Guest series by Christopher Barnes.
Belgium is a land filled with a huge variety of beer styles, but probably none more unique than the ‘sour ale’. Throughout history, most beer probably had some level of sourness due to poor sanitation and open air fermentation.
The advances of Louis Pasteur helped clean up the brewing world, brought pure yeast strains to the forefront of brewing methodology and helped to eliminate spoilage and unintentional sourness. However, it didn’t eliminate all of the sour beers. A few managed to survive until they could spawn a whole new generation of sour beer fans and breweries. Rodenbach is one of those that survived.
A bit of Rodenbach background
Rodenbach was founded when the four Rodenbach brothers purchased a small brewery in Roeselare in 1821. The Rodenbach family stands large in the pantheon of Belgian families. Over multiple generations, they’ve contributed to Belgium’s independence, written medical texts, created texts for the blind, fought for Flemish rights, set up one of the first safety nets for their employees and created an amazing, world famous beer.
The real story of Rodenbach begins when Eugene Rodenbach, grandson/grandnephew of the founders, traveled to England to learn about barrel aging and blending from English porter brewers. The methods Eugene learned, while no longer in use in England, are still used by Rodenbach today. Rodenbach is known as a ‘mixed fermentation’ beer, meaning it’s fermented with a mix of regular ale yeast and a cocktail of wild yeast and bacteria. This mixture then goes into large wooden barrels called ‘foeders’. The oak makes for a perfect environment for the long term, slow souring of beer. It creates places for the bacteria and wild yeast to live while allowing just enough oxygen to get through the porous surface. What makes this system so unique is that each foeder has its own microbiological environment. The beer goes in the same, but no two foeders will produce identical beer! This means the brewery has to blend beer from several foeders in various quantities to create a consistent ‘house style’ and flavor.
This mix will be a blend of older beer and younger beer. The old beer will be more acidic and dryer. The bacteria and wild yeast will eat even the most complex of sugars. The younger ale still has fermentable sugars which will add some balancing sweetness to the blend while providing more sugar for the yeast to consume so that carbonation can be formed during bottle conditioning.
The Rodenbach beers
Rodenbach is a classic ‘Flemish Red’ ale. This style is red in color, has a nice sweet/tart flavor profile and is one of the classic sour beers of Belgium. Rodenbach produces 4 different beers. Keep in mind, these all come from the same base beer!
Rodenbach is their basic blend which is a mix of 75% younger beer and 25% older beer. At 5.2%, it’s an easy drinking and refreshing beer with nice little tart kick.
Rodenbach Grand Cru is one of the best values in sour beers. Its blend is 66% older beer (around 2 years old) and 34% younger beer. This beer is much deeper in character and in sourness, yet still very drinkable at 6% ABV.
Rodenbach Vintage is actually an unblended version. Every once in a while, one of the foeders will be at a stage in its development where the beer is so good and complete that you can serve it completely on its own. While the Rodenbach and Rodenbach Grand Cru are blended to create a consistent product over time, vintage is a completely unique one time experience that will change with every year’s release. Identified on the label, the beer is taken from single foeder and at 7% ABV, is more of a sipping affair.
Rodenbach Caractère Rouge was developed in collaboration with top chef Viki Geunes of Restaurant ‘t Zilte. This beer sees 2 years of barrel aging with an additional 6 months of aging on cherries, raspberries and cranberries. This is a newer and highly rare release by Rodenbach.
Where To Go
Rodenbach is located in the town of Roeselare in the province of West-Vlaanderen. The train station is located almost perfectly in between the brewery and the Grote Markt (town square). Both are easily walkable. Rodenbach is about a 10 minute stroll from the station. You’ll need to visit their website to get details about tours, but plan well in advance.
In the opposite direction, the Grote Markt is also about a 10 minute stroll from the train station. Here, you can find two nice restaurants to enjoy a Rodenbach while you try some of the local delicacies. Au Grand Café should be your choice for a meal. If they’re in season, get the shrimp! Rodenbach and shimp are a classic food and beer pairing that really shouldn’t be missed. In fact, Rodenbach’s various beers are excellent options for seafood in addition to a whole host of other options. The bottle service is excellent at Au Grand Café and the food is stellar. If it’s nice, sit out on the terrace and watch the people stroll by.
Creme de la Crema is another fantastic place to stop while you’re in Roeselare. While it isn’t a beer stop, it’s worth mentioning. It’s run by a husband and wife team. She is a jewelry artist and hand makes the shop’s wares on site while he is a coffee artist and makes some of the best coffee around. Stop in and enjoy a cup while browsing the excellent selection of handmade jewelry.
Don’t drink and drive!
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Christopher Barnes is an American beer writer, blogger, and brewing industry professional with a passion for travel, Belgium and its beers. You can find his writings at I think about beer or follow him on Facebook or Twitter.
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