View Full Version : Flanders Ales

11-09-2005, 22:34
Yesterday I was at the local liquor store (cleaning out the remainder of their Russels 101) and was browsing in the beer section. I came across a beer I'd never seen before, but as soon as I read the words "Flemish Art of Brewing" I knew what I was taking home.

Duchesse De Bourgogne

6.2% alc/vol blend of 8 and 18 month oak cask matured Flanders red ale.

Anyone familar with the older versions of Rodenbach Grand Cru will instantly recognize the sour/tart vinous qualities this beer possesses(I can't vouch for the newer version of Roden, it just came back to the states after 5-6 years).

If you're into these types of sour Belgian ales this is one to put on your "to try" list. Much more sour/tart than the Alexander from Rodenbach (seems this one has been more available in the last 5 years or so than the Grand Cru).

Anyone else familiar with this style? Any recommendations?

11-10-2005, 05:22
This is an example of the blending of beers by the brewery. They are blending beers of different ages to get a balance of flavors but with the tart edge the oldest beer provides. These beers are aged in wood vats and microflora in the wood slowly effects an acetification. Although regarded as a fault by most brewers today, in West Flanders the taste for such old-fashioned drinks survives. Porter used to be blended in a similar way, so that, say, young porter (tasting probably like fresh mild or brown ale - Brooklyn Brown Ale, say) was blended with an older one that had stood in a porter vat for a year or two and the result might have been somewhat like this Duchesse will taste allowing for the difference in malt flavours (brown/roasted vs. amber/red/Vienna malts). George Gale's Prize Ale (from the Southern end of England - just across from Flanders as it happens) is a surviving English example of a blended beer, it too has a sharp acetic edge which represents a surviving regional taste in its area. These beers are survivals from pre-refrigeration days. In Ontario the unblended 18 month beer, Rodenbach, is available again: it is powerfully acetic but again this is part of its character and many people like it. It has a controlled character as it were, a house taste which is not pure vinegar but highly vinous, one might say. The Duchesse is a more moderate form since I understand the younger beer in the blend is aged but not really sour. The Alexander was a sweetened version of a blended beer with only a little Rodenbach in it and raspberry concentrate I believe was added, it wasn't bad but the Duchesse and Rodenbach are more the real thing.

I have an historical brewing book from the early 1700's, by Michael Combrune in England, which speaks about these blending practices. Combrune approved long standing times because this was part of the character of some strong old ales and it was the only way at the time to make beer for keeping. Brewing then did not occur in late Spring or Summer because wild yeasts in the air would ruin the brews, and there was less brewing in Winter since materials were not easily available. Therefore, some strong brews in the brewing seasons (basically Autumn and early Spring in England) were brewed strong and well-hopped to last and be consumed when no brewing could take place or no beer was otherwise available. One such beer was termed October Beer. (Another was Maerzen Beer - March beer - consumed in early fall at festivals in Germany as bock beer). These old ales were well-hopped to help preserve them but Combrune acknowledged they sometimes acquired a "powerful" acid taste. He suggested various nostrums to reduce that acidity. One was adding crushed oyster shells, which is probably the origin of Oyster Stout (and bourbon distillers used to use large amounts of lime to clean wooden vats to control resident microflora). Another way was to blend the old beer (called "stale ale") into young fresh beer so the acid taste would be modified and the young beer would not be too sweet. In this regard, Combrune advised not to add more than 1/8th stale beer to young. Clearly young (new) beer must have had a fresh non-sour character then as now, and he must have wanted to retain that character if he limited the amount of old vinous beer added. I don't know how much 18 month ale is in the Duchesse blend, but every brewer of this rare type of 18th century beer (and there aren't many) will seek his own balance. The Duchesse is a survival of a bygone time, something Combrune would have been well-familiar with, which is pretty amazing.


11-10-2005, 06:57
Hmmm, I've had the Gale's Prize before and don't remember thinking much of it, could have been a bad bottle or just an off night for myself, must revisit this one.

Also it seems like I've had a porter that was made by this style of blending, though I no longer remember what it was, or where I might have had it. I do recall it being wonderful.

I always wondered where the term "Oyster Stout" came from. I wonder if any of the bottles carrying that name are actually aged or if its just a carry-over term.

There was also another bottling from this brewer that was an unblended 8 month of around 5% alc/vol, I told myself that I'd pick that up "next time" though now I'm really temped to make that much sooner, so as to try them side-by-side.

