In the discussion following my recent article about the 2010 IBC awards celebration, the subject of beers that punch above their weight, taste wise, came up. It then occurred to me that I hadn’t yet reviewed Rodenbach Grand Cru for The Brew Club.
This is an omission I am more than happy to address.
Rodenbach is a small family brewery in Roeselare, western Flanders (a province of Belgium). The brewery was founded in 1821 by four Rodenbach brothers, but after an initial (agreed) period of 15 years the brewery was taken over by Pedro Rodenbach and his wife Regina.
It was Regina who ran the brewery while Pedro served in the Belgian military; Belgium had only recently gained its independence and diligently fought to retain it.
Their son Edward took the brewery over in 1864, and his son Eugene continued the family tradition. Eugene had no sons, so the brewery became publicly owned (but remained largely in family hands) until it was bought by Palm breweries in 1998.
It was Eugene that introduced the brewery’s now trademark skill of aging beers in oak barrels and then blending the results to produce consistent results. Eugene learned this skill during an extended trip to Britain before taking over the brewery. Interestingly, in 2008 the English brewer Greene King turned to Rodenbach to advise them on oak ageing and blending when they introduced Old Crafty Hen.
What goes around comes around.
Rodenbach’s ales are ‘Flanders (or Belgian) Red Ales’ – there aren’t many of these, but one noteworthy one is Duchesse de Bourgogne which I gave 4 stars when I reviewed it for The Brew Club in 2008. So while a small group, it’s pretty select. They’re oak aged, which gives a rich, almost ‘balsamic vinegar’ quality against the sourness that the complex blend of (up to twenty) yeasts gives, but they’re a blend of old and young ales to give a consistency.
So… it pours with a creamy, pale caramel couloured head that disperses slowly, with very little lacing; the brew itself is a rich garnet colour.
The nose is sharp, verging on sour – definitely balsamic vinegar (and that’s not being wine-snob poncey, it really smells like that) with the tiniest hint, deep down in the mix, of black cherry.
The flavour is less sour than the nose would suggest, it’s sharp but not too sour; it almost fizzes on your tongue.
It’s dark, rich and deeply fruity, sour cherries or plums, with hints of dark wood.
The Grand Cru has a lower percentage (one third) of ‘young’ beer blended with two thirds older beer (two years in oak casks), that gives it additional depth and richness.
Michael Jackson described Rodenbach’s brews as “perhaps the most refreshing beers in the world” and who am I to argue with the master?
Update – December 2015 – What was I thinking, only giving this four stars. According to our own rating system this is “A true classic beer” by any benchmark and thus deserving of the full five Brewclub stars.