Let’s talk about Flemish Ale or Red Ale or Flanders Ale or Sour Brown Ale or Oud Bruin. Confused yet? Well I usually am when looking at this ‘family’ of beers so I thought I would do a little beer geek research and try to figure out just what defines this style.
For quite some time now I knew at least one thing for certain, I like Duchesse De Bourgogne.
Duchesse is described by the brewery as “Belgian top-fermented reddish-brown ale, a blend of 8 and 18 months old beers following the careful maturation in oak casks.” Sour? Check. Malty? Check. Carbonated? Check. Okay I’m on board.
The problem became how to find like-minded beers. Do I ask for a sour beer? A Belgian beer? A brown beer? A wild ale? A red ale? All of the above? Will the beer store clerk ridicule and mock my lack of knowledge?
In Tasting Beer Mosher describes sour brown ales as having two regional focal points. One in West Flanders and one in East Flanders. Like many great styles the defining hallmarks of these beers (oak aging and the blending of young and old beers) were merely common practice. As these beers fell out of general favour they became regional specialties.
In West Flanders the defining beer is ‘red’ Rodenbach and in East Flanders the defining beer is ‘brown’ Liefmans Goudenband. Each region using different methods to sour their beer and different processes for aging though not exclusively.
Eventually, as all good beer styles do, these sour red-brown beers caught the eye of North American breweries who sought to reinvigorate and reintroduce this historical ale to an eager population of new world beer nerds.
New Belgium La Folie, Jolly Pumpkin La Roja, The Bruery Oude Tart, The Lost Abbey Red Poppy Ale, Deschutes The Dissident not to mention our very own Yaletown Brewing Co. Oud Bruin, are just a wee few of the examples.
Purists, by which I mean hard-core beer geeks and style guide enthusiasts, proffer that the West Flanders/East Flanders divide marks two distinct styles the Flanders Red Ale and the Flanders Brown Ale/Oud Bruin. Is it starting to feel like this may escalate into some sort of gang-like allegiances? But in reality, my reality anyway, call them what you will these styles all fall under that most glorious and ever-expanding umbrella called sour beer. The old world variations were never hard and fast and the new incarnations of the style are neither. So red or brown what are you waiting for? Get on the bandwagon!