11-11-2005, 09:13
George Gale's Prize Ale (from the Southern end of England - just across from Flanders as it happens) is a surviving English example of a blended beer, it too has a sharp acetic edge which represents a surviving regional taste in its area.

I don't think that Gale's Prize Old Ale (POA) is a blended ale, but rather an aged "Old Ale (http://www.bjcp.org/styles04/Category19.html#style19A)" (that's a style rather than a description). See Michael Jackson's Beer Hunter (http://www.beerhunter.com/documents/19133-000071.html) article on Old Ales and POA in particular.

Perhaps you were thinking of Greene King's Strong Suffolk (http://www.beerhunter.com/documents/19133-000646.html). This is, indeed, a blend of a 12% abv sour ale that has been aged for five years (http://www.beerhunter.com/documents/19133-000102.html) with a young, normal strength ale.

As you note, this is an old tradition that has nearly died out. I have done a bit of research on the subject with an eye to the homebrewer and published an article in Jan./Feb. 2002 Zymurgy, the magazine of the American Homebrewers Association. (Not available online but I can send a scan - pm me if interested). I posted a note (http://hbd.org/hbd/archive/2562.html#2562-18) on HomeBrew Digest several years earlier briefly describing it.

In it, I describe my old ale "solera (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solera)," a term I borrowed from the sherry industry in which sherry withdrawn from aging casks is replaced with one year newer sherry, which is in turned replaced with one year newer, etc. In my solera, I top it with fresh ale every year or two.

I didn't intend to create a solera (mine is a five gallon ex-Pepsi Cornelius keg). In 1994, I brewed a all-pale-malt barley wine (http://www.bjcp.org/styles04/Category19.html#style19B) that lacked character or bite. Perhaps it was from a lack of dark malt or it wasn't hopped enough. So I blended in some porter or stout. I didn't drink this 8-9% ale very fast, but as it got a bit lower, I added a strong Scotch ale I wasn't happy with. The blend was better than the parts, and it now resembled an old ale in style. I drank it only occasionally, and I think I tipped in some other ale once or twice.

Then, after several years of benign neglect, a serendiptous thing happened - it turned sour with a wonderful fruity, winy character. Whatever "tame" wild yeast and/or bacteria were present were quite nice in the character the produced.

As this ale gets older, it becomes more and more tart and vinous, until it becomes a little too much to enjoy neat. Then I use it only to blend in the glass (something I do all along, too).

I no longer top this up with whatever I have on hand, but rather brew an old ale for the purpose. A year ago or so, I was down to a half gallon of very tart, dry ale, and topped it up with a fresh batch. This remained stable in my 50-55 degree F cellar until spring, when the temperature rose to the low 60's. At that point, the secondary fermentation started and has continued all summer. I have to be sure to vent the CO2 that is produced every week or two.

Right now it is a delightful tart ale, rather like a Rodenbach or Strong Suffolk.

I posted another note (http://hbd.org/hbd/archive/4608.html#4608-9) on HBD discussing the yeast repsonsible for secondary fermentation in old British ales, Brettanomyces claussenii, a different Brettanomyces from those in Belgian ales. I included a now broken link to an article on the Brettanomyces. Fortunately, since the link is broken, I excerpted the parts relating to Brett. in traditional British ales. You might find this interesting reading.

White Labs (http://www.whitelabs.com/), a supplier of brewing yeast to the industry and to homebrewers, has included B. claussenii in its offering of Brett strains, along with two Belgian ones, B. lambicus and B. bruxellensis.

I've yet to introduce it to an old ale. I won't put it in my solera keg as I want to keep it as I have it now.


11-11-2005, 10:44
"The Alexander was a sweetened version of a blended beer with only a little Rodenbach in it and raspberry concentrate I believe was added,"

Cherry, but otherwise, an excellent exposition on these beers. Monk's Cafe, here in Philly, has a house beer made in this style by a Belgian brewery; they were pouring it at the Nodding Head booth at WhiskyFest. Monk's Tart Ale is pretty good stuff, and extremely refreshing after an hour or so of tasting bourbons.


11-11-2005, 12:28
Thanks Lew and to Jeff Renner for setting me straight, it was the Suffolk beer I was thinking of although I think it is possible Gale's is blended too, but I was thinking of the Suffolk ale, defintely.

Lew recall we had a beer and some bourbon at a bar in Philly, not the Nodding Horse, the one further out from town with a white fridge behind the bar and a pre-Pro saloon feel, I wonder if it is still there. They had cask beer too and this is going back some years!