It’s back! The educational part of STL Hops is back in effect this week with one of our always enjoyable articles, Know Your Styles. This edition of KYS is being brought to you by John Steckert (vyvvy on the forums). Without any hyperbole, John is probably one of the most knowledgeable beer guys in St. Louis, so I’m excited he helped out with this series!
Thanks again to Paul from the Wine and Cheese Place in Clayton for supplying some of the beers for this feature. Also, if you’re interested in writing a Know Your Styles article, feel free to email me.
Flanders Red is a style loved by some off the bat, hated by others and yet another group that moved from the hate to love category. This is not a style with a huge amount of people taking a middle ground opinion. While sourness in beers has become quite a phenomenon recently, it is far from being a new aspect to beer. Most of the earliest beers were sour due to wild airborne yeast and bacteria handling the fermentation. As brewers began to have more control over the fermentation process they were able to eliminate traits they didn’t want in their beers, so sourness was an aspect removed from many beer styles. Those that brewed what is now known as Flanders Red ales thankfully chose not to eliminate this aspect. The Flanders area of Belgium is the northern Flemish Dutch speaking portion of Belgium. The production of Flanders Red and Brown ales is also somewhat divided with the West portion known more prominently for the Flanders Red style while the East is credited for the Flanders Brown. The Flanders Brown style is aged in steel, malty with dark fruit flavors and very mild, if any, sourness. That is different from its cousin covered here, Flanders Red.
The ‘red wine of beers’ is a moniker that has been bestowed to Flanders Red ales at times due to the sharpness and tannin-like qualities. The unique flavor attributed with this style is mainly due to yeasts, bacteria and barrel aging that is often incorporated. In addition to using the ale yeast saccharomyces some Flanders Reds also use brettanomyces which will help provide the beer with a wild musty character. One type of bacteria that is often utilized is lactobacillus which will add tartness much as it does with its work in yogurt and sauerkraut.
Another bacteria souring things up is acetobacter; this bacteria brings a sharp acidity and is the same bacteria used for the production of vinegar. Many of these beers are aged in wood which facilitates a conducive environment for the yeast and bacteria to affect (or infect) the beer as it matures as well as provides flavors such as oak and vanilla. Some Flanders Reds are blended with young and aged beer which provides a balance of flavors and offers more consistency in the product. The younger beer assists in offsetting the sourness of the matured beer.
Rodenbach Grand Cru is a landmark beer of this style and has been very influential in the style’s history. The brewery itself has been distinguished as a national landmark. Back in 1821 four brothers (Alexander, Pedro, Ferdinand and Constantijn Rodenbach) purchased a local brewery. While all four invested in this venture, Alexander was the first to run the brewery. Aside from the brewery, Alexander lived an eventful life; he was blinded at age 11 from a fairground shooting gallery, devised a form of Braille, was elected mayor, served as a member of parliament for 37 years and took part in the movement for Belgium’s independence in 1830. In 1836 Pedro bought out his brothers’ ownership and became the brewery’s sole owner. This is when the brewery officially became The Brewery Rodenbach. The brewery remained a family business when Pedro’s son Edward took over in 1864 and later when Edward’s son Eugene headed operations in 1878.
Eugene was instrumental in how the brewery evolved and what the signature Rodenbach beers we drink today became. In the 1870s Eugene traveled to England to learn brewing techniques including ripening beer in oak barrels and blending of young and aged beers. When Eugene utilized the skills he had learned in England in his own unique way back at his own brewery, the style of beer we enjoy today started being brewed and perfected. Eugene died at the age of 39 in 1889 and did not have a son to inherit the brewery. Due to this the Rodenbach Brewery became a corporation, but was still primarily family owned. Over the years the family’s investment in the company shrank and in 1998 the brewery was fully purchased by Palm Breweries. Palm still produces the classic Rodenbach beers out of the brewery today.
Photographs inside the brewery show large rows of giant oak tuns that are up to 160 years old. Almost 300 tuns are contained in six rooms with tuns able to hold between 100-600 hectoliters (85-511 barrels). Every tun is scraped after each usage so that the wood continues to impart character to each batch it contains. The yeast used for Rodenbach has been utilized for the past 70 years and analysis has determined that there are at least 20 cultures present and at work. Due to these distinctive traits Rodenbach produces a truly unique beer in this very unique style.
