Some consider the Belgian dubbel to be the Port wine of the beer universe. When made to perfection, dubbels are dark in color and rich in maltiness, with wonderfully sweet flavors of caramel, chocolate and dark fruits. They are among a family of Belgian Trappist beers commonly referred to as singles, dubbels, tripels and quadruples. As the names ascend, these brews generally increase in strength.
Only a handful of Wisconsin breweries have offered bottled beers that span all four categories, and New Glarus Brewing is one of them. The brewery's new Belgian-style creation, simply named Dubbel, is the latest in its signature limited-release Thumbprint line.
What is it? Thumbprint Dubbel from New Glarus Brewing of New Glarus, Wisconsin.
Style: The Belgian dubbel is a medium- to full-bodied, red to dark brown ale. It's known for hints of chocolate and caramel aroma, with rich malty and spicy sweetness. Dubbels have low bitterness, but are known for distinctive yeasty qualities characterized by fruity esters of banana, raisin and plum. Belgian dubbels are moderately strong, ranging from 6% to 8% ABV. They originated in monasteries in the Middle Ages and emerged to become an accepted beer style in the 19th century.
Background: New Glarus brewmaster Dan Carey says he was striving to make something different from the hoppy brews that have become the current norm: "This is a beer that is more malt, caramel-forward, instead of all the bitterness," he says.
Carey's take on the dubbel style begins with his commitment to Belgian ingredients. At the heart of his dubbel is authentic Belgian candi sugar and a lot of dark malts. He adds the sugar for its rum-like, raisiny character. The malts are a combination of Belgian, German, English and Wisconsin varieties. While the beer is really about the sweet and fruity flavors of malt and candi sugar, it's also made with hops from Germany, Slovenia and the Yakima Valley in Washington state. "All three really are nice. There's a complexity when blending different hops," say Carey.
The challenges associated with making a dubbel motivated Carey. "It can be hard to make a complex, yet easy-drinking beer while having all those flavors in balance," he says. Carey feels it's a great time of year for a beer like this. "A dubbel should be highly carbonated so it becomes refreshing, easy drinking," he adds.
Carey describes his dubbel as malt- and fermentation-driven. He's one of those brewers who consider a dubbel as the Port wine of beer. "These types of beers have a tendency to taste too hot and somewhat alcoholic," he explains. "But the goal is something sweet and smooth, similar to a Port."
Thumbprint Dubbel is fermented with three types of yeast, two of which are Belgian strains. It was bottle-conditioned for two weeks before it was released to bottle shops around Wisconsin. That gives the brew some natural carbonation that makes it bubbly and refreshing. However, it's still a big beer, and one to respect for its 7.8% ABV. Carey adds that it should cellar nicely, and he plans to hold some back so he can enjoy this beer well into the fall.
This release is the first time New Glarus has made this particular Belgian dubbel. Last May, the brewery released its 20th anniversary beer, which was similar. But Carey says that brew was a stronger version, and nearly qualified as a Belgian Quadruple.
New Glarus Thumbprint Dubbel is sold in four-packs for around $10. Fans of the limited-release Thumbprint beers may notice a change in the label designs. These signature New Glarus brews now feature a red chevron label with the thumbprint insignia in metallic gold. The new label was designed by brewery founder and co-owner Deb Carey. Thumbprint beers used to feature red foil wrapped around the bottle cap; they will no more, though, as the brewery recently purchased new labeling equipment to allow the switch.
The next release in the New Glarus Thumbprint series will be its Berliner Weiss, which is expected out in May.
- Aroma: Caramel maltiness, with light sweet hints of dark fruits like grape and plum.
- Appearance: Very light haziness to the amber-brown color. A medium, yet dense, bubbly tan head.
- Texture: Medium- to full-bodied. Bubbly and lots of bottle-conditioned carbonation.
- Taste: Caramel-malt forwardness. A light earthy, yeasty mustiness that bends with its background sweetness of dark fruits.
- Finish/Aftertaste: Light yeasty mustiness lingers into a subtle spicy ending. Wonderful sweet plum and raisin notes that will become more evident as it warms.
Glassware: The chalice or goblet encourages sipping of a beer like New Glarus Thumbprint Dubbel. Allow it to slowly warm for more sweetness. The glass should also show off the beer's deep amber-brown color.
Pairs well with: The malty sweet and spicy tones of the dubbel go well with sausages and stews with modest sweetness. Look for a dish that blends with those without trying to compete. This is also a nice beer with aged cheeses, especially with a well-aged Gouda or cheddar.
Rating: Three Bottle Openers (out of four)
The Verdict: New Glarus Thumbprint Dubbel has a rich, spicy, and malt-forward profile with wonderful tones of raisin and plum. These dark fruit accents are really nice and become more evident as the beer warms while sipping. As Dan Carey intended, there is some rum-like and candi sweetness within the alcoholic warmth.
For fans of the dubbel style, it has similar qualities to Belgian standards like the Chimay Red Cap (or "Première"), St. Bernardus Piror 8 and Maredsous Brune-8. Those Belgian versions have a bit richer maltiness and more assertive dark fruit and yeast sweetness. The effervescence of New Glarus Dubbel really surprised me, and because of that bubbly bottle conditioning it seems a little lighter in flavor and body than it actually is. This natural carbonation lends a refreshing crispness to the mouthfeel, so despite the warmth of its 7.8% ABV, it's a beer that will be enjoyable well into the warmer months of summer.
New Glarus offers a very approachable take on the dubbel, and this beer is a a great introduction for those new to style. I've stowed a couple four-packs away in the cellar to see what this beer will be like with a few months of extra aging, a spell that should allow for more of the sweet rum, raisin and plum flavors to emerge.