Craft Brew of the Week - Week 9, Duke

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I will be profiling a quality craft brew each week prior to the game, one that fits with the theme for the week, because beer and game day are highly complementary. Please don't ‘rec' this post, as I would like them to roll off the front page each week.

My criteria for this list are:

A) use a combination of foreign and domestic beers that are generally available this time of year
2) only high quality beer
D) beers from a variety of U.S. regions for domestics
Ψ) present a variety of styles, with attention to the season, and do both classic styles and offbeat beers
Mercury) in general, bigger beers for bigger games

All right. We're off...

October 28 - Duke 3:30 p.m. -

The Brewery: Brouwerij Van Steenberge N.V. (for Monk's Café)

Selected Beer: Flemish Sour Ale

And now for something a little bit different, like a Duke football team that is 6-2. The Blue Devils join us the week before Halloween. Let's welcome them to Tallahassee with a devilishly sour brew and scare them off with a frighteningly lopsided score in the end.

Brouwerij Van Steenberge N.V. is a Belgian brewery, and though we've featured another Belgian style in this series (Saison), I think it's time to do a beer from the country itself. This one is distributed pretty widely in the U.S. If you can't find The Monk's Café due to distribution limitations, seek out another Flanders Red/Brown. They are tart, refreshing, and unique. I put a list of interesting ones under ‘alternate brews', and of course, the TN community will chime in with their own favorites as we do each week.

In the ‘Week 3' article, I said:
"Beer is based on four ingredients: water, malt, hops, and yeast. These ingredients can be manipulated to produce very different end products by adjusting timing, volume of ingredients, and temperature. Brewers may add other ingredients including water salts, fruit, vegetables, herbs, spices, sugars, bacteria cultures, non-traditional yeasts, spirits, and wood aging to further change or complement the flavor profile. We'll cover some of these sporadically through the season, but start with the big four. All in all, the goal of craft brewing in my opinion is unique, well balanced beer."

This week, let's talk sours.
Belgium is sandwiched between France and Germany. If you think about the respective beverages in those regions, you can probably guess why the Belgians were as creative with beer as they were over the last few centuries. While the Germans rigidly upheld beer purity using only basic ingredients, and the French were, well, the French ("Je ne bois que du vin, oui oui!"), the brewers of Belgium were busy using unique ingredients to enhance the flavor. They added spices, herbs, interesting yeasts (recall the Saison in week 3), and bacteria. This is craft brewing at its best, only a lot of these styles were developed without the scientific knowhow brewers have today. Let's talk about sour beers in general, touch on a few styles, and whatnot. Then we'll cover the brew and get ready for game day.

Random tidbits:

A) Did you know: In the early 1800s and prior, breweries made beer by either letting yeast from the air ferment their wort or by pitching the yeast slurry left over from a previous batch into new wort. Thus, brews had a dominant yeast along with multiple yeast strains and other organisms in their cultures. In the 1830s several European chemists discovered that sugars were converting into alcohol during fermentation by microbial activity. The scientific community laughed at them, with some even writing satirical pieces about watching little cells eat sugar and poop out alcohol. Most prominent among the scoffers were several Nobel prize winning chemists. They strongly believed it was a yet undiscovered chemical process causing sugars to convert to alcohol.
It wasn't until the 1850s that the earlier yeast-make-alcohol discovery was accepted. Emil Hansen, head scientist at Carlsberg Brewery in Germany, managed to isolate a single yeast cell and built a pure culture. He convinced the brewery President to allow him to brew a batch using this single strain, and the interpretation of the results was unanimous: this was excellent beer. Rather than patenting the culturing process, the President convinced him to publish in an academic journal, making the information free to all. This time around, the scientific community accepted the findings (probably not too hard to convince them, just hand them a pint of the ‘pure' brew along with the process). Within just a few years, most of the breweries in Europe were using pure strains for production.

