Monthly Archives: February 2014

A Trio of Barrel-Aged Imperial Stouts: Prairie’s Pirate Bomb, Goose Island’s Bourbon County, Victory’s Dark Intrigue

A few weeks previous I pulled some tasting notes out of the archive, and this time around I’ll reach into the archives again. Different time of year, different cast of beer-tasting amigos, different dramatis personae, beerwise: A Victory Dark Intrigue (bottled in November 2011); a vintage-dated 2013 Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout, and a Prairie Artisan Ales Pirate Bomb from 2013. But a degree of symmetry, no less. The last tasting was vertical – three vintages of Sofie. IMG_9573This one’s horizontal: three American barrel-aged Imperial Stouts, all high octane.

Historically, high hopping rates matched hefty malt bills to ensure that Imperial Stouts survived the long journey from English breweries to Baltic, Nordic, and Russian destinations. Today, these beers are among the weightiest in the brewer’s repertoire, offering up intense aromas and flavours of coffee, dark chocolate, licorice, and dark fruits suggestive of plums, raisins, and prunes. Caramel, bread, and toast are potential malt signatures, with higher levels of bitterness, roast character, and finishing hops defining many a North American interpretation.

The three barrel-aged Imperial Stouts with which we intrepid beer tasters defied the polar vortex of January 2014 were nothing if not intense. Victory’s Dark Intrigue got our glasses off to a good start IMG_9777with an ale that looked like dense black coffee capped with a lingering tan head. The aesthetics alone promised yet another fine beer from this Pennsylvania brewery impressive for its vast array of beverages. For the past two decades, the German-trained co-founders of Victory have been brewing up highly acclaimed Germanic staples – Prima Pils is one of the best Pilseners west of Bavaria – compelling Belgian renditions, and solid North American standards with whole hops and a reserve of some forty-five yeast strains. Enter Storm King Imperial Stout, one of Victory’s popular North American styles. In 2010, the brewery set aside some of this generously-hopped and roast-inflected brew for aging in barrels from Jim Beam and Heaven Hills Distilleries. So popular was the resultant Dark Intrigue that Victory decided to bring it back for one last hurrah in 2011. Two times a charm?

The aromatics are complex enough: dried figs, caramelized brown sugar, vanilla bean, and butterscotch interweave with earthy undertones of licorice and aged saké; muted pine and resin remind us that this is a North American interpretation of the style. A pleasant cocoa and dark chocolate note emerges on the palate to complement the black olive earthiness and round out the roasted malt and hop bitterness, but unfortunately the fusel heat doesn’t evoke bourbon in any way. (Incidentally, at just over 9% ABV, this beer was the least potent of the cohort – but was hotter than the Pirate Bomb and Bourbon County.) Contrary to the brewers’ label note claiming a five year window for the beer, though, I’m not entirely sure that a few extra years of cellaring would improve Dark Intrigue. A rare miss for Victory.

Bring on the Bourbon County Brand Stout, then! As one of the more widely-hyped releases of the craft beer calendar, Goose Island’s Bourbon County is imbued with so much of an aura that many a smitten craft beer aficionado will approach a bottle as if it were a sacred relic. Despite the hand-wringing in some quarters as to whether or not Goose Island is even a “craft brewery” (Anheuser-Busch InBev controls fifty-eight percent of the company), the cult status of BCBS has not suffered. As of February 26, 2014, both Beer Advocate and Rate Beer peg the beer at 100 points. (I’ll leave it to others to explain how these sites arrive at their scores; for me, it’s never been more than a source of casual amusement.)

All that aside, there’s no messing around with this beer: BCBS clocks in at 14.9% ABV. What’s striking about this coffee-and-pecan-hued dark brown beer is that it effectively IMAG1366conceals its alcohol underneath layers of overripe banana, butter, cookie dough, allspice, chocolate chips, and rum-soaked walnuts. (Sounds vaguely like my Mom’s recipe for banana bread.) And that’s merely the first wave. Sips of this unctuous drink blend the initial scents with mocha, milk chocolate, and dark chocolate on the palate. Let this one open up some and your patience will be rewarded with further aromas of rich brown sugar, maple syrup, and vanilla. Luscious and creamy with a seemingly eternal aftertaste, this may well be all you need for dessert. Don’t be afraid to allow this beer to warm up in the snifter.

