Before I was a cocktail geek, I was a beer geek.
When in College, far too long ago, my usual plan was purchase a 24 pack of Leinenkugel or Point long necks and see how long they would last. Don’t ask how long that usually was, as it was probably an embarrassingly short amount of time. But, ah, for those blissful days of $6.99 24 packs.
One day my room-mate brought home a bottle of Chimay Rouge. He said, “You gotta try this, it’s the shit.” Or words to that effect. In any case, being a long time flavor junkie, it blew me away. I’d been a Midwestern American Lager and Ale guy and had no idea that beer could even taste like the Chimay did. Almost more like wine than any beer that I had tasted up to that point. Set me off on a course to try as many esoteric beers as I possibly could.
Anyway, fast forward a few years, to 2000. Mrs. Flannestad and I are on our honeymoon in New Zealand. We’re in Christchurch, a beautiful English style city on the South Island. After a day at the market, involving delicious cinnamon babka and sheepskin gloves, (“all sheep died from natural causes,” the labels assured us,) we wandered by a bar whose name I cannot recall. We were a bit hungry and thirsty, so we went in, and were astounded by the number of beers they had, both in bottles and on tap.
One in particular stood out. It was called Rodenbach, and according to the description, it was aged in wooden casks. Some portion of the beer was aged, and some was new. When I asked the waiter about it he said we had to try it.
Wow! Another Belgian epiphany. While I’d tried a few Belgian beers up to that point, I’d never had any made in the sour style. This was rich and sour, almost more like a cross between a cider, a beer, and, well, a mild balsamic vinegar. Anyway, after trying it, I filed it away, and hoped, even though I’d never seen it in the United States to be able to try it again.
Unfortunately, when we got back to the States, we did not find it anywhere.
A few years later, we discovered that our good friends Kim and Matt were a bit obsessed with Rodenbach. And luckily, it was beginning to be available again in the US after a long absence. First in the Midwest, where we tried it at the fantastic beer bar Hop Leaf, and then at several holiday parties at Kim and Matt’s house.
Then, finally, about a year later, this February, when I went to pick up the month’s Beer of the Month club, I was pleased to discover a bottle of Rodenbach Grand Cru in the selection.
The beer pours a reddish brown amber, from the glass, with little or no head. Given there isn’t much head, there also isn’t much aroma. The first thing you get is a sour flavor not unlike slightly fermented cherry juice. It has middle flavors more like a rich sherry or light balsamic vinegar than a beer, and as it warms slightly is incredibly complex. It goes fantastically with food, cheese especially, not unlike sherry.
If you can find it, and are open to different flavor experiences in beer, I highly recommend trying Rodenbach. They make three beers. Rodenbach Original a blend of aged and new beers, Rodenbach Grand Cru which is just aged beers, and Redbach which is a blend of beer and cherry juice similar to lambic beers.