The Verhaeghe brewery dates back to 1885 when it was established as a malting brewery by Paul Verhaege. Unlike the majority of small regional brewers he utilised the railway link between West Flanders and Brussels to gain a wider market for his beers, but the first world war brought a stop to that; the brewery closed and subsequently the equipment was dismantled by the German occupying forces.
Production started again after the war with the first bottom fermented ales. Today the brewery is best known for its typical Flanders ales, Vichtenaar Flemish Ale and the Duchess of Burgundy. The former is the lighter and more basic so I’m going to start there.
It’s a typical Flemish red/brown ale; after the main and secondary fermentation it undergoes a third fermentation in oak vats with a capacity ranging between 5000 and 25000 liters for several months. This traditional method of production coupled with specific yeast strains give the beers the distinct sharp and sour flavours.
The bottle I had was small; 25cl. That could be a shock for some beer drinkers; then again the unique taste could be a further shock or, maybe the reason for the small size.
The beer poured with a big foamy head which quickly receded. The colour was a dark amber brown and the aroma slightly yeasty but mostly sweetish and malt. The first taste was mouth puckering but that subsided relatively quickly to manageable levels and allowed a vanilla sweetnes to come through. Next was a bit strange; it felt like I’d just brushed my teeth; a spearmint, tart sweetness!
Then came the fruit; sour cherries and a bit of raspberry. No room in the overall mix for any hop bitterness although hops are used in the recipe. The aftertaste became increasingly sweetish as the tart/sour notes dimished. Alcohol at 5,1% not really noticeable in the face of exerything else going on.
A good example of its style; if you’r e a bit put off at first, perservere the experience will probably grow on you.