ROESELARE - The origins of Flanders Red Ale (Vlaams roodbruin bier as it is known in this part of Belgium) lie in the area around Roeselare and Kortrijk. These beers are a prime example of the noble art of ‘cutting’ (blending). The Rodenbach beers are left to mature in one of the brewery’s 294 upright foeders.
At every stage of the brewing process the brewmasters and cellar masters carry out tastings of the soured foeder beer which, when the time is just right, is blended or ‘cut’ with young beer. The Rodenbach brewers have been expert at the art of ‘cutting’ (blending) ever since 1821. After almost two hundred years this ‘grande dame’ from Roeselare has been given a make-over. All of the members of the family have acquired a new look.
Do you fancy a Rodenbach Classic, Grand Cru, Vintage, Caractère Rouge, Alexander or Rosso? You will now notice the three letter R’s on the label; they stand for Red, Ripened and Refreshing. We are talking about more than a face-lift as from now on your Rodenbach Classic will be served in a stemmed glass, as well as in the familiar – but now re-launched – ribbed glass. A thirst-quencher or a degustation beer?
Up to you. Rodenbach Classic is a great thirst quencher and also makes for a great companion with crustaceans and seafood, the grey North Sea shrimp in particular. Fine dining is the domain of a Rodenbach Grand Cru or Vintage.
Add fruit to either of these beers and the outcome is a Rodenbach Alexander or a Caractère Rouge, both now served in a newly designed glass. The stronger Rodenbach beers (+ 6% ABV) will now be served in the same tall-stemmed, elegant glass that suits all of these gastronomic beers.
“The most refreshing beer in the world.” This is how the late British beer guru Michael Jackson described Rodenbach. So what is the secret of this refreshingly sour beer? After the main fermentation stage, a proportion of the young beer is transferred to the foeders where it will ‘sour’ over a two-year period. The bacteria and wild yeasts contained in the foeders will produce organic acids and convert these into fruity esters.
Every single Rodenbach beer comprises a different blend of young and wood-matured or soured beers. Rodenbach Classic contains a proportion of ¾ young beer and ¼ beer matured on oak for two years.
Rodenbach Grand Cru is made with 1/3 young and 2/3 mature beer whereas the Rodenbach Vintage consists entirely of beer that has matured for two years in one selected foeder.
Add fruit and you end up with Rodenbach Rosso, macerated with the natural juices of red fruits. Rodenbach Alexander is a Rodenbach Grand Cru macerated with the natural juices of Noorderkrieken cherries.
And Rodenbach Caractère Rouge is a Rodenbach Vintage steeped over six months with cranberries, Noorderkrieken and raspberries.
All of these refined beers have an ancestor in common: Eugène Rodenbach (1850-1889). He studied the brewing process of the English porter beers, looked into the vinification of beer and also managed to fine-tune the process of maturation in oak foeders..
A visit to this brewery always turns into an experience, especially with master brewer Rudi Ghequire as your guide. “This brewery is unique,” Rudi finds. “Where else do you still find a malt oast or no fewer than 294 foeders of this size, all full and all made of oak? Just imagine having lunch or dinner here amongst the foeders.
Many of our visitors enjoy the experience.” Just like the brewery, bottled beers have evolved well over the years. “Have you ever tasted a Rodenbach bottled in 1997? Or one that dates back to 2004...?” he asks me. But in Roeselare they are looking towards the future as well as honouring the past. In recent years Rodenbach has grown into a family that comprises quaffable beers as well as degustation beers.
Viki Geunes, chef at two-star restaurant ‘t Zilte in Antwerp, was involved in the development of Rodenbach Caractère Rouge, which has spent a total of 30 months maturing on wood. Rodenbach Alexander, withdrawn from the market in 1998, was re-launched last year and is now available bottled as well as on tap.
Rodenbach Rosso, called Fruitage in the USA, is a light fruit beer and is the most accessible beer in the range. Rudi: “Our refreshingly sour beers lend themselves to food pairing and give a pleasant touch to many dishes. They are quite similar to wine and provide a great counter-balance with fatty dishes like foie gras, various types of cheese and chocolate desserts.” We take his word for it.