2) Sour beers were probably pretty common in history, even if not intended. There are generally two types of acid produced by bacteria that contribute (acceptable) sour flavor to beer: lactic acid (from the bacteria lactobacillus, which are used in making pickles, yogurt, sauerkraut, kombucha, cheese, etc) and acetic acid (generally from acetobacter, used in the production of vinegar). These organisms are widely available in the air. Also, a strain of yeast called brettanomyces, which are found on fruit skins, are typical of some sour beers - they impart an all-around funky flavor with descriptors ranging from metallic to horsehair to ripe cheese. Sanitation wasn't always what it is today, so any of these little buggers could get into beer through barrels, recycled culture, the addition of ingredients after the wort boil, or within the brewery. Most of these are considered beer contaminants today if they show up out of context, but a number of classic beer styles, especially Belgian styles, feature them. And of course, today's craft brewers are looking for new ways to use them.

d) Sour ales can be classified as 'wild' ales, as they were traditionally fermented in open areas to allow wild bacteria and yeasts to enter the beer wort prior to and during fermentation. Some are still produced using these methods, while others have the 'wild' component introduced in controlled conditions in the brewery. Oud Bruin, meaning ‘Old Brown' is the sour ale featured this week. Another major sour beer style is Lambic. Bottled Lambic is typically a mix of old and new beer, which can be further blended with fruit (Kreik, Framboise, etc), mixed with sugar (Faro), or blended without any additives (Gueuze).

The game day brew:

Flanders (or Flemish, since ‘Flemish' means ‘from Flanders') Oud Bruin hails from the Flanders region of Belgium, and the beer itself is a brown ale somewhat similar to a porter, with strong malt flavors and fairly neutral hop taste. However, Belgian yeasts and lactobaccilus are used to ferment the beer, giving it a strong sour character. Then they are typically aged in oak which adds to the flavor profile. Flanders Oud Bruin and Flanders Red are considered the same style of beer (Flemish or Flanders Sour), as the production process is much the same. The difference is probably where on the color spectrum the brewery puts their beer based on subtle differences in the malts used.

This beer is both tart and refreshing, but very different from other beer if you've never had one. I won't do a beer review here, as Flemish Sours available in the U.S. can vary from region to region and even at the same store on different days. The Monk's Café is a great example of the style. It is brewed by Brouwerij Van Steenberge N.V. specifically for the Monk's Café restaurant in Philadelphia, PN, but bottled and widely distributed in the U.S.

Alternate Brews - Let's discuss some other Flanders Reds/Browns that you can find if you can't get your hands on Monk's Café. There are a lot of options. Duchesse De Bourgogne - Brouwerij Verhaeghe and Rodenbach Grand Cru - Brouwerij Rodenbach N.V. are both exceptional for the style. And... well, we could go on, but see what your local beer store has. There are a number of American craft brewers who have taken on the style and are doing quite well with it. Feel free to venture into those as well.

What I'll (probably) Be Drinking Saturday - Monk's Café, Monstre Rouge from De Proefbrouwerij and Terrapin, Ass Kisser Porter Pounder (Smoked Porter), Cigar City Big Sound Scotch Ale, and homebrews.

What about you? What are your thoughts on Sours and what is your favorite? What will you drink on Saturday?

Previously reviewed brews:

Sept 01 - Murray State 6:00 p.m. (click to review this post)- Stone, Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale

Sept 08 - Savannah State 6:00 p.m. - Lagunitas, A Little Sumpin' Sumpin' Ale

Sept 15 - Wake Forest 12:00 p.m. - Green Flash, Saison Diego

Sept 22 - Clemson 8:00 p.m. - Southern Tier, Backburner Barleywine

Sept 29 - South Florida 6:00 p.m. - Cigar City Brewing, Oak-Aged Jai Alai India Pale Ale

Oct 6 - N.C. State 8:00 p.m. - Nøgne Ø, Imperial Brown Ale

October 13 - Boston College 6:30 p.m. - Samuel Adams, Octoberfest

October 20 - Miami 8:30 p.m. - Great Divide, Hercules

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