Flanders Red Tasting

The snowfall over the past couple of days has been majestic for those of us lucky enough to have time off over the Christmas period. The snow is too fluffy for trains, cars are haphazardly parked across the tundra where my street used to be, the country has practically ground to a halt, and I don’t have to be anywhere. Bliss.

It was naturally time to catch up on my beer drinking, so i’m going to evaluate the Flanders red ale I made against the three most common commercial examples, and certainly the only ones that spring to mind when thinking about the style. The original blended Rodenbach, it’s big brother Rodenbach Grand Cru, and Duchesse de Bourgogne. I have never tried the latter so i’m eager to get cracked into it.

I’m not one for tasting notes, so i’m just giving a rough summary of each one. I’m looking for the level and type of sourness along with any other flavour nuances.

First up is the original Rodenbach. I’m not sure if I got a dodgy bottle, or it’s simply not as good as I remember it. Everything was there, the nice balance of sweet and sour, a nice aroma thick with red apples and cherries, but there was a bit of a flavour I can’t put my finger on which made me screw up my face a little. It reminded me of when I bottled some Dubbel last year and it went off. A bad sort of overripe fruit sourness. It didn’t stick out like a sore thumb, but I didn’t enjoy this bottle particularly.

Alright, onwards and upwards. Next was the Duchesse bottled in an identical 25cl bottle to the Rodenbach, and a nice picture of the titular Duchess on the label, holding a bird. Apparently, she died in a horse riding accident while hunting with her falcon. The carbonation and head formation were impressive. A mild aroma, slightly woody with some plums and cherries again. This one was right up my street. A fabulous balance of sweet and sour, and a refined, grapey wine-like character. A very restrained woodiness in the background. Similar level of sourness to the previous beer. Very good. I would recommend this as an approachable introduction to sour ale.

Next I poured my version straight from the keg. The colour is very similar to the last beer but i’ve kept the carbonation low. The aroma is fruity, and slightly acetic. Musty. This smells like an old beer, in a good way. The first thing to note is that this is a much drier beer. There is only a little residual sweetness, and the previous beer seems syrupy in comparison. Any more carbonation and it might seem thin, but at the current level it’s good. This is also a more sour beer, at a similar level to an unblended lambic, or a dry white wine. There is a lot of other stuff going on in the flavour too. Some leatheriness, wine, oak, all in subtle levels. It all pulls together to make for an interesting, complex beer. One for sipping at like a wine. Enjoyable. Nothing unpleasant in it like the Rodenbach.

Lastly the Grand Cru. I remember this as a puckering, vinaigrette of a beer and I was not disappointed. The most sour of the lot but a little more sweetness to balance it. Oakey tannins in the mouthfeel. Again, one to sip on for short bursts of flavour. It is, dare I say, a little too much by the time you get to the end of the glass. Highly enjoyable however.

In order of preference, I’ll have to go for the Duchesse first, second is my own, close third is the Grand Cru, last is the original Rodenbach.

Happy Christmas folks.

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