And what of the hype? An excellent beer, I will allow. Sublime? Not of the Kantian variety, at any rate. I resist assigning numeric values to the beers I feature in these posts and pages, but suffice it to say that my score for the beer would put it in the same ball park as the Hel & Verdoemenis that I featured several weeks back.

But wait! There’s still another beer, said my friend as he produced a bottle of Prairie’s Pirate Bomb that he had kept sequestered until it was time for a nightcap to follow the Bourbon County dessert. Not yet two years young, Prairie Artisan Ales burst onto the scene with a constantly evolving rotation of farmhouse ales and imperial styles, the majority of which are the product of wild fermentation and/or barrel aging. Prairie has garnered itself a rabidly loyal fan base in Oklahoma, where new releases gather no dust on local bottle shop shelves. But it’s not just the locals who are enamoured of Prairie’s beers: Draft Magazine recently named Prairie a brewery to watch.

Even if the price point is a tad exaggerated for many of their products, the hype surrounding Prairie’s beers is not mere smoke and mirrors. The Birra is a case in point: a complex Saison that manages to hover around 4.5% ABV, crisp and dry, yet not desiccated like some other examples that give the wild yeasts and bacteria too much leeway.

The Pirate Bomb notches up the temperature a few degrees – to 14% ABV. And it’s quite a concoction: “Imperial Stout aged in rum barrels with coffee, cocoa nibs, vanilla beans, and chilies added,” announces the colourful label. Prairie Pirate 2 (prairieales-com)All of these ingredients make their presence known in some way or another in this ruby-tinted black beer crowned with a thick layer of tan-brown foam. The saving grace is the rum component, for the regular Bomb! minus the Pirate is a beer too bitter and unbalanced in the direction of dark-roasted coffee. (I have a few bottles of Bomb! tucked away to see if age will quell these insurgent coffee beans.) With the barrel-aging to sand away some of the rougher edges, Pirate Bomb exhibits nuanced aromas of cocoa, vanilla bean, mocha, chocolate liqueur, and mild smoke. Out of the glass, the rich and creamy medium- to full-bodied liquid carries bitter-sweet flavours of rum-soaked oranges reminiscent of Cointreau-spiked coffee, and finishes with a welcome cocoa-powdery bitterness. An eminently suitable digestif to round out the evening.

In Brief:

Victory’s Dark Intrigue is not among their very best beers. I’d be inclined to drink up. If you still have a bottle in your cellar and drink it in 2015 or 2016, let me know how it tasted.

Goose Island’s Bourbon County Brand Stout: dreamy but not otherworldly. I can think of a good handful of other beers I’d rather have with me if stranded on a desert island. Curious to see how the beer would do with some age, but drinking wonderfully now.

Prairie’s Pirate Bomb: My Oklahoma friends will love me, but other friends might cry sacrilege. I tip my hat to the Pirate, by a fraction of a second.

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Sources:

Tim Webb and Stephen Beaumont, The World Atlas of Beer (New York: Sterling Epicure, 2012).

Garrett Oliver, The Brewmaster’s Table (New York: HarperCollins, 2003).

Michael Jackson, The New World Beer Guide (Philadelphia: Running Press, 1988).

Images:

Barrels: F.D. Hofer

Dark Intrigue: F.D. Hofer

Bourbon County/Pirate Bomb: Joshua Bradley

Pirate Bomb: www.prairieales.com

© 2014 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.

Three Vintages of Goose Island’s Sofie

Sofie (GooseIsland-com)Summer was at its languid apex when the three of us ventured out into the enveloping humidity of an early Ithaca evening lit by the lambent glow of fireflies. All of us would all be leaving town within the coming weeks, so why not lighten the load I’d have to cart away? Three bottles of Goose Island’s Sofie were among the bottles we chose for this purpose of subtraction, one each from 2011, 2012, and 2013.

