One of the most common emails that I get, and always love replying to is the nature of one of my all time favourite beers, Rodenbach. So here’s the story – Rodenbach Grand Cru is actually supposed to “smell like Balsamic Vinegar”, to quote many from beer tastings that I deliver. Yes, it’s a hard to approach style of beer, that of Flemish Red. Yes, it’s one of the more esoteric styles, and certainly the idea of a sour beer is somewhat foreign in more ways than one – certainly more different to the norms of the British styles that I presume you and I would bump into in a pub in the UK. These beers are intentionally soured and are absolute classics of the Belgian beer scene and much cherished by beer lovers around the world.
There are two general beers that come from Rodenbach, the normal and the grand cru – the normal Rodenbach is the lesser of the two in sourness, where as, as you’re aware the Grand Cru is somewhat more Acetic, and now for the history…
A quick scan of Wikipedia, and without wanting to reinvent the wheel, I can’t disagree with its historical parts.Iit’s said that in 1821, “the four Rodenbach brothers (Pedro, Alexander, Ferdinand and Constantijn) invested in a small brewery in Roeselare, in the West Flanders province of Belgium. The brothers agreed to a partnership for 15 years. At the end of this period, Pedro and his wife, Regina Wauters, bought the brewery from the others and Regina ran the business while Pedro served in the military. Their son Edward later took over the brewery (1864) and, it was during his directorship that the brewery saw great growth. Edward’s son, Eugene, took over in 1878 and, in preparation for this place, travelled to England where he learned how to ripen beer in oak barrels and then mix old and young beers. It was this that became the method of producing beer that Rodenbach became famous for.” Funny, that… seemingly they learnt from Greene King, as GK used to use two large “foeders” for the maturing of beers, could this have been the first collaboration beer?
“As Eugene produced no male offspring, a public limited liability corporation was created and most shares remained in the hands of descendants of the Rodenbach’s until 1998 when the brewery was sold to Palm Brewery. After the take-over, Palm quickly stopped production of Rodenbach’s Alexander beer, a cherry-flavoured beer. However, in recent years, Palm/Rodenbach has produced and distributed, first, Rodenbach foederbier, which is served only from cask, and is unfiltered and unblended. It comes straight from an oak riping barrel and is not processed further. More recently, the brewery has produced Vin de Céréale, sold only in bottles. This is similar to foederbier, but has been in the barrel longer (about three years) and has been formulated for more alcohol. Foederbier is usually 5-6 percent, while Vin de Céréale is 10%.” Following conversations with Latis and I am lead to believe with Cavedirect, Rodenbach went to work on the excellent Rodenbach Vintage 2007.
The tasting that I deliver, especially at the Dove/DoveTail – frequently this beer divides the crowd, more frequently the newbee being being responsive to these flavours, of sour, fruity, oaken, even a little whisky; whereas the more experience rebuffed the beer as it was straight up sour = wrong. A little bit of encouragement and a plate of spicy foods soon brings people around, showing the beauty of food and beer. A good friend, the ever so busy and in demand, Sean Paxton, the homebrewchef.com and author of many a great beer/food article in the BeerAdvocate Magazine, made an excellent rhubarb and rodenbach jelly to go with a delectable meats plate.
Rodenbach has inspired many a beer around the world, the Panil Barrique, Cascade Sang Royale and the Stockton Sour (aka Phil’s Wild Mild) – all very desirable beers in their own ways – right thru to the “Rodenbach in American” - La Folie brewed at New Belgium, by the ex-Rodenbach Brewer, Peter Brouckaert
The yeast and bacteria culture that provided their distinctive taste profile and sourness to De Dolle Brouwers in nearby Esen for use in some of their beers. They had historically also sometimes supplied yeast to Westvleteren Brewery and Brouwerij Felix in Oudenaarde.
I would thoroughly recommend a visit to Rodenbach, and a glass of the Foeder Beer at DeZalm in Roselaare – I know I owe someone a trip there – this year!