While there's exceptions to every rule, and taste is definitely subjective, the majority of beer geeks eventually become involved in sour beers. Definitely an acquired taste at first, this "family" of beers is so fascinating and complex (not to mention delicious), that one can't help but be drawn to their history and process.
Flanders Red, one of the styles of sour beers, is probably as close to wine as any beer style can get. While it IS definitely a beer (it still uses the same mashing, boiling, hopping, etc. techniques that you always see), its color, flavors and aromas make it startlingly similar to some fine red wines. Both the aroma and taste usually have quite prominent fruitiness (such as cherries and red currants); there can be some spiciness in the background. While some examples have some of the Brettanomyces (a "wild" yeast) characteristic funk, what makes this style stand out from other sour ales is the acidity, which can range from a moderate amount to a highly-intense, enamel-stripping presence.
When I was introduced to sours about a year and a half ago, it was through Lambics and Gueuze. Months later, on a visit to The Lion's Pride in Brunswick, Maine, I had my first Flanders Red. The LP had Cuvee des Jacobins Rouge, from Brouwerij Bockor N.V. in Belgium. I remember it as being quite sour, but oddly enough I really enjoyed it right away. While definitely intense, the complexity of the flavors and aromas pulled me in, and I convinced myself that if I ever decided to delve into actually BREWING sour beers, this was the style I would try first.
Finally, last February, I decided to give it a try. Through various readings, especially the website The Mad Fermentationist (link on the right), and the book Wild Brews: Culture and Craftmanship in the Belgian Tradition, by Jeff Sparrow, I tried to make myself more familiar with what was involved. While this style IS basically brewed like other beers, what really sets it (and other sour beers) apart from non-sours is the time that the beer sits in the fermenter... at least 12 months is recommended, generally, for flavor complexity and acidity to develop. Flanders Reds use a Saccharomyces yeast during fermentation, but there is also other organisms involved, such as Brettanomyces yeast (not everyone uses this), and certain souring and acid-producing bacteria.
I used the recipe from Brewing Classic Styles, which recommended the Wyeast 3763 Roeselare Blend, which contains several yeasts, as well as Lactobacillus and Pediococcus bacteria. I wanted to get a very sour beer, so I pitched this smackpack immediately into primary. Another option is to let fermentation start with a neutral yeast (such as Wyeast 1056 American Ale), and THEN pitch the Roeselare blend when fermentation starts to slow down.
I should note, however, that I left the beer in the primary fermenter for the entire time, as per Brewing Classic Style's instructions. However, I read (too late) that with Flanders Reds, you really should rack to secondary after a month or so. The Brettanomyces like to feed on the dying yeast cake in primary, and will continue to do so for months, producing more of their funk character. While this is desirable in sours such as Lambics, the funkiness really isn't supposed to be as prominent in Flanders Reds, so it's better to get the beer off the yeast cake for the bulk of fermentation. Also, your typical Flanders Red will be aged to some degree on oak (or IN an oak barrel). I chose to avoid adding oak chips to the fermenter this time, as I don't have a lot of experience with using oak, and didn't want to risk overdoing it.
Recipe (5.5 gallons, 80% efficiency): OG 1.057, FG 1.008, IBU 15, SRM 14.7
1.77 kg Vienna malt
1.77 kg German Pilsener malt
454 g Munich malt
227 Aromatic malt
227 g Caramunich II
227 g Special B
227 g Wheat malt
U.S. Goldings - 28 g (4.5% AA) @ 60 min
1/2 tsp yeast nutrient @ 10 min
1/2 tab Irish Moss @ 10 min
Yeast: Wyeast 3763 Roeselare Belgian Blend (no starter)
- Brewed Feb.28th, 2011, with Jill. 60 minute mash with 16.2 L of strike water, mashed in at 154 F. Sparged with 5.5 gallons of 175 F water for final volume of 7.25 gallons in the kettle. 90 minute boil.
- Chilled down to 68 F with immersion chiller. OG came in at target. Siphoned into Better Bottle, leaving as much trub behind as possible, so final volume into fermenter came in a bit low, maybe 5 gallons or so. Pitched yeast and bugs at 65 F, aerating by shaking for several minutes before and after.
- Bubbling in airlock, slowly, by next morning. Picked up in the evening, and continued for about a week or so, temperature never getting above 69 F.
15/3/11 - 9/12/11 - Fermenter has been kept in a dark closet for this period. Temp has ranged from 64 F in the winter, to 78 F in the summer. I've taken various gravity samples every 3 months or so. The gravity is currently 1.010; hopefully it drops a couple more points in the next few months. The aroma and flavor definitely has the fruitiness, a bit of Brett funk, but the acidity is really lacking. A thick pellicle has formed on top of the beer in the last few months... seemed a bit slow to occur, but hopefully this means the bugs are still doing their work.
27/1/12 - Added the bottle dregs of one bottle of Ichtegem’s Grand Cru Flemish Red.
29/1/12 - Added bottle dregs of a Drie Fonteinen Oude Gueuze.
27/5/12 - Bottled ~2.3 gallons, using 50 g table sugar, aiming for 2.25 vol CO2 with max temp of 78 F reached. Bottled 4 x 500 mL, 20 (and 1/2) x 12 oz. Meanwhile, also racked ~8 L onto 1.5 kg frozen (and then thawed) cherries in 3 gallon BB.
29/7/12 - Added the bottle dregs of a Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus to the secondary fermenter with the cherry half.
18/8/12 - Added bottle dregs of Jolly Pumpkin Weizen Bam (2011) to the cherry half.
29/8/12 - Bottled cherry-half (~2 gallons) with 42 g table
sugar, aiming for 2.2 vol CO2 with max temp of 78 F reached. Also added
~1/4 package of wine yeast Lalvin D47 (rehydrated).
19/11/12 - Tasting notes for both the plain and cherry portion.