Recently twenty-five years young, Goose Island got its start as a Chicago brewpub in 1988. By 1995, demand for Goose Island’s beers justified the building of a larger brewery and bottling plant. As a result of a series of deals to secure wider distribution, Goose Island has since fallen into the hands of larger interests, with Anheuser-Busch InBev now controlling fifty-eight percent of the company. (I’ll refrain from addressing the tortured “craft versus crafty” debate for now, but if you’d like to get a sense of what all the brouhaha is about, see Beervana’s informative article.) In a press release marking the occasion of the agreement, Goose Island founder and president, John Hall, assured his devoted fans that “the new structure will preserve the qualities that make Goose Island’s beers unique, strictly maintain our recipes and brewing processes” (sic). Thanks to these agreements, Goose Island’s beers now enjoy wide availability. If these beers haven’t already arrived on the shelves of your bottle shop, chances are that you, too, might soon be able to start building up a reserve of beers like Sofie, Matilda, Pepe Nero, and Père Jacques.

As for those three farmhouse ales that have been patiently awaiting our attention? Fermented with wild yeast, Sofie is a blended beer comprised of eighty percent Belgian-style ale and twenty percent Belgian-style ale aged in wine barrels with orange peel. Goose Island bills Sofie as “an intriguing choice for Champagne drinkers and beer drinkers who are fond of Belgian Saisons,” and there’s not much my friends and I could find to quarrel with in this description.

All three vintages were similar in appearance – golden honey – but beyond that, we were drinking three very different beers. The 2013 was the most vinous of the three, with peppery Sauvignon Blanc-like aromas of gooseberry and cedar shrub that one of my friends referred to less charitably as cat piss. IMG_9765All of us were in agreement that the beer was much more palatable than what the aromas might have suggested to some of us – a silky and effervescent ensemble of bready malt accented by a touch of Brettanomyces underneath a fruitiness suggestive of white grapes: elegance right through the clean-grained orange-malt finish.

The 2012 edition is probably the clearest expression of this farmhouse ale’s nod in the direction of Champagne. Wheat and clean Pils malt aromas combine with a yeastiness both bread-like and peppery, and a trace of green tea opens onto Brett-infused apple cider. As with the 2013, this beer is a paragon of balance: malt richness rounds out the lime-like acidity; pear-inflected apple cider and musky white grape notes pay their compliments; and all of this makes an admirable match for the piquant effervescence.

With the extra year of age on the 2011, the wild yeast and barrel-aging notes become even more pronounced. The beer exudes relatively strong notes of “bandaid” Brettanomyces together with cinnamon, mellow green apples, a peppery yeastiness, and a delicate floral perfume. “Nice and mellow,” was our consensus. We also agreed that of the three beers, this one does better on the warmer side of cellar temperature. In comparison to the effervescence of the other two vintages, this ale is less prickly but also more dry and sour. The wild yeast aromatics hear their echo on the palate (albeit with a slightly bitter-herbal tone) along with some green apple tartness. A pleasant citrusy levity cheers the finish.

Goose Island claims that Sofie will develop for up to five years, and well it might. Of the three successive vintages we tasted, moderate aging flatters the beer. While the 2011 exhibited a more pronounced spice, wood, and Brettanomyces character, it had developed a tart dryness that led us to question whether more of this would be a good thing.

So drink up, but not too quickly.

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Images:

Sofie: www.gooseisland.com

Whitehaven Sauvignon Blanc: F. D. Hofer

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©2014 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.

Romancing the Local (Part III of “A Reflection of Place, But Dimly”)

  • Oxford American Dictionary’s “Word of the Year” for 2007: locavore.
  • A locavore attempts to consume food that is locally produced – within a one hundred-mile radius, if possible.
  • As of June 2013, the number of breweries in the United States had reached 2538, with more than 1500 in development. According to the Brewers Association, the majority of Americans live within ten miles of a brewery. (Alas, for the time being, Canadian residents living in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba are not so lucky: the majority of Canadian breweries are concentrated in British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec.)

