Few beers are a better match for the decadent, fatty foods we eat in winter than a Flanders red ale and its close, often indistinguishable, cousin oud bruin (old brown).
That's because the two styles are sour and acidic, with sharp, fruity notes that often bring to mind black cherries, raisins and prunes, along with hints of oak and vanilla. The beers' tartness complements the bold, savory flavors of a dish like pork roulade or the richness of a flourless chocolate cake, says Lauren Salazar, sensory specialist at New Belgium Brewing Co., which produces La Folie, a Flanders red that features cherry and sour apple notes with earthy undertones.
"The beer's acidity can cut through just about anything, and its complexity makes it work well with just about anything rich," she says.
The flavors of the two styles stem from the unusual bacteria used to produce the beers, such as Lactobacillus (a species used to produce yogurt and cheese), Acetobacter (used to produce vinegar), and the wild yeast strain Brettanomyces (which produces barnyard, horse blanket or spicelike notes).
Not surprisingly, the beers originate from Belgium's Flanders region, which is in the country's northern half.
Flanders red ales, which stem from West Flanders, are reddish-brown beers aged up to two years before being bottled, usually after being blended with an unaged beer to balance the wood-aged brew's dry, astringent qualities. The rarer oud bruin style originated in East Flanders. The deep copper to brown beers often feature vinegarlike notes. They also often are blended before bottling.
Because the beers are aged for years, they're expensive to produce, says Salazar. That's why New Belgium named its beer La Folie, which translates to insanity or foolery.
"Making these beers is an exercise in foolishness," she says. "But we don't care."
The next bottling of La Folie will be released in a few weeks. Also, look for these Belgians:
Rodenbach Grand Cru: Dark red with an earthy, yet sweet, cherry candylike nose. The flavor melds tart cherry flavors with sweet, balsamic vinegarlike notes and a hint of oak.
Verhaeghe Duchesse de Bourgogne: Mahogany-colored with an aroma reminiscent of dark fruits, along with bread and caramel. Flavors of plums, cherries and figs, along with hints of caramel, vanilla and oak.
Van Steenberge Monk's Cafe: A dark ruby-hued oud bruin with a tart, vinegarlike nose. Features hints of golden raisins, sour cherries and vinegar.
The red and the brown
Flanders-style beers match sour notes to wintry foods
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