As the companion piece to KOTBR #60, KOTBR #61 had us seeing how many Belgian sour ales we could handle before our tongues were begging for mercy. After all, the flavor of sour ales is about as subtle as Rahm Emanuel. But that was okay with me. I really looked forward to this roundtable because I fell in love with sour beers after a visit to The Hopleaf Bar in Chicago this past summer. And I think all of us eagerly awaited the roundtable for another reason--Jason isn't a sour beer fan, so we wanted to see his reaction to each sip of tart Flemish suds. I suppose that we were hoping that we might see Jason become a latter day Mikey.
And so, the results of Act II of our pucker festival...
Monk's Cafe Flemish Sour Ale
Jim. This Flanders Oud Bruin (translated as "Old Brown") started the sour beer show. Some of you might be familiar with Monk's Cafe, a Philadelphia restaurant and pub that is much like The Hopleaf in that it specializes in Belgian beers and cuisine. The Monk's Cafe Flemish Sour Ale is brewed by Brouwerij Van Steenberge under a private label for the restaurant and for distribution in the States. It pours with a ruddy brown color, and, like many sour beers, has a sharp, vinegar-like nose. It's very sour on the front of the mouth and slightly oak-like in character. However, after the initial shock of the sourness, it fades to almost nothing. Indeed, I found it to be very flat in the back of the mouth, so much so that I was disappointed. Perhaps my palate has become accustomed to the massive sourness of other sour ales, so I might not have truly appreciated this beer for what it is. Still, I can't give it a very high score when it's stacked up against other sours. 2.60 mugs.
Monks Cafe scores:
Brouwerij Verhaeghe Vichtenaar Flemish Ale
This strikingly translucent beer was poured with a tan colored head that quickly vanished. It didn't seem to hold a lot of carbonation, but there were some bubbles in the glass. The nose was promising, with a sweet but vinegar-like smell. This tastes like what I want a Sour Red to taste like. That is, puckering sour with a hint of cherry.
I like this beer in the same way I like salt and vinegar potato chips, the flavor right on the edge of being too much, but enough that I want to keep coming back for more. I like! 4.40 mugs.
Brouwerij Verhaeghe Duchesse de Bourgogne
The Duchesse de Bourgogne (unfortunately, more commonly referred to by the KOTBR as the "Douche") was darker brown in color than the first two sour beers we tried. It had a nose of burnt sugar and acetone. If there was such a thing as sour raisins, this would be a perfect representation of sour raisins aged in oak barrels. The complexity of this beer was shocking in the way that it had an almost Chardonnay taste, but it was like Chardonnay with a sour raisin edge. It wasn't what I was expecting as part of Sour-palooza '08, but it was a very solid beer with a complexity that we only began to delve into. I give it 3.40 mugs on the basis that I want to try it again at different temperatures and see what that brings out in the beer.
Duchesse de Bourgogne scores:
Rodenbach Grand Cru
Once upon a time I didn't like sour beer. I had tried a sour beer a few years back that tasted off. Even today after enjoying many different varieties of sour beers, the flavor of my first one sticks out as a beer that had turned. I stayed away until GABF 2007, where sour beers tended to be far more prevalent than in 2006 (or maybe it was my imagination). I tried a few and found a lot of them that I enjoyed, though none of them available in Indiana. New Belgium's Eric's Ale comes to mind. After that, on my first visit to The Hopleaf Bar in Chicago, I decided to try a goblet of Rodenbach Grand Cru. Wow. Just wow.
The bottled version, which I've had many more times than the draft version, holds up fairly well on its own. The nose on this beer contains a well blended oak and bourbon aroma melded with red grapes and a citric acid-style sourness (think the sour smell of lemon or lime juice). When it comes to the flavor of this beer, it is simultaneously one of the most complex and most balanced sour beers I have tried. Lemon, cherries and cranberries create a strong tartness. Sweet strawberries, oak, vanilla beans and pears create a great contrast to the tart flavors. 4.80 mugs.
Rodenbach Grand Cru scores:
Struiselensis Wild Belgian Ale
You could say I’m a sour puss, because I’m not a fan of sours in general. Coming into tonight’s roundtable, I was totally expecting to come away feeling ill from all the sour stuff I drank. Looking over the collection of beers to sample, I expected De Struise Brewers’ Struiselensis to be my favorite of the night just based on who produced it.
I will say that I didn’t hate it. The sour was not over the top like many others that I have had before. It did find many apple and lemon sour notes, but for me, it was not as sour as the Rodenbach Grand Cru. At the same time, it also didn’t have the complexity of flavors of the Grand Cru.
I gave it 2.00 mugs. It’s not a beer for me. You won’t see me order this beer. Just thinking about it makes my entire body pucker up. But it does have quality to it, and I’m sure that many who do enjoy sours will enjoy this beer.
Reinaert Flemish Wild Ale
I'm generally a pretty frugal guy, so when I shop for beer, I usually note things that look interesting to me and go home to check out BeerAdvocate ratings. My wife is much more adventurous, though, and enjoys taking a chance on a bottle of wine or beer. Sometimes she hits one out of the park and finds a bottle that's unexpectedly awesome (see the Oude Kriek from KOTBR #60).
Sometimes we end up with a beer that smells like urine.
Yes, urine was this roundtable's descriptor of choice for Reinaert Flemish Wild Ale. And there were some comments about barnyard animals. And too much alcohol (this is not a common complaint). I decided to score this one a 2.10 before I even wrote any notes. After a couple more sips and listening to everyone else rip the beer (or just dump it out) I thought I might revise that score down. I found it awful, though slightly less than awful if I took a big swig. Rod agreed, noting that with a full mouthful it was almost like a Belgian Blonde. Almost, but not really. Good enough to bring my score back to 2.10 Mugs.