Brewery Count (BrewersAssocs)

Many are the perceived benefits of consuming locally. Our decision to “buy local” stimulates local economies and reduces carbon footprints. The goods we buy are at their peak freshness, and we know where they came from. When we go to our local brewery to sample a flight of beer, we can talk to the brewer or server and learn the story behind the beer in our glasses. As one proponent of the local food movement states, “Getting to know your local producers gives you a stronger sense of place.” But does it? Do we really feel more connected to locally-brewed beer than we do to beers brewed elsewhere?

An issue I raised in “Pinning Down Place” bears reformulation as a question here: What are some of the pitfalls of projecting our desire to drink locally onto the notion that beer exudes a sense of place?

One obvious problem lies in the amorphous nature of what it means to be “local.” Is it the brewery itself, rooted in its particular place, or is it the ingredients?IMG_0030 Does the brewery down the street brew with “locally-sourced” ingredients, or does it brew with malt from Germany, the United Kingdom, or Belgium? Does the use of internationally-sourced ingredients at the brewery down the road render its beer less “local”? What are the spatial constraints of the term local? Does it refer to ingredients produced within a hundred miles of the brewery, or – if the brewery is American – can the term also refer to hops produced in the Yakima Valley but used in Florida? So much for the ingredients. What of Budweiser’s claim to be “America’s largest local brewery”? What if your “local” beer is brewed under contract in a different region or state? Who designates – and what constitutes – the local?

What concerns me about a fixation on place coupled with the drive to consume locally is this: craft brewers who produce excellent beers with ingredients that aren’t sourced in their backyards could potentially be deemed less “authentic” than those who, by luck of location, are able to produce beers bearing the agricultural imprint of their locale. What about the brewer who can’t (or is not interested in) brewing a beer with “local” ingredients?Maple Syrup (Wiki) Is the beer produced at a brewery nestled amid the warehouses of a light industrial district any less “authentically local” than the beer that uses maple syrup tapped from trees on the brewer’s land?

Attaching too much importance to the connection between beer and place and its corollary, “buy local,” bears with it the potential establishment of hierarchies within the craft beer community. (Before we dismiss the notion of craft beer hierarchies, it’s worth pointing out that the antipathy toward contract brewing evinces a dubious understanding of authenticity often echoed in the promotion of local consumption.) The statement, “This beer is made with one hundred-percent locally grown ingredients” is, prima facie, an innocuous statement. But it conceals a normative claim: if you don’t buy locally, you are lending support to an entity that is not of this locale, not one of us. We don’t have to reach far for examples of this logic in action. The automobile industry’s “Buy American” campaign of the 1980s intersected with a particularly virulent form of Japan-bashing.

One might object that this is an extreme example. But similar mechanisms of moral suasion are at work in many a call to support the local economy: nationalism writ small, as it were. The “buy local movement” – sometimes coded as socially and politically “progressive” – is not immune to these unexamined parochial sentiments. BuyLocal (blockbyblock-us)For some, the attractiveness of consuming locally lies in knowing where our food comes from; for others, the choice represents a rejection of corporate America. But on an affective level, the appeal to consume locally plays on our attachments to place. Beer produced locally is often sold as being more “wholesome” and “natural” – of this place, of this land. Historically, though, ideologies that promote ties to the land and to locality have given rise to insularity, chauvinism, and xenophobia. It may make us feel good to consume locally. But the sentiment risks fostering an “us versus them” mentality that views goods and services arriving from elsewhere as in some way suspect.

This is not to undermine the efforts of breweries that make beer with locally-sourced ingredients whenever it is possible to do so. I wholeheartedly support those brewers who take this ethos even further in their attempts to stimulate ancillary industries such as hop production and malting. But this should not stop us from examining the assumptions underpinning our desire to consume locally. The farm that supplies the hops and barley may well be “local,” and the brewery may well be right around the corner; but just as the Reinheitsgebot does not, in itself, guarantee good beer, proximity is no guarantor of excellence.

