Nick Carr on September 26, 2014 1 Comment History Belgium has one of the most varied histories when it comes to the art of brewing beer. This is not to say that Belgium’s brewing craft does not stem from the same traditions as those found in the rest of Europe. But, this country, more than any other, seems to have carried those old traditions with them through history. Few beers characterize this as well as the “Brett” infested brews of Flanders. Insightful understanding, patience, and masterful blending techniques go into making these “old” styles. At one time, all beers where spontaneously fermented by a mixture of wild yeast and bacteria from the fermenting vessel and surrounding environment. This cocktail of organisms created a beer with very distinct and very complex sour notes. Because the cocktail varied from place to place each brewery would have beer with a slightly different character. The practice of storage in oak casks further influenced, rounded, and compounded the flavors, as many of the most influential organisms took up residence in the wood. Another layer of complexity was added when brewers began to blend aged beer with young beer to try and minimize some of the off flavors. As the brewing art became more understood, brewers were able to control fermentation, select for certain organisms, and keep unwanted bacteria out. These refinements and a fancy for lighter beers pushed most of Europe further and further from Brewing’s “wild” roots. But, Belgium must have been the rock in the incoming tide, they kept some of the traditions, passed them down, and they live on now in the Flanders Red and several other style particular to Belgium. Style Profile & Characteristics The guidelines for the Flanders Red Ale beer style are set by the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) Style Committee. The below style characteristics represent a summary of what a Flanders Red Ale should represent, and what you should expect from drinking one. Quick Characteristics Color Range: 10 – 16 SRM Original Gravity: 1.048 – 1.057 OG Final Gravity: 1.002 – 1.012 FG IBU Range: 10 – 25 ABV Range: 4.6 – 6.5% Appearance: Ranges from rich burgundy to deep red-brown. Aroma: Dark fruit. Obscure malt presence with notes of vanilla, spice or chocolate possible. Sourness should be obvious, possibly excessive. Flavor: Complex fruitiness. Subtle malts with little hop bitterness. Possible notes of chocolate and vanilla. Mouthfeel: Medium bodied. Low to mid carbonation & astringency. Food Pairings: Salads, Berries, Walnuts, Grilled Steak, Cheddar Cheese, Chocolate Cake The BJCP classifies this style as “European Sour Ale.” It can be found in their guidelines as category 23B. Other Styles Include: 23A — Berliner Weisse 23C — Oud Bruin 23D — Lambic 23E — Gueuze 23F — Fruit Lambic Appearance: A deep red burgundy to red-brown color speaks to the aroma of multifaceted dark fruit. Aroma: Black cherry, currents, plums, and even a low range of orange character can be found wafting up from the dark depth of this style. A mild chocolate or vanilla may complement this fruit intensity. Malt remains an obscure but present balance to the fruit. Some spice may be present. There should be no hop aroma and the sour nose can range from moderate to overwhelming. Clarity should be good, but will vary somewhat depending on how the beer was aged. Mouthfeel: Mouthfeel commonly runs much like a good red wine; medium bodied, low to mid carbonation and astringency. The sourness will cause some prickling and possibly puckering acidity on the palate. Finish is very crisp and refreshing, but can leave slight sweetness. Taste: Taste runs parallel to the nose, with complex fruit-like characteristics of dark cherry, plum, currant, and low level orange. Lower levels of the chocolate or vanilla may be present. Malt may come through as very subtle or somewhat bold. If very sour, any sweetness will be hidden. There will be no hop flavor noticeable and very little hop bitterness. Instead a tannic bitterness is likely to be present on the back of the palate and swallow, creating the drying character of a well-aged red wine. *Reference: The 2015 BJCP Style Guidelines Examples of the Style This style’s examples were pulled from the Great American Beer Festival, World Beer Cup, the BJCP commercial example list, and a couple I personally know to be available. Rodenbach Vintage 2011 (World Beer Cup Winner 2014) Lost Abbey Red Poppy (Great American Beer Festival Winner 2012-2013) Rodenback Klassiek Rodenback Grand Cru Monk’s Café Flanders Red Ale New Belgium La Folie Cuvée Des Jacobins Rouge How to Brew a Flanders Red Ale Recipe Homebrewing any kind of sour, aged ale is a bit more of an undertaking then your regular run-of-the-mill brew. But the undertaking is more one of patience, having the right equipment, and time; then any extra work during the brewing process. Because of the long fermentation and aging periods it pays to do a little research and make up a decent recipe right out of the gate with this one. Malt Bill: A Flanders Red recipe is traditionally built around a base of Vienna, or sometimes Munich malt, but 2-row could conceivable be used with either the Vienna or Munich playing a smaller part. Some light or medium caramel malt may be used as well as a small amount of special B. The big difference between this style and many other styles is the generous (up to 20%) use of maize. Hops: Hops should be kept under 10 IBUs. Hops are antibacterial and will impede the bacteria needed in the brewing of this style. Hops are traditional old, not fresh, low alpha acid, and (if going traditional) European. Stay away from high alpha acid or those with the citrusy American character. Yeast: The mashing and boiling process is pretty standard, though, depending on your recipe, you may want to run a 2 hour boil. Fermentation is not quite so standard. Creation of the sour notes relies on bacteria, something we traditionally work very hard to keep out of our beer. A mix of Pedicoccus, Brettanomyces, Lactobacillus and Acetobacter all play a major role in creating the flavor and aroma of this beer. Both Wyeast and White Labs have yeast mixtures that contain a mix of Saccharomyces yeast and the first three bacteria’s listed. Acetobacter is present in the open environment and multiplies when exposed to oxygen. Fermentation: Don’t use a plastic bucket for this one. It will let too much oxygen in and you’ll end up with vinegar, stick to either a wooden barrel, if you have it (lucky you), or a glass carboy. For the wood character you can add oak chips or cubes to the fermenter. Soak them in some cheap beer for a couple weeks before use to leech out some of the stronger compounds. Remember the bacteria can ferment any kind of sugar so you may end up with very high attenuation. Final gravities for this beer can run between 1.000 and 1.012. Make sure you have a stable reading before bottling. Bottling: After years of aging it is important to use new yeast when bottling. A possible good choice is wine yeast. It is more capable of dealing with the high acid content in your freshly aged beer. Sour beers are making a comeback in the craft beer world. Take note. If you haven’t had the good fortune of sitting down to a nice meal, on a warm summer evening, with a fine Flanders Red, you’re missing out. Try some of the above examples and if nothing else expand your tasting experience. And if you happen to fall in love and try your hand at homebrewing this style, be patient, be persistent… and maybe save me a bottle. Cheers!