I finished my book o' the month early this month, so I decided to sit down to celebrate and to write up the First Monday post. This seemed like a good time to crack open a bottle of something that I hoped would be special, or at least different.
Strubbe's Grand Cru Flemish Red Ale is a Flanders-style sour ale from Brouwerij Strubbe, a family-owned and -operated brewery in Ichtegem, Belgium. Somewhat weirdly, the firm also produces a second Flanders-style red ale, called Ichtegem's Grand Cru, first produced in 2006. It is unclear from their website whether these are actually different beers, even though they sport different labels.
The Flanders Red Ale style is a sour ale style. Unlike lambics, which traditionally are open-air fermented in musty old barns infected with Brettanomyces yeasts, leading to their characteristic flavor profile, some Flanders Red Ales apparently get their tang and pucker from the addition of Lactobacillus during fermentation, which adds lactic acid. In addition, they typically are aged for a year or longer in oak barrels, adding a further acidic note (from acetic acid). They tend to have very fruity noses and flavors (tart cherries, plums, raspberries), despite not actually having any fruit in the wort.
I am a sucker for sour ale styles, from traditional lambics (which typically are fruit-flavored) to gueueze (a non-fruity lambic style, but if it had been invented by Americans would probably be called an Imperial or Double or Triple Lambic, because it is seriously funked up) to Flanders reds.
The Strubbe's version of a Flanders red hits most of the traditional notes. It has a pretty, deep amber-red color, low carbonation, lots of tart cherry notes, and some sourness and astringency. It's a fine sipping beer.
Unfortunately, it's not a great beer for the style. For an analogy, I'd put it on about a Blue Moon level on the witbier scale, far below something like the Allagash White, but nothing you'd be embarrassed to serve to friends. For that, you'll need to pony up for the Rodenbach Grand Cru (oh, yea!) or Duchess De Bourgogne (mmmmm). And if somebody in upstate New York were to some how send me one of these (draft only, sadly, and apparently no longer produced??), I would be eternally grateful.
That said, there's nothing ordinary about Flanders red ales. If you've never had one and your palate is even a wee bit adventurous, I'd urge you to give one a try.