An uncritical embrace of “the local” also opens the door to investors trading in the popularity of “locally-produced craft beer.” Unfortunately, some folks sell a sense of place at the expense of quality. I’ve visited and read about more than a handful of “local breweries” attracted to profit more than to the prospect of producing top-notch beer. It wouldn’t be the first time that a local artisan has wrapped inferior goods in the romantic appeal of local essence.

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Sources:

In formulating my thoughts for this series, I have benefited immensely from the insightful comments to Kevin Goldberg’s “Terroir and the Making of Beer into Wine,” and from exchanges with those who have commented on earlier pieces in this series on craft beer and place. In particular, Daegan M., Kevin G., and Bryan R. may well recognize some of their own points and arguments woven into these pieces.

Part I of this series, “A Reflection of Place, But Dimly,” is here; Part II, “Pinning Down Place,” is here. What was originally slated as Part III, but which is now Part IV, considers how, in light of the critiques advanced in Parts II and III, the notion of place might still play a meaningful role in the craft beer discussion. Part IV is but a jumble of notes at the moment, so I look forward to engaging with more of your comments and critical interventions as I work the jumble into a relatively coherent post.

Images:

Brewery Count: Brewers Association

Twenty-Six Paces from Tempest’s Computer (aka very local brewery): Franz D. Hofer

Maple Syrup: Wikipedia

Buy Local Collage: www.blockbyblock.us

Pinning Down Place

“Pinning Down Place” is Part II of my series on place and locality. For Part I, “A Reflection of Place, But Dimly,” click here. For Part III, “Romancing the Local,” click here.

Just as we had begun the short ascent up the hill to the Augustine Monastery in Salzburg, the dark clouds amassing overhead broke loose. We reached the heavy doors, hurried down the stairs, and arrived at the beer stall right at the moment the barkeeper was tapping a fresh wooden keg. Augustiner Stein (FB pg)Steins of Märzen in hand, we headed out into the leafy beer garden and found a table under a massive horse chestnut tree. We could hear the rain lashing at the canopy overhead, but it wasn’t until we were seeing the bottom of our glasses that the first drops began to trickle through. The afternoon was a memorable prelude to many trips back to the Augustiner, both for the refreshing beer and the ambience.

My current preoccupation with craft beer has afforded me the enviable opportunity of visiting many an artisanal brewery proud of its local connections. Some of these breweries even produce beer with ingredients from the plants and trees growing around me. Unique and eminently fresh beers reflect the brewer’s efforts to source ingredients locally, with local honey, maple syrup, or seasonal nuts and fruits occasionally making their way into kettles and fermenters. (See my pieces on Abandon and Hopshire Farms in the Finger Lakes region.) The passage of legislation like New York State’s 2013 farm brewery bill has stimulated local agricultural economies. Hop production is a small-but-growing industry in a state that once produced the bulk of U.S. hops in the days prior to Prohibition. Maltsters such as Farmhouse Malt in Newark Valley, NY, have sprung up to receive the barley crops that farmers in the area are starting to plant. The resurgence of the New York hop industry and the rise of farmhouse breweries makes for a powerful and compelling narrative. And it’s something that we can feel a part of when we consume locally. Local beer, expressive of its origins.

Languid beer garden afternoons in Salzburg, visits to farm breweries in New York State – both present powerful evidence in favour of a relationship between beer and place, albeit in very different ways. IMG_8756I recounted the first anecdote as a means of signaling the importance of the memories that I associate with Salzburg and the beer garden in shaping my perception of the beer I drank. As fascinating as these mnemonic connections between certain beers and places are, though, I will confine myself to one passing remark: We sometimes confuse our own place-dependent memories and experiences with the beer itself having a sense of place. What concerns me more is the second case, insofar as we project our desire to drink locally onto this same notion – that beer exudes a sense of place. Sometimes the two notions overlap; more often they don’t.

As I note in the sentences that introduce visitors to A Tempest in a Tankard, I drink “locally,” but not militantly so. I drink Aventinus whenever and wherever I can, and I wish I could find more than a handful of British ales in my local liquor store. If the brewer around the corner or in the next town is making compelling beers, I’m all for it. But what about the much more ubiquitous cases of breweries that don’t operate in “beer friendly” states, or that are located in regions that might not produce the kind of agricultural bounty typical of the brewing arts? What of breweries that might not have the financial wherewithal to establish themselves on a piece of land and then farm that land for their ingredients? What of those breweries and brewpubs that are part of the urban scenery rather than the pastoral landscape?

