The term golden ale is a name that was given by famous beer writer Michael Jackson to a very particular kind of strong blonde Belgian beer. This term is not generally used though, other people just refer to them as strong blondes or strong pales. The very first beer of this kind, and still by far the most popular one, is the Duvel beer by Brewery Duvel-Moortgat in Breendonk.
The history of Duvel dates back to the end of World War I, when Brewery Moortgat launched a beer to celebrate the victory in the war. The beer got the name ‘Victory Ale’. In 1926, the name of the beer was changed to ‘Duvel’, when at a beer tasting someone said about the beer “This beer is a real devil”. Duvel is Flemish for devil, and that is how the beer got its current name.
Few people know that, at the time, Duvel was actually a dark, scotch style beer. It only got its current shape and color in 1970, when after three years of preparation, the dark beer was replaced by the strong blond beer that we currently know. The yeast strains used were the same ones as for the dark beer. The new Duvel was sold in thick Steinie bottles and served in a tulip glass with small holes at the bottom, to allow fine pearls of carbonation in the beer. Both were unseen at the time, and they quickly became very popular among collectors.
What makes the flavor of Duvel and other golden ales so different from other strong blonde beers is their unique brewing method. The brewer uses much less barley than for e.g. a triple ale. This gives the beer a light golden color, almost similar to that of a pils beer. But before the first fermentation, the brewer adds some glucose to the beer, which is then converted to alcohol and gives the beer its typical strong alcohol content of around 8.5%.
Duvel has been on the market in its current form for 43 years now, and in that time, it has become a real icon of Belgian beer. It is known to people all over the world, and it can be found in pubs from Tokyo to LA and from Helsinki to Cape Town. This huge success was of course noticed by other brewers, who didn’t hesitate to brew their own beers similar to Duvel. Even the names (Lucifer, Sloeber, Satan, Judas …) are in the same line as ‘devil’. These beers will of course differ a little bit in flavor from the real Duvel, but they can be nice alternatives for people who want to try something new:
Lucifer was the first of such beers. It was launched in its current form in 1983 and was brewed according to the same process as the Duvel beer. This beer changed ownership several times since it was first brewed and funnily enough, the owner of the brand name today is … Brewery Moortgat. Lucifer is currently brewed under license by brewery Het Anker in Mechelen, but since they don’t own the full beer rights, it will never become a real competitor for Duvel. Lucifer has a hazy blond color and with its alcohol content of 8% it is a little bit lighter than Duvel.
The next brewery to launch its own golden ale was brewery Roman in Oudenaarde. Their beer, Sloeber, was also launched in 1983. It is a little bit lighter than Duvel; it has an alcohol content of 7.5%. Sloeber beer is probably the best known alternative to Duvel. It is quite popular and can also be found in some countries outside Belgium as well.
Beer giants Alken-Maes launched their golden ale in 1986 : Judas. Just by looking at its name, it is quite obvious where they got their inspiration. This Judas beer is about as strong as Duvel, but its flavor is a bit sweeter.
And last but not least we have Satan Gold by Brewery De Block. This beer was launched at around the same time as the other beer in this list, in 1986. This brewery has gone through a lot of trouble to create a very nice beer. Satan Gold is a bit lighter than Duvel, but it has a delicious fruitiness to it, that even the real Duvel doesn’t have.
Besides these alternatives from other brewers, Duvel offers two alternatives of its own:
Green Duvel is brewed in the same way as the regular Duvel beer, but it doesn’t re-ferment in the bottle. This gives the beer a similar taste, but a lower alcohol content: 7.5%. Green Duvel can be distinguished from the regular one by the green letters the bottle (instead of red)
Duvel Tripel Hop is based on the regular Duvel recipe, but with a third sort of hop added to it. The brewers do their very best to find a new unique hop type every year. This year, it was the Japanese hop Sorachi Ace. This beer has a richer and bitterer flavor than the regular Duvel. Tripel Hop has only produced on a large scale since 2012, but it has already proven a great success.