Friday, May 23, 2014

Beer Education: The Beers of Flanders - Red and Brown/Oud Bruin

*Source Below*

Pucker up!

No, I’m not asking for a kiss (unless you want to give me one... I might not be opposed to it.). I’m referring to the tart, tangy, and fruity ales from Northern Belgium: Flanders Red Ales and Flanders Browns. Let’s take a trip to this Flemish region of the world.

The northern part of Belgium, known as Flanders, is where these complex ales call home. Flanders Red and Browns were once closely related to Lambics, in terms of linage, as they were spontaneously fermented (allowed to ferment naturally with yeast and bacteria found in the air). Over time, the influence of neighboring countries and brewing technologies swayed the Flemish beers to what they are today.

Just as the blending of old and young beer was commonplace in England around the 17th century, the Flemish brewers did the same with their creations. Where blending beers happened first (England or Belgium) is still up for debate. Eventually, blending in England was phased out but it remains an antiquate part of crafting Flanders Reds and Browns. The blends consist of one brew that has been aged for up to two –plus- years and a young, fresh batch.

Belgium holds no distinction between the two styles. Occasionally, some producers will even identify both styles on the same label! Both brews consist of other micro-organisms to metabolize anything left over from normal brewer’s yeast. This leads to some of the most complex, unique, and exciting beers on the market.

The grains used to produce these beers differ quite a bit. Reds are produced using Vienna and Munich malts as a base with some cara-malts and Special B. Browns conversely use Pils malt as a base with a copius amount of dark cara-malts and some roasted malts for color. Both can employ the use of maize, with the Reds usually incorporating about 20% of it to the grain bill.

The main difference between the two styles boils down to two things: Brettanomyces (Brett for short) and aging method. Brett, a form of yeast that produces a mousy, funky character, is not found in the Oud Bruin variation. Traditional Flanders Reds are aged in giant wood casks, called "foeders," for an extended period of time while the Oud Bruins are aged in steel tanks. Wood is a porous material. This allows for more bacteria to enter the aging Flanders Reds.

On the senses, Flanders Reds and Flanders Browns are similar yet so different. Flanders Browns or Oud Bruins are tart, tangy dark ale with some residual malt flavors and light fruitiness. Perfect examples would be New Belgium’s La Folie (part of their Lips of Faith) or Leifmans Goudenband. Flanders Reds tend to be downright sour, impose a bit a funky character, and even have some tart fruit-like sweetness. Flanders Red Ales are also the most vinous (wine-like) of all beer styles. Prime examples of Flanders Reds include Rodenbach Grand Cru and Verhaeghe’s Duchess de Bourgogne (Duchess is not intensely sour, however).

Pair these beers with shellfish (lobster and Flanders Red is simply magical!), ham dishes or even some duck. Try them with some herb goat cheeses before a meal. Or for dessert, indulge with some chocolate cake and let its sweetness embrace the sourness of the beer for a superb pairing.

Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed it and learned a thing or two. Until next time!


-Gilbert “Charlie” Perez, Certified Cicerone®

*Picture Source: Brouwerij Verhaeghe website