3 years ago I reviewed Rodenbach Grand Cru; a mistake as I obviously wasn’t ready for such an assault on my palate. Now, after well over a hundred beers later, I am better able to appreciate its unique quality.
To put the record straight, and to review a new beer, I’ve got a straightforward Rodenbach; the beer I should have taken in February 2013 as an introduction to Flanders Red Ale.
The beer is a blend of three quarters young top fermented beer blended with beer that has undergone a two year maturation in large oak vats (foeders). The oak vats are home to lactic and acetic acid bacteria and various wild yeasts, most notably Brettanomyces. Together they cause a secondary fermentation which gives the beer its sour and fruity character.
The red brown colour comes from dark malts. To help balance the beer during its development maize and some hops (but not enough to cause bitterness) are used.
By contrast the Grand Cru is made up of one third young and two thirds matured beer so it is a far more intense and complex version.
The two beers look very similar in the glass; clear reddish brown with a light beige carbonated head that settles down very quickly to a thin layer. The aroma in the basic version takes a while to unfold; a malty sweetness comes first followed by a slight musty farmyard and spice.
Unlike the Grand Cru, where the fruit element is unmistakeable (sour cherries, green apples and citrus), it hardly showed. As one would expect, the taste was also much more subdued; a citrus and sour tang that quickly moved back a notch to allow tastes of red berries, plums and cherry together with a malt sweetness and a touch of oaky vanilla.
Both beers showed a vinous quality without too much alcohol (5.2 and 6.0% vol. resp.) but the higher intensity of the Grand Cru brought the overall harmony to a level that certainly wouldn’t go under if paired with food and alone keeps prompting you to take another sip. The Rodenbach follow through was a nice balance between sweet and sour.
A pleasant refreshing red ale but once you’re into the style you’ll take a Grand Cru every time.