At less than 30 kilometres from Breendonk, John Martin already imported British beer in 1908. Ten years before the First World War, Younger’s beer was available in Belgium. The strong ale being live beer, it makes no sense that a technically skilled, perfectionist brewer would choose a time-consuming journey to harvest yeast in Edinburgh instead of cultivating yeast from a bottle of imported ale. However, Moortgat worked with Professor P Biourge, a world-renowned yeast expert, who is said to have combined several strains from the Edinburgh yeast to be used in Victory Ale.
Albert was trained by the best. A skilled perfectionist with a penchant for cleanliness, nothing escaped his scrutiny. ‘He kept the brewery impeccable’, says Veerle Baert-Moortgat. His focus on hygiene would later land him a contract to bottle Tuborg. Surfing on the popularity of Danish luxury pils, Albert’s brother Victor sent Duvel samples to each pub that ordered Tuborg. Duvel boomed.
From dark and strong, Victory Ale became the pale blond and equally strong Duvel in the 1960s. The transition is mainly credited to Albert’s collaboration with Jean De Clerck, a professor of the University of Louvain brewing school. Meanwhile, the true story of Duvel is told by its yeast. The truth is still there for everyone to smell. The key? 4VG or 4-vinylguaiacol. While considered a phenolic off-flavour in bottom fermented beer, 4VG is well-known to aficionados of top-fermented Belgian style golden ales. Duvel has a subtle 4VG character. Leffe, being the quintessential example of 4VG beers, offers strong hints of clove or ‘sausage-type meat’ aromas.
Chris Bauweraerts is co-founder of Brasserie D’Achouffe, which Duvel Moortgat purchased in 2006. He suggests discerning noses will still be able to detect Belgian beer descendants of the original Younger’s yeast that, somehow, found its way from Edinburgh to Belgium. Raymond Moureau, who worked at Brasserie Grade, told Bauweraerts that Jules Grade – as Albert Moortgat years before him — went to visit William Younger’s in Edinburgh. He came back with yeast. Brasserie Grade both brewed Vieux-Temps and Leffe. Are Duvel and Leffe unsuspecting cousins? Both being of British ale blood, they most definitely are.
Read Issue 20 of Original Gravity here