Sunday, July 23, 2006


Arrival of Authenticity

Two opposite trends on the sour beer front have appeared in Belgium lately. On the one hand you have the sweetening and rebranding to appeal to the Coca-Cola generation and girls, removing the end product further away from the original beer. They typically carry fancy names like Kriek Max, Timm's, Redbach and Newton. It is a trend that holds few prospects for the quality-conscious beer drinker (except that it may be one way for sour beer brewers to stay in business and create some serious stuff as well).

Luckily, there is also a trend towards authenticity, even among the biggest brewery groups. In August the Keersmaeker brewery, part of the Alken-Maes group, will launch a "new" oude kriek that is made the authentic way with real cherries and no artificial sweetening. It is a limited batch, but if you are in Belgium you may find it at the Delhaize supermarket chain.

The beer on the picture is not your everyday Rodenbach Grand Cru that the glass may have you to believe- it is the Rodenbach Oud Belegen Foederbier. Many people mourned the discontinuating of the Alexander Rodenbach beer, shortly after the Palm group took over the Rodenbach brewery. It is also claimed by old-time beer connoisseurs that Rodenbach Grand Cru was tarter before. The Rodenbach brewery web site states that Rodenbach Grand Cru is matured in oak tuns for 2 years before bottling. Other sources say that 3 parts of this old beer is blended with 1 part new beer and lightly sweetened with caramel sugar before bottled as Rodenbach Grand Cru.

Recently, Rodenbach is seen to be slowly moving back to authenticity. Their Oud Belegen Foederbier- (almost) literally old, matured oak tun beer- is an unsweetened beer made of 100% old beer, available on draught at only two beer cafés in Belgium so far- at De Zalm in the brewery's home town Roeselare and at 't Vosken in Gent. John White has an excellent web page describing the former plus a good discussion of the Rodenbach varieties. The picture above is, however, from 't Vosken- The Little Fox- situated at the atmospheric St.-Baafsplein in Gent. Behind the colourful beer is the grand Belfort- the belfry- whose Viking association I have described previously.

The beer has a refreshing, fruity, sour yoghurt aroma. Flavours are of sour berries, almost like a kriek, but with a sharp acidic edge. The finish is woody and very dry.

Enjoying the Foederbier in a grand medieval setting like St.-Baafsplein is a reminder that trends may be short-lived, but creating greatness takes time.

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