duvel, Saison Dupont and Rochefort 10. They each serve my taste buds in their own special ways and are readily available.

Duvel may be the quintesential Belgian Beer of the three. At the very least, it demands to be held in such regard. Atypical by most conventional understandings of beer(think Homer Simpson and Duff style lagers), Duvel is one of the greatest beers in my estimations. This is found in its ability to belie the senses. It acts like a merry pranqster sent from the Devil himself. It is a pale as the blandest lagers while at the same time presenting itself as a kind wolf in sheep’s clothing. And for all of this, I am thankful.

Two weeks ago, I started an incredible journey through London, Belgium and back on the East Coast for a quickie visit to our nations capitol. We left San Diego and arrived in London with a scheduled dinner at the world famous White Horse pub in Parson’s Green. Our good friend Mark Dorber is leaving after many years of serving as head cellarman for Suffolk and his own pub.

Mark and his staff were more than gracious in their reception of 6 Americans with Jet Lag but we more than made up for it drinking everything that landed on our table. Sufficient libations always ensures that conversations remain and friendships prosper. As we were well satiated and lubricated as an American in London can be, we made nice and began our journey back to the hotel. The beauty of leaving a bar where you have recently engaged the sympathies of a great publican can be found in the time honored tradition of the “Road Soda.”

For those who are unfamiliar with said tradition, it works thusly. At the point that a group of people decides it is time to leave an establishment, invariably one or more of this larger group is not ready to retire. Fighting the urge to rally against the dying light, a round of “Road Sodas” are procurred.

In most circles(at least mine), there is but one beer that I request when it is time to walk and talk. My prefered road soda is almost always Duvel. It has amazing drinkability, potency and sensibility to spank me in the morning and not on my way home. Mark being a proper publican(or wanting to get rid of the riff raff) offered our group of 6- four road sodas(I didn’t want to push our luck).

I’m not sure what time we actually left the White Horse but we suddenly found ourselves standing on the platform for the tube with Two Duvels and Two Hommel Biers from Poperinge being passed around. Sucking on Duvel after four hours of cask conditioned ales must be somewhat akin to mother’s milk for a nursing child. Incredibly rewarding to say the least. And at the very least it can get you to temporarily shut up.

Yet, like a great mother, Duvel also is known to act as a parent punching you silly should you get out of line. The next morning, I was reminded( if only slightly) that Duvel is a fun loving Jester one moment and Jekyl and Hyde the next seeking exacting revenge for indescretions. Or, was it the Jet Lag that made me feel so the next day?

Fast forward to Saturday in Brussels, Belgium and our last night in town. Contemplating my good friend Belezebuth and his progeny, I unflichingly ask the waiter for one Duvel, two Duvel’s and why not finish with one more? He’s probably laughing on the inside at the American who’s about to meet his Dark Lord Maker. The joke was on him as I stood confidently from my chair having conquered my fears and the marble floors of our hotel. That’s one point Good Guy and one point Duvel for those keeping score at home.

On Tuesday, we collectively decided we should ring up our friend Mr. Hedwig Neven who is the Technical Director for Moortgat- simply known to most as Duvel. We arranged for a 2:00pm visit for the next day. In many ways, this is a scary journey. You are heading directly into the depths of hell to look squarely in the eyes of our midnight maker. Repeat after me, “I am strong, I am young, I must be effin Stoopid.”

We are met thusly at Duvel by Mark the QA/QC Director who has been instructed by his boss Hedwig to give the Americans a tour. “Well, any great tour starts and ends with a beer,” Mark decrees. I shoot back, “I didn’t come here to drink pils,” and suddenly we are staring at 5 of the most gloriously fresh Duvel’s imaginable.

We also sample our way through the Maredsous line of beers that are produced here. At this point, Mark points out a new building under construction over yonder where they will be installing the 480 Hectoliter brewing system this summer. WOW!!!

Mark takes us up to the current brewhouse explaining their brewing process and we make the first of numerous discoveries. On the brewhouse floor are numerous boxes of Warrior Pellet hops… Later, we pass a pallet of Tomahawk Pellets. It’s soon clear to us that Duvel must be working on a new pilot batch of Double IPA to ensure they aren’t left behind when the fad gets really big.

Soon, we’re standing outside the lagering hall staring at rows of lagering tanks that look somewhat like giant washing machines at a laundromat. “Hey did anybody else see those tanks of Hennepin slumbering away? Oh that’s right, the sign outside said “Shhh hier ripien Hennepin.” Leaving the lagering area, we are off to the fermentation area. A great conversation about pitching temps, cell counts and bottle refermentation has me scrambling for a pen. It’s too bad the welder wouldn’t part with his sharpie, I could have used it. I find myself mumbling under my breath, “damn this is a great tour…” Perhaps, I am being seduced by the sirens of hell?

