I decided it would be a fun experience to taste test my "Belgian golden strong" side by side with Duvel, the commercial staple of the style.
Appearance: both beers are light blonde, with white heads, with mine being barely lighter in color and slightly more hazy. The most striking difference is clearly the huge head and tons of lacing created by the Duvel (pictured on the left) compared to my tiny ring of bubbles.
Smell: mine gives lemon, bubblegum, banana, spice, herbal hoppiness. Duvel gives a much more malt forward profile with crackers and toast leading and just light banana and pear.
Taste: mine gives light lemon tartness, vanilla, and white wine characters up front followed by a moderate to high bitterness and some noticeable alcohol. Duvel is much maltier with just light fruitiness, spicy hop character and moderate bitterness that gives a long pleasing finish with no alcohol presence.
Mouthfeel: mine is super thin with very low carbonation, it certainly needs more time in the keg. Duvel is dry but fuller bodied than mine with very high carbonation.
Overall: two takeaways from this tasting: my beer is quite different from Duvel and Duvel is better but mine has its own charm. I assume a large difference between the two is the base malt used with Duvel likely being 100% Belgian Pilsner, whereas mine was primarily a blend of American 2-row and German Pilsner. Duvel is a lot like a Leffe on steroids, and I think the Belgian Pilsner malt is what really gives these beers their defining character with the yeast and hops playing noticeable but secondary parts. My beer is lacking in the malt department with the pale malt presence giving only a tiny bit of sweet, neutral character and the hops and yeast dominating. It will be interesting to see if this beer improves with some more time and adequate carbonation but it is enjoyable, if not to style, as is. Were I to brew it again I would likely use up to 50% of a Belgian Pilsner malt to give more of that character and maybe dial the amount of sugar back to eliminate the noticeable alcohol.
Note: a few months after this taste test my beer has developed increasing sourness over time, adding to the lemony character. The beer has also developed an intriguing light spice (pepper/cinnamon?) character that I like. I believe there may have been resident microbes in the bucket I brewed the beer in and the extended time in the keg at low temperatures have allowed them to give off just a little character.