As is the case for in writing these articles, it was nice to have an excuse to try many Flemish Reds in a fairly short amount of time for the sake of comparison. The beers sampled for this style were Rodenbach Grand Cru, New Belgium La Folie (2005 & 2009), New Glarus Enigma, Monk’s Café, Ichtegem Grand Cru, Verhaeghe Duchesse De Bourgogne, Verhaeghe Vichtenaar, Bacchus, Bierre Trois Dames Grand Dame, Panil Barriquée Batch #11 and Petrus Aged Pale. Most Flanders Red beers are between 5-6% in alcohol with some exceptions that reach a bit higher. The highest in alcohol in the ones listed is the Panil Barriquée at 8%.
What you should be seeing
Flanders Reds are commonly dark brown with a red hue and display a good amount of clarity. The head ranges from off-white to tan and is generally pretty persistent. One exception in the examples is Petrus Aged Pale which has more of a golden/orange color. While not completely true to the Flemish Red Style the tartness, aging process and flavors put this close enough to the category to be included.
There was not much variance in the appearance of the beers. Rodenbach was slightly lighter in color, but the lightest in color were New Glarus Enigma and the 2005 La Folie, except for the Petrus which wasn’t brown or red at all. Panil was the only one that had murky quality to it.
What you should be smelling
There can be quite a myriad of aromas from the Flanders Red style. The malt presence ranges from minimal to quite prevalent. The malt perceived generally has an inverse correlation with the sourness levels. Some aroma aspects you may perceive are cherries, sourness, acidity, oranges, lemons, vanilla, oak, spicy phenols, tart apples, iron and other minerals along with some caramel and mild sweetness from the malt.
Variance abounded in the aroma. All had some degree of sourness and a cherry-like quality. Vichtenaar has the most cherry presence, but it is also the only one that actually contains cherries as an ingredient. The maltier of the bunch would be Bacchus, Ichtegem Grand Cru and Duchesse De Bourgogne while the on the sour side would be La Folie, Grande Dame and Petrus Aged Pale. The older version of La Folie was by far the most sour and acidic; however the more recent version still packs a punch, but its more balanced in flavor. Rodenbach had the one of the more enticing aromas with a lot of the expected sour traits, but they were restrained and not overpowering with some sweetness and oak balancing what could have been harsh.
What you should be tasting
All examples display sourness to varying extents with some examples malty with mild sourness to others showcasing intense sourness. You may detect fruit flavors of cherries, red currants, plums, prunes, oranges or lemons. Acidity can show aspects of vinegar, lactic acid, citrus and/or a tannin-like presence giving red wine traits. Most examples are generally quite dry and overall refreshing. One thing you shouldn’t detect is hops, the IBU level for the style is usually 25 or less with almost all the perceived sourness and bitterness coming from yeast, bacteria and aging process.
The malty and sour leaders in aroma predictably were the same for the taste. The examples were medium bodied with the ones leaning to the sour side seeming to have a crisper body, but this may be due to sharp taste giving that perception. The sour vinegar-like presence was quite high in a couple (2005 La Folie, Grande Dame), moderate in some (2009 La Folie, Monk’s Café, Petrus Aged Pale) and absent in others (Duchesse De Bourgogne, New Glarus Enigma and Ichegem Grand Cru). New Glarus Enigma had the heaviest amount of oak presence with it dominating the palate. Others that had noticeable oak presence, but not overpowering, were Rodenbach, Duchesse De Bourgogne, both La Folies and Petrus Aged Pale. Panil had the distinction of being the most rustic of the bunch. The oak was very earthy and there was a heavy mineral presence.
How you should be drinking
Flanders Red is generally served in a snifter, tulip or tumbler. While the refreshing qualities provide an argument for a tumbler, I find a tulip or snifter works best. The Spiegelau tulip glass is a personal favorite as evidenced in the pictures.
The crispness of these beers lends themselves well to shellfish and salads. Many also pair the beers with duck. Due to the sharpness and sourness of the beers they can cleanse your palate during a beer tasting as well.
What you should be buying
The majority of Flanders Red ales are still brewed in Belgium including the benchmark Rodenbach Grand Cru. Two of the examples sampled were produced in the United States (New Glarus Enigma and New Belgium La Folie), one was brewed in Italy (Panil Barriquée) and another from Switzerland (Bierre Trois Dames Grande Dame). All of these are available locally except New Glarus Enigma which is only available in Wisconsin. Also, in order to get Rodenbach Grand Cru you will need to go to an Illinois shop since it isn’t currently distributed in Missouri.
Flanders Brown and lambics