Rodenbach Grand Cru

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…

Rodenbach Grand Cru

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!

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Peter and Phil talk: Humulus Lupulus

Humulus Lupulus.

Humulus lupulus (Common hop) is a species of Humulus in the Cannabaceae family. (from Wikipedia)
Common hop is a dioecious, perennial herbaceous climbing plant which sends up new shoots in early spring and dies back to the cold-hardy rhizome in autumn.  The flower cones of the plant, known as hops, are used in the production of beer to impart bitterness and flavor, and for their preservative qualities.”

sunset over Kentish hopyards, near Harbledown

Growing up and living in in the hop growing county of Kent, hop poles have been something of a background to here for much of my life, and now somethin I am more curious about.  The public house that I grew up in was annually decorated with hop bines, the various aroma permeating the pub from harvest through to about October, one thing I will immediately advise against is using Admiral as a decorative hop purely because everyone thought that the pub cat had pee’d everywhere, to the extent that they were removed somewhat rapidly.

Maintaining this interest in the Hop has gone to the extent that I have a growing collection of rhizomes in the back garden, last years harvest a bumper crop of Fuggles that some found their way to a green hop beer brewed at home and the rest dried in the roof of the house and used over the next few months batches of homebrew.

home grown!

home grown!

Where has it gone from there?  I am sure we have all gone through phases in our lives, going faster, louder music, smellier deodorants, bigger sunglasses and relating rapidly to beer, NEED MORE HOPS.     I suppose this, as the stuff that I normally write is not in chronological order, so… don’t worry about this making absolute sense, as I am currently drinking one of the marker hoppy beers in the world today, Pliny the Elder.  Pliny who set about recording many plants and their uses.

Interesting Pliny, the chap who gave hops their name -Pliny the Elder (Naturalis Historia, 14, 149) must have thought that the Celts from northwest Europe were experienced brewers, because he intimated that they had evolved a means of enhancing the shelf-life of beer, when he said:  “‘The nations of the West have their own intoxicant made from grain soaked in water there are a number of ways ofmaking it in the various provinces of Gaul and Spain and under different names though the principle is the same. The Spanish provinces have by this time even taught us that these liquors will bear  being kept a long time.” What, I wonder, was the method that some of the Celtiberians used to preserve beer? Did it involve the use of hops? Pliny’s observation that  there were a number of ways of making beer, suggests that the technology  might have been developed independently by a multiplicity of  indigenous peoples in this part of Europe; maybe European brewing know-how did not necessarily emanate directly from Egypt and Mesopotamia.

When did hops first come to the UK?  or England? The rhyme about hops I really love, my love of beer and carp fishing combined in one rhyme, probably the only rhyme that I can quote, and thankfully exists in several versions, so I have an excuse when I miss quote. “Hops and turkeys,14 carp and beer, Came into England all in a year.” There is a version is the one quoted by John Banister (sometimes spelled Bannister) in his 1799 Synopsis of Husbandry, in which he uses the distich to support his assertion that “hops were first planted in England in 1511”.  To further look at this, John Laurence, who, in his New System of Agriculture (1726), states quite  categorically (without any evidence), “Hops were first brought from Flanders to England, Anno 1524, in the 15th year of K.Henry the 8th: before which Alehoof Wormwood etc. was generally used for the  preservation of Drink.” Dowell (1888) is more specific, and maintains that hops were introduced to England from “Artois in the beer-brewing Netherlands”, around 1525, I can easily assume nothing to do with that Artiois.  Prior, there was an aversion to the use of hops for brewing, because some of the English establishment regarded it to be a Protestant plant, must have been a peculiarly English attitude, because the same author recounts how hops were known to be used for brewing in Spain around this time.

If you want to read further into the history of hops, please do as I have, and get yourself a copy of the excellent RSC book by Ian Hornsey, “A History of Brewing“, it makes great loo side reading.

