A tolerance for bitterness is probably what everyone means when they speak of beer being an “acquired taste”. When you get past that, drink through everything IPAs have to offer, sour beer is the next frontier. We innately associate bitter flavours with dangerous poisons and sourness with spoiled beer (though the latter connection probably isn’t as hard-coded by evolution). It’s worth developing an appreciation for the style of sour ales (that are that way by design and not because of spoilage) not just for the notoriety but also because they are delicious and pair excellently with food.
If beer-writing gods were really on my side I would have been able to write about the Rodenbach first and the Panil second. They are both in the same Flemish sour ale style (though Panil is made in Italy), but the Rodenbach is lightly tart and makes a better introduction for newcomers to the style than the funkier, more complex Panil.
Following last week’s post about Brasserie des Rocs Grand Cru, there was a remarkable unity to the feedback I received. It all seemed to align around the common theme of, “If you think that grand cru beer is good, then you should definitely try Rodenbach Grand Cru.”
As luck would have it, I was reading those messages while on the way to the media announcement for the Canadian launch of Rodenbach Classic on draught.
It’s the entry-level version (rather than the grand cru) of Rodenbach’s Flemish sour ale that is now available, but this is definitely still a beer worth trying. In Rodenbach’s case, the grand cru designation means that each bottle has about two-thirds oak-aged sour beer balanced with young beer. With the Classic, it’s only a quarter of the older stuff. That means that this beer is only slightly sour, and if the Panil from two weeks ago sounded like it would be a little much for you, take this gentler introduction to sour beer.
Flanders Red is an alternate name for the style, and that makes sense after holding a glass to the light and noticing that the edges of the otherwise medium-brown beer fade to auburn. The aroma of sweet raisins and stewed cherries becomes apparent as the frothy, off-white head dissipates. The first taste is of subtle sourness that continues through to a sweet-tart finish. As the beer warms, the sour edge picks up a bit, but so does the balancing malty sweetness.
Lightly sour Flemish ales are some of the easiest beers to pair successfully with food. Salads and sandwiches seem like overly general suggestions, but this pairing will work in many cases. The beer’s fine tartness will match the acidity in dressings and condiments; it will contrast with meat and cheese and it will lift fat and salt from the palate between bites. When warmer weather eventually arrives, this Rodenbach will also serve well as a patio sipper on its own.
Rodenbach Classic can be found at Bier Markt locations across Toronto and other venues such as Bar Hop, Volo and Castro’s Lounge.
Rodenbach Classic Sour Flemish Ale, available at various bars