These questions are worth pondering for several reasons. Place matters enough to some commentators to warrant an appellation system similar to that of wine. I allow that beer reflects its conditions of origin. Even so, I don’t think an appellation system for beer is tenable insofar as such designations accord undue emphasis to a notion of place insufficiently divorced from the distraction of terroir. Then there’s the matter of “tasting” place in beer, a perennial favourite of well-meaning advocates of local consumption who unwittingly (and sometimes very consciously) conflate place and terroir. Beers may be a reflection of place, but can we “taste place” in beer? An impossibly difficult question to answer on two counts: ingredients and process.

Excursus: If I were to blind-taste a New Belgium La Folie next to a Duchesse de Bourgogne from Verhaeghe, I’d be hard-pressed to tell you whether I’m imbibing a taste of Fort Collins, Colorado, or of Vichte in West Flanders. Maybe I’m imbibing less a “taste of place” and more a shared ethos connecting places on different continents. (Cue up objections revolving around wild/spontaneous fermentation here. In the very near future I’m going to taste a bottle of Jester King beer alongside a bottle of Argus cider to test the claim that there’s a “goût de terroir” endemic to the Texas Hill Country. And then I’ll set up a blind tasting with Argus as the control, and then taste a Jolly Pumpkin alongside a Jester King to see if I can distinguish Michigan from Texas.)

One could certainly advance the argument that, historically at least, climate and water influenced the development of lagers in southern Germany and dry stouts in Dublin. Hops (auer-bier dot de)It’s no accident that certain hop or grain varieties thrive in certain soils, topographies, and climatic conditions, just like a given grape varietal grows better in one region than in another. Though an agricultural product like wine, beer is different from wine in that many if not all of the ingredients that go into beer produced in a particular place are sourced from elsewhere. On top of all this, the beer we drink is the result of a process. By the time the grain has been harvested and malted, by the time the malt has been mashed and the wort boiled with the hops, by the time all of this has spent weeks or months in the fermenter or in a barrel, the “taste of place” becomes an exceedingly abstract notion. Augustiner Sudhaus (FB pg)

Beer upsets many a desire to pin down place, except in the broadest sense. Even in limited cases in which breweries can source most of their ingredients locally, the plethora of international and domesticated styles represented at even these breweries or brewpubs renders regional styles in North America heuristic at best. In this sense, beer reveals its hybrid nature: a product of agriculture, but not necessarily of a particular agricultural locale. A moveable feast, as it were, brewed anywhere.

Where does that leave our local brewery?

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In Part III, “Romancing the Local,” I consider a few of the following questions: Do place and locality intersect in the invocation to consume locally? Or would it be better to draw a distinction between “beer as an expression of place” and “drinking locally?” For Part I, “A Reflection of Place, But Dimly,” click here.

 

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Sources:

For Part I of the series, “A Reflection of Place, But Dimly,” click here. Part I reflects on a few of the issues Kevin Goldberg raises in his Tempest contribution, “Terroir and the Making of Beer into Wine.”

Stan Hieronymus began articulating the connections between beer and place in his Brew Like a Monk (Boulder: Brewers Publications, 2005), one of my favourite books on beer. His writing conveys a sense of the culture and the tradition behind abbey and Trappist ales while also urging readers to consider arguments in favour of appellations for beer.

Crystal Luxmore has also pondered the imprint of terroir on beer in an article for The Globe and Mail, and in an extended interview with Charlie Bamforth, a professor of brewing science at UC Davis. Both pieces raise the issue of wild fermentation.

