Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Grand Cru, Rodenbach

This is a style of beer known as Flanders Red Ale, so called because it originated in the West Flanders region of Belgium. Very complex, these beers are typically sour and tart because they are traditionally blended and aged in casks using special yeast strains.

Poured from a 750ml corked bottle into a Konings Hoeven trappist ale goblet first surprise is the beer is not red in colour, but brown. Flavour and aromas insanely broad in spectrum - vinegar, plum, rason, sour cherries, oaky, woody, tannic, fruity but not overly tart. Incredibly balanced, I found Grand Cru less mouth-puckeringly tart than some sours I've tried (thinking "La Folie" by New Belgium here) and not as sweet-and-sour tasting as "Duchesse De Bourgogne". Easily the best sour beer I've tasted (admittedly I'm a bit of a novice in the style, been dabbling in sours for about a year and probably have tried a half dozen). For such a great beer I'm surprised at how affordable this is (about $8.99 retail) I would bet this would be awesome cellared. Refreshing and a relative low ABV of 6% makes this a very quaffable beer. World class.

Rating : A+

More about this beer from the brewery:  http://www.rodenbach.be/

RODENBACH Grand Cru consists of one-third young beer and two-thirds oak-matured beer for two years. The result is a complex beer with a great deal of wood and esters, vinous and with a very long aftertaste, just like a vintage wine.

RODENBACH Grand Cru undergoes two stages of fermentation before it acquires its sweet-sour flavour.

The first stage of fermentation is unique because top-fermentation yeasts cohabit with lactic flora: so-called mixed fermentation.

RODENBACH Grand Cru only acquires its fruity bouquet, which is unmatched by any other beer, after maturation in oak casks.

The oak casks are crucial to the process. Each cask is made by the brewery's cooper using exactly the same method employed since 1821. Only the nicest wood without knots or gnarls is used. No nails or screws are used. To make the barrel watertight (or should that be beer-tight), the cooper stuffs reeds in-between the staves. Only the riveted iron cask rings hold the cask together.

A brief history of the brewery:

Originally founded in 1820 by Alexander Rodenbach who bought a small brewery in the canalside town of Roeselare, Belgium. It was not until another relative, Eugene, visited England in the 1870's to study brewery techniques that the brewery adopted the stale, sour styles that would make them famous....

brouwerij RODENBACH geschiedenis 1850-1889He travelled to southern England, where he trained for a time in industry and gained in-depth knowledge of the London Porter style of beer: intentional acidification with maturation in wooden casks. He refined the "vinification" process in oak vats ("foeders") in order to enhance the quality of the acidified beer. So, he was the founder of the current RODENBACH brewery.
He died at the age of 39 with no male heirs.

Fast forward to 1999 when the family sold the brewery to Belgium brewing conglomerate Palm Breweries but happily they seem intent on preserving the great history (and taste) of Rodenbach. Apparently it is still brewed in the original oak vats in Roeselare but bottled at Palm.


I've become enamoured with sour beers and I'm gratified that it's a style that seems to be catching on with more beer lovers .Every week sees more customers ask for a sour beer recommendation at the store where I work. I think part of it may be directly linked with the new "Muddy Waters Bar and Eatery" http://www.muddywatersmpls.com/ that recently opened around the corner on Lyndale and 29th, I've had several customers say they have had a sour beer on tap at MW and are looking to buy it. Checking the tap list that beer appears to be none other that Rodenbach Grand Cru.

"Grand Cru" - a term given to the finest beer of a brewery, one thought to typify the house style. Often used by Belgian brewers (Roger Protz, "300 Beers to try before you die").