Flemish Red ale, also known as Flanders Red hails from the West Flanders region of Belgium. These beers are often produced by blending young beer with 2-year oak aged beer. However, some brewers bottle straight aged beer without blending and label it as the “Connoisseur’s beer”. A Flemish Red Ale, to me, is like an aged wine with its dark fruit esters, oak, tannic bitterness, and long dry finish. It is one of my favorite beer styles, and I wish more brewers had the patience to brew something like this. Although, it is growing in popularity, so there is hope in sight.
Flemish Ales have an ABV of 4.6%-6.5% and a low bitterness typically in the range of 10-25 IBU’s. A deep red burgundy to red-brown mahogany color speaks to the aroma and flavors of multifaceted dark fruit and oak.
You’ll find complex fruity esters with complementary malt on the nose. Fruit aromas reminiscent of black cherries, oranges, plums, fig, or red currants. There is often some vanilla and/or chocolate notes from the aging in large oak tanks (Foeders), and from malt. Spicy phenols can be present in low amounts for complexity. The sour, acidic aroma ranges from complementary to intense. Sorry hop heads but no hop aroma/flavor here. Diacetyl can be perceived in the aroma and flavor but only in very minor quantities, if at all, as a complementary aroma.
Aroma runs parallel with flavor; This style develops a measure of sourness (but never vinegary like), and fruit notes during the maturation in Foeders, but the best examples retain enough malt flavor and sweetness to provide an enjoyable balance. Malty flavors range from sort of subtle to prominent with huge fruit notes. Generally as the sour character increases, the sweet character blends to more of a background flavor and vice-versa. Restrained hop bitterness but an acidic, tannic bitterness is often present in low to moderate amounts, and adds an aged red wine-like character with a long, dry finish. However, it is not uncommon to find a very subtle sweetness in the finish in some Flemish Red Ales.
The sour, acidic character ranges from complementary to intense. Medium bodied with low to medium carbonation, and low to medium astringency, which may leave a prickly “zing-like” acidity feeling on the palate. It drinks deceivingly light, and crisp.
“Overall Impression: A sour, fruity, red wine-like Belgianstyle
ale with interesting supportive malt flavors and fruit
complexity. The dry finish and tannin completes the mental
image of a fine red wine.” – Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) Style Committee
Flemish Red style beers are extremely well suited for cooking, taking the place of Sherry, Madeira or Marsala. Chicken
Marsala Flemish, anyone?
If you would like to try an example of this style I would suggest starting with a classic, and one you can find in most stores — Rodenbach Classic or Rodenbach Grand Cru, or Monk’s Café Flemish Sour Ale. And if you can find Lost Abbey Red Poppy on a shelf, grab it, it won two awards at the Great American Beer Festival back in 2012-2013.