The impetus for the flurry of reading, drinking, and general snootiness in beer was coming back from a stint in Portland, Oregon five years ago where I had learned that, shit, beer could taste good. To be fair, I'd mostly just had some Deschuttes (think Widmer Brothers, if Widmer Brothers made a roasty stout) but I decided that, dammit, beer was what I was going to do. I took lots of hours at the airport (yes, your bag is in Dulles; no I can't do anything to get it here before the next flight comes in) and bought a carboy, a kettle and an Irish Stout ingredients kit. I've got this thing down - St. James Gate ain't got shit on me, I thought.
There were plenty of things wrong with that first batch (Andy, do you remember the banana beer? <Andy- yes I do>) but I kept it up, and for a period of around fourteen months, I was brewing quite regularly.
In that time, I also took a job at Market Street Wineshop and Grocery, a place that, even though it's not expressed in the nomenclature, has an extremely well-stocked beer room. Talking like, two rooms. I had three days of training - mostly on the register and on ordering, and then the beer room - she was mine.
In the couple of years that I worked there, I went from the kid who knew a little bit about stouts to the kid who needed more hops like Christopher Walken needs more cowbell, to the kid who turned his back-of-the-tongue on Cascade and Citra and back to England, and finally to the land of, as Michael Jackson puts it "tremendous individualists."
The lighter beers were easier for me to like. Blondes, tripels, and yes, those devils of beers, strong golden. I thought I tasted tropical fruits, because I associated the darker dubbels and quads with stone fruit (yes, there is a lot of visual suggestion involved in tasting) and spicy hops.
Here's Strong Golden Ale, as explained by me:. Very light in color (usually only pilsener malt, somewhere in the 2-3 degree Lovibond area, is used in the grist) and very, very dry. Duvel has around twenty percent dextrose, which is a simple corn sugar, adding alcohol without adding body. No matter how you mash it, an all-barley grist is going to be a little chewy, so the large portion of a completely fermentable sugar is important to both the body and the dryness of the beer.
The main difference between a tripel and a strong golden is the way the yeast expresses itself - generally, look for fruity esters in strong golden, and spiciness in a tripel. The spice note in Duvel, which I had erroneously attributed to the yeast in the podcast, comes from low alpha acid noble hop varietals (although it's been my experience that Cascade hops grown in the Piedmont region of Virginia have a little less grapefruit, a little more Thai pepper in its flavor, so homebrewers that are also lupulin farmers might play around with this. It is a Belgian style, for goodness sake. There are hardly any rules.)
Some drinkers like for their strong goldens to be sweeter; they should drink tripel. Tripels tend to finish a bit sweeter, Westmalle Tripel having 83% apparent attenuation to Duvel's 93%. Whether or not this is attributed to less fermentable mashes or fewer dextrose is unknown to me.
But hey, anyone catch that Everton game the other night? John Stones is a cheeky bugger, innee?