And to Modern Day, sometime ago, I guess 5 years ago now, I went back to San Francisco and San Diego to find Extreme Hop Usage: American Pale Ales, American IPA’s right through to their big cousins Double IPA‘s and the now not uncommon Triple IPA, probably to satisfy a curiosity and observe these “monster” beers in their natural environment.   First up was the excellent Stone Ruination.    I made the pilgrimage up to Russian River, sat and quaffed Pliny the Younger, Russian River IPA and the Blind Pig.    A few minutes googling will give you the history that Vinnie Cilurzo has been credited with the invention of the Double IPA, with his Blind Pig brew, originally from the time when the brewery was part of the Corbel Winery, in Temecula, California.   He’s since moved the brewery to Santa Rosa continuing on this amazing road of awesome beers that drag beer lovers from all corners of the world to Santa Rosa, for much more than just the wines from that area.

Other breweries from the northern California  have gone onto brew hop forward beers, ones of note for me, Triple Rock IMAX, Drakes Denogonizer, Valley Brew UberHoppy and Marin/Moylans big IPA’s.   Brewers such as James Costas, Denise and Arnie, Rodger Davis and Steve Altamari have pushed the boundaries of hop usage.     But it’s really Southern Californian, notably the sun kissed idil of San Deigo and their 30+something working brewhouses, in a city with a population of 1,256,951 (google it!) that have taken this Big IPA to it’s heart, brewers such as Jeff Bagby, Tomme Arthur, Peter Zein, Lee Chase and Yuseff Cherney.   Between them they have given us brews such as Hop15, WipeOut IPA, Stone, Dorado, and the Alesmith brews.   The palate of flavour driven from their usage of such notable hops, the three C’s – Centennial, Chinook, Cascade – to the newer Amarillo, Simcoe to the very new Citra and Apollo varieties stimulating creativity from these experts in the brew house.  The amazing Double IPA festival, held every year at the excellent Bistro in Hayward, California is one of the best places to really experience real diverstity of flavour that a Double IPA can be.

I have always believed that beer is a great representation of the locality, big IPA’s, be they of the single, double or triple bias is very much a signature of the West Coast of the US.   Jamil Zanicheff, Dr. Scott Lothamer and the ever so cool Mike “Tasty” McDole of the excellent Brewing Network have both suggested on a number of occasions that these styles of beers are what the West Coast has given the world of beer.  I would hope that having read that little rambling intro you might agree with these super knowledgeable people.

But what happens locally?   Eddie Gadd of Ramsgate Brewery has been a keen exponent of very locally sourced hops.  Harvest selections of individual farms Goldings being someting that he’s become especially known for.   We’ve also seen brewers such as the very respected Thornbridge Hall using American varieties to create their excellent Jaipur IPA, and moved on to using New Zealand varieties such as Nelson Sauvin for their excellent Kipling. There are of course many more varietials coming on-line every year.   We also have brewers here now, brave enough to try to brew big Californian Style beers, Justin at MoorBrewing in deepest darkest somerset has been brave enough, some might say silly enough too, to brew an amazing big big hopppppppy beer called JJJ IPA, scaling 9% with the massive American hops to match, but what else would you expect from a Californian?   I noted on Ratebeer.com sometime ago, that if this was brewed in California, it would garner far louder plaudits. I for one look forward to the recent bottling coming to condition…

But, is this hop usage at all new?  well, it depends where your clock started ticking.  I could throw Sierra Nevada Celebration into the ring as the first Double IPA, double the hops, double the malts… But in the UK?  Looking back, the first few times I bumped into American hops, or American hopping rates, was with breweries such as Roosters.   Shaun Franklin was probably the earliest exponent of US hops inthe UK, I would have to check with the very knowledgeable Gazza Prescot to confirm this, but it’ll do for the moment.    Anyway, breweries/brewers such as Oakham, DarkStar and even locally with what was once Swale Brewery and continuing to Hopdaemon brewery with the link with Tonie Prins, became exponents of US hops.   Not in the big IPA way like you’d see in San Diego, but more in the British way,  notably beers like JHB from Oakham, Mount Hood hops to the fore, but in a 3.8% light golden ale.   This made beer exciting, bright grapefruit zesty and citrus notes made the beer “modern” , vs the “old fashioned” brown/copper beers.

