Monday 19 November 2012

Tasting : Neighborino (Flanders Red)

It's been almost 21 months since I brewed my first sour beer, a Flanders Red. The beer sat in the primary fermenter for the first 15 months, with the last few months having a couple of commercial sour beer dregs pitched into it. After that, a little more than half of the beer was bottled, while the other portion was racked to secondary on top of frozen/thawed cherries. Over the next few months, another couple of beer dregs were pitched, before the beer was bottled.

Add another several months of aging the bottles/dragging my feet at writing some notes on how the beer(s) taste, and here we are. The results? A beer that went from not tasting too sour for the first year (I pulled a sample and took a gravity reading and taste every 3 months), to two extremely sour and acidic beverages. Flanders Reds are supposed to be very fruity (plum, orange, black cherry) in both the aroma and taste, along with a sourness and acidity that ranges from "complementary to intense", according to the BJCP guidelines.

The Neighborinos (both the plain and cherry portion) definitely lie on the "intense" side. Two of the better-known commercial Flanders Reds are Duchesse de Bourgogne and Rodenbach Grand Cru. I found both of these beers to have a really nice malty and fruity side to them, with just a touch of sourness in the Duchesse, and a bit more in the Rodenbach Grand Cru. This is just my opinion, however, as I know some people find the Grand Cru to be quite sour. Regardless, the Neighborino's sourness is so high that I find it overshadows the malt and fruit character of the beer a bit; those characters are still there, but quite in the background in comparison. If I had to compare my homebrewed version to a commercial brand, I'd have to go with Brouweij Bockor's Cuvee des Jacobins, from what I remember (it's been a couple of years since I've had that beer). I should also mention that both homebrewed beers lack oak character, because, well, I didn't add any oak. I know that some Flanders Reds have a slight oak flavor, but I was a bit wary of including oak in the brewing process, since I hadn't used it before, and was worried of over-doing it.

While the BJCP lists the carbonation for Flanders Reds as "low to medium", I feel that it came in even a little TOO low for my attempt, especially for the plain half. I'm sure this has to do with the acidity having an affect on the dry ale yeast that I bottled it with. When I saw the results of the plain portion, I had the time to bottle the cherry-half with a dry red-wine yeast, which has a better acid-tolerance; therefore, the cherry beer's carbonation is a bit better.

In the end, I'm still glad that I brewed this beer and found the patience to wait it out to let the sourness develop. For my next Flanders, I wouldn't mind having the malt character brought out some more. Generally, I think I hit the mark with the beer, based on the range of descriptors in the BJCP category. If you're a fan of the more-sour Flanders Reds, this beer would be just the ticket! If you like the enamel on your teeth as-is, well, then I'd suggest trying something else...

The plain half:

Appearance: Poured with hardly any head at all; the bit that is there fades immediately to a thin ring. Still. Body is a dark copper/orange color, with excellent clarity.

Aroma: Aroma is a bit funky (horseblanket), with a sweet, candy-like, very sour smell coming through with the most intensity. There is a bit of cherry aroma in the background which is quite pleasant.

Taste: Intensely sour and acidic. The flavor does have some fruitiness to it, but the sour character overshadows, maybe too much so, even for a Flanders Red. No hop flavor or bitterness.

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied, with low carbonation.

Overall: There’s not a lot of malt/fruitiness complexity in this beer in either the flavor or aroma, but it IS there in the background; it’s just overshadowed by some major sour/acidic character with the beer. I’m not sure if that happened because of the time I gave the fermentation, or from the bottle dregs I pitched, or both.

The cherry half:

Appearance: Poured with a small, thin, light-red head that vanishes without a trace. Body is a deep ruby-red with excellent clarity.

Aroma: More prominent cherry aroma than the regular portion, with a good amount of sourness coming through, and a touch of funk. Mouth-watering.

Taste: Just as sour and acidic as the other half, but a more-intense cherry flavor that adds a bit more tartness. At the same time, the boost in fruit character helps lessen the punch of the sour. Slightly red wine-like. A bit of horse blanket in the background. No hop presence at all.

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied. Medium-low carbonation.

Overall: Very similar to the other half, but again, more fruit presence thanks to the cherry addition. Very tasty, although it would be more drinkable if the sourness was turned down a tad. If you had told me this beer was a fruit lambic, I'd probably believe you...


  1. I realize that you posted this over 16 months ago but I thought I would chime in on the intensity of the sour character of your batches of Flanders Red. A lot of homebrew-scale versions come out lacking acidity or with overwhelming acidity. This is typically due to either a lack of sufficient long-chain sugars from a low mash temp (nothing for the Pedio to eat over time) resulting in low sourness or too much oxygen transfer during the long fermentation resulting in more acetic acid from the Brett. Most commercial sours are fermented in giant oak foeders that limit the oxygen transfer to an ideal level. Our small scale just can't do that without special controls. Better Bottles are pretty notorious in sour beer brewing for oxygen permeability.

  2. Thanks for the post... I think I agree with everything you've said, here. My FG never got below 1.010 in the plain half of this beer, so I don't think a lack of sugars was the problem (although, I guess you never know). I DO think that oxygen exposure was at least partly due to the sour character that the beer developed; aside from the fact that I used a Better Bottle, and the beer was in it for a long time, at one point the airlock was... low. Not dry, exactly, but there may have been room for more oxygen exposure. I've had several people into sour beers who've tasted this and said they didn't noticed a high Acetobacter character, but...