Thank the Belgians for Houblon Chouffe Dobbelen IPA
Belgians make some great beer, as I've emphasized many times. You wouldn't think they'd even bother to listen to any pointers on brewing from America, let alone heed them, but that's exactly what they've done at Brasserie d'Achouffe. In 2006, they started producing an American-style IPA for export called Houblon. It would be far too hoppy for discerning Belgian palates, but is just the thing for the hop fiends in the States. I question the choice of a green bottle to make the trip, but there is no doubt about the quality of the product. They may have gotten the idea for the style from these shores, but you'd be hard pressed to find a better version of it anywhere.
Fortunately, I landed a bottle that could hardly have been any fresher, with an expiration date, rather improbably, two years into the future. Still, there was a whiff of skunk beginning to form in the fabulous nose. This was all down to the yeast, though, of which you'll see floating in great chunks throughout the hazy, yellowish-orange beer. You'll also detect plenty of citrus aromas, especially lemon, right up front. Let it warm up, and it'll blossom even more. You'll get subtle hints of malt and spices. It has a nice, white head that holds up to give as much lacing as you would ever want.
The flavor is miles beyond any typical American IPA. It's like the brewer at Chouffe is asking, “Is this what you're trying to do?” Yes, it is. Dry, crisp and smooth, with flavors that wait their turn, hops that don't beat the tongue to death. This beer is incredible. I have loved Duvel for a long time, but Houblon would take my top spot, if it were only a bit easier to obtain. I wouldn't mind that it only comes in those expensive 750 ml bottles so much, if it were just more readily available – or easier to store in the refrigerator.
Houblon uses three varieties of hops: Amarillo, tomahawk and saaz, but in perfect balance. Lemon is the first flavor that steps up, but it's followed by a hint of pine, then a small drop of lime. Then, we're reminded all those hops are sitting nicely on a base of malt, giving it a solid biscuity undertone, and just a drop of honey. This ale effortlessly carries the hefty 9% alcohol. As it warms, some additional fruits begin to emerge, some tropical ones. Then, even a mundane splash of orange appears. The hops are always present, dominant even, the way Americans generally prefer them. But, they aren't ripping the tongue to shreds.
Houblon has reminded me why I bother to keep trying new beers I haven't had before even though I have enough favorites already to keep me more than satisfied. It's a more complex Duvel. Right now, I can't imagine a more perfect beer. But, I'm sure I'll eventually find one. The King is dead. Long live the King.