Images:

Beer Stein: Augustiner Bräustübl Salzburg Mülln (Facebook Page)

Hopshire Farm and Brewery Hop Tower: Franz D. Hofer

Hops: www.auer-bier.de

Brewhouse: Augustiner Bräustübl Salzburg Mülln (Facebook Page)

A Twist of Sour: New Belgium’s 2013 La Folie and Verhaeghe’s Duchesse de Bourgogne

New Belgium BrewingPeter Bouckaert of New Belgium Brewing (Fort Collins, CO) is no stranger to sour beers. Growing up in Belgium, beer was a staple at meal time, and he had his first taste of Rodenbach at age thirteen while a member of the local scouts chapter. Relates Bouckaert in a recent interview, “We were from that area, and it’s a very accessible beer. It’s kind of sour and sweet, so for kids, it’s actually a very good beer.” Bouckaert eventually went on to work for Rodenbach in the 1980s before making the move state-side to New Belgium in the mid-1990s. By 1999, he had New Belgium’s foeder cellar up and running (now some sixty-four barrels strong), and had produced what was, at the time, quite a remarkable beer for a North American palate as-yet unaccustomed to sour beers: La Folie. A sour brown ale, La Folie is blended from different batches that spend between one and three years in French oak barrels.

Back in Belgium, the Verhaeghe family of Vichte has been brewing since the 1500s, originally in a farmhouse brewery, and in their present site since 1880. Casks from that time are, reportedly, still in use to mature the sweet-and-sour style of the West Flanders region. At 6.2% ABV, Duchesse de Bourgogne is the strongest beer in the lineup, and straddles the Oud Bruin/Flanders Red Ale style. Mary Duchess of BurgundyThough the vinous Flanders Red Ale style is sometimes referred to as the “Burgundy of Belgium,” the reference to Burgundy in this case has nothing to do with wine. Rather, the name of the beer recalls the brief reign of Duchess Mary of Burgundy, only daughter of Charles the Bold. (Modern-day Flanders was, in the late1400s, part of the Duchy of Burgundy.)

Now for the beers, both of which are nearly identical in appearance (clear ruby-brown with mahogany hues), the only difference being the longevity and colour of the head – fleeting in the case of La Folie, and a shade of brown darker. If the initial aromas of La Folie are redolent of tart cherry with a hint of hay, wood, and green apple, the Duchesse is more wine-like and caramel-malt accented, reminiscent at times of an aged balsamic vinegar. Both present a degree of “funk”: La Folie’s is grassy, and Duchesse exhibits the slightest trace of “barnyard” Brett. La Folie is the more food-friendly of the two, while Duchesse – also fine with food, but more robust and sweeter than La Folie – lends itself to after-dinner sipping. Both increase in complexity if allowed to open up. (Start around 50F and go from there.)

La Folie 2013La Folie is also the more sour of the two. The secondary aromatics of nuts, sherry, caramel, and dark bread are countered by a mouth-puckering bright lemon-lime acidity on the palate. Dry and playfully light-bodied, the sourness takes on a green apple-like quality before giving way to a long cherry finish. At 7%, the ABV of the 2013 edition is a notch higher than in other vintages.

With time in the glass, the Duchesse develops slightly more complexity than La Folie. Brown sugar sweetness tinged with maple syrup combine with subtle vanilla oak notes, and all of these meld harmoniously with the fruity acetic character of the aromas. Rich and creamy, the wood aging brings together a mellow yet pronounced sweet-and-sour ensemble evocative, by turns, of blueberry, chocolate, and plum not unlike a full-bodied red wine.

Both of these beers are superb sours. Pick La Folie if you want something that pairs with a wider variety of foods (its tang would make a nice match with goat cheese). Overall, though, I give Duchesse de Bourgogne the slightest edge.

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Related Tempest Articles:

Three Vintages of Goose Island’s Sofie

A Rodenbach Grand Cru in the Fridge, or a Six-Pack of Lesser Beer in the Fridge?

Gose: A Beer Worth Its Salt

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Sources:

Michael Jackson, Great Beer Guide (London: Dorling Kindersley, 2000).

Garrett Oliver, The Brewmaster’s Table (New York: HarperCollins, 2003).

New Belgium Brewing (Tour: October 2013).

Images:

Mary, Duchess of Burgundy: Wikipedia

©2014 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.