But, why are these big American hops so pungent, aromatic and distinctive where as the UK varietals can be seen as somewhat stoic?  So I went to see a friend Dr.Peter Darby.   Peter is one of a handful of hopbreeders in the world, and just so happens to be one of the best.     Of course I don’t get to see Peter as often as I’d like, it would be a too hard on my little brain to comprehend, with out some serious study time.  But, of I went armed with some questions that I had a call out for.    One of the first, and seemingly most requested question was  New world flavours from UK hops – “a very tricky subject”  said Peter.  I was once told “You ask a simple question…” but not from Peter.    He went into to explain that the growing region makes a huge difference, just look at a styrian golding and fuggle – the terroir is the massive effect.  A Styrian Golding is actually the very same hop as a Fuggle, but just grown in Slovenia.    The most appropriate word is perhaps Terroir and the effects therein.

This also came up in subject with Kim from North Peak brewing when she was over recently, that there are Cascade and Centennial being grown in Northern Michigan far from their home territory of the Oregon/Washington valleys.   She’s waiting to see what the Cascade might be like, especially when the recent inovation of Argentinian Cascade, that smell and perform nothing like Oregon/Washington grown Cascade.    Peter was keen to express that Growing of hops in the new world will naturally produce a more intense experience. Our climate really allows for nuances and subtlety. Peter suggested if you were to look toward a new world note Bodicea, Pioneer and and Bramling Cross for some flavour notes.   There are newer high Alpha varieties such as Admiral, Herald and Joan that I have and shall be playing with on the homebrew system.   Peter says he’s developing new variety specifically for aroma profiles – such as a dwarf cascade seedling – that’s overlay for the sensory profile to UK grown cascade – almost identical. But still this isn’t as pungent as a US grown Cascade.   Mind, at the English hop competition held at the big brewery at Marstons. The winning sample was an English grown Cascade from Tony Redsels farm in Faversham. This was a beer brewed at Shepherd Neames Micro Brewery.    I sort of wish that Peter was encouraged to spend more time breeding for selection of highly aromatic varieties, rather than picking ease or Alpha acid content.  I mentioned this, and Peter was keen to mention that First Gold was new aroma, a marmalade/citrus note hop part of a recent program since 1995 for newer hops, including Sovereign.

Peter Darby.

Complicated isn’t it.   Just for a little green flower that once was a hedgerow weed.

After all the brewing questions were fielded, we lead on to the often quoted or question of Hops and Marijuana – Hops and hemp are very closely related – they are so closely related you can graft one one to other. Peter did mention research had been done as to this, but no canabanoid will exchanged – maintaining very separate species.   They are of a close relation to the Common or garden “utrica dioica” or nettles to you and me, the interesting note is that they are so close you can stimulate cone elongation – something sometime practiced in Germany.  Just as the pests are mutual too. Mulberry are reputed to be close.

Jeff from Lovibonds brewery, and also the head brewer at the royal warrant accorded Luxters Brewery posed the question of seed content. When this question was posed to Peter, Prior to 1904 it was a random and poorly understood process!   he says that going showed that research at Wye that seed bearing crop was heavy yielding and critically higher quality. Up to that point it must be remembered that they are “diatous”- separate distinct sexes, some seed will obviously be male or some female – only the female plants are used in brewing as they are the cone bearers.  Prior to 1904 hop pollination was a random occurrence, prior science hadn’t developed the sexual therory of plants. Hop growers didn’t understand – as such becoming varietals.  Seeders were reported to be in the gardens, obviously now that they known, are Male. Prior to 1904 it was a random and poorly understood process! One of the first prices of study at Wye was the by famous professors Salmon and Amos, Amos of the early bird goldings. They were looking at the value of the male plant of hops, to get past the early chaos of hop growing. The principal disease was powdery mildew at the time – the susceptible period is the flowering phase. As such good pollination reduced the mildew. Quite simple really. As such now one in 400 in a hop garden will be male to give uniform pollination.

The rest of the world doesn’t have the problem with mildew.

Having met people like Peter, his like in New Zealand and the guys from HopUnion in the US, I somewhat feel that they miss out on some of the limelight afforded to brewers and writers.   These are the guys that give us these amazing little flowers, we can use, combine to present exciting, vibrant and interesting beers, be they from Oregon or Kent.