Mark offers us a chance to taste Duvel from the fermenter and before I can feel all that special, he announces that those on the regular tour get this chance as well. So much for VIP treatment. I’m outta here. It was great to sample the beer in its raw state and we all noted elevated levels of SO2 present.

On our way to the bottling hall, we pass a chemical storage area with some very sticky and resinous chemical bins. “They must be doping the employees with black tar heroin around here,” I am left musing. Or, could it be they really are serious about a Double IPA beer? Dunno but there was alot of said resin hanging out. In the bottling hall, we are shown the ridiculous high speed line capable of 55,000 bottles per hour of Duvel. Um, O.K. last time I checked, GOD didn’t have a line that ran that fast. Score one for the thirsty sinners then.

Bottles explode around us as they are bottling lager and my head is spinning watching the 176 head filler cycle bottles like a well oiled machine. I am instantly reminded that back at home we fill 4 bottles per cycle and in a good hour, we can make 960 bottles of Sharkbite Red in that time. Technology is everywhere in Hell and the Devil makes his presence felt everywhere.

We’ve now seen everything there is to see except the dry storage and warm conditioning areas. As I alluded to earlier, the warehouse visible from the highway says: “Shhh hier ripien Duvel.” NO KIDDING!!! Everywhere we went, there were massive amounts of Duvel waiting to be cellared and sold. We framed up for a few pictures and soon we were back at the new tasting bar area.

The Devil Went Down to Georgia suddenly rips off in my head as if Charlie Daniels and the boys were playing fiddles in the corner calling out my soul. I look around and there’s no one in sight. I must be hearing things. Mark offers, ” A beer and conversation then?” To which I firmly reply with My God as my co-pilot, ” I have come to the house of Captain Badass himself. Let’s Dance!” We’re easily through the first round(our second Duvel of the day) when Mark intimates we clearly must have another. Damn his Minions, they can be so convincing.

Granted, hell hath no fury like a liver scorned. There’s no time like the present. Pick any Euphemism- “We’re doing God’s work here!” We are angel’s of the lord sent to be tempted by the Duvel himself and God willing, we will be saved(we will won’t we)? Duvel # 3 is easily dismissed and signs of leaving present themself. Mark has a 7:00pm appt. that he must keep. But thankfully, this angel of hell has gone recon on our asses and brought in the closer Fast Freddie who is the Head Brewer who has recently returned from Africa. Apparently Freddie specializes in anchoring the Devils’ Four man drinking team along with Hedwig, Mark and Belezubuth himself. Duvel #4 presents manifests itself with nary a whimper from God’s children.

I quickly survey the situation knowing full well, God has armed me and my team with some epic livers and we nod in approval with an air of confidence. It’s not like you go on a pilgramage without expecting some sort of crusade against your health to ensue. If we’re lucky, we’ll only catch shrapnal and we’ll make it out alive with minimal damage.

At the end of beeer #4, I am convinced today I will be losing my 6 pack Duvel Virginity in one sitting- all in the name of research. In my short but illustrious drinking career, I have coddled up to Lucifer himself many times but 6 in one setting seems ludricous. My liver trembles in anticipation of the battle we’re waging knowing full well that all battles have winners and losers. Yet, he and I had that conversation this morning and I know too well, he’s a man of his word and we’re marching on like Napoleon himself.

Empty and parched(it’s hot in hell), Freddie offers a half round of Duvels which we sensibly oblige. He’s starting to see a weakness in my eyes or my speech is slurring. Either way, I’ll never know. After slogging back Duvel number 5.5, I can honestly say that I have survived. The fiddle playing comes to a soulful ending and we are alive- Numb, but nonetheless, alive.

Handshakes ensue. We are worthy of the good fight it seems. There is talk of us reprising the generous hospitality in San Diego during the Craft Brewers Conference in 2008. If Mark or Fast Freddie should be so kind as to accompany Hedwig to our town, we wil break dance our own personal Double IPA styled dance all the while trampling their souls in an opiatic jihad of sorts far away from the lupulin desert that is known simply to many as Belgium. And when this happens and they are running naked through the streets of our town. We will then and only then be able to look at the scoreboard and take note of the score:

God’s Children 1

Duvel 1.

Bring on the grudge match I say.

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