Brouwerij Rodenbach - Rodenbach Vintage 2010 – Barrel 144
- Alcohol by Volume: 7%
- Bottle Size: No
- Serving Temperature: 50-55ºF
- Suggested Glassware: Tulip, Snifter, Flute, Wine Glass
The result of more than two years of aging under the watchful eye of brewmaster Rudi Ghequire, Rodenbach Vintage is unique among Rodenbach’s beers as it is drawn exclusively from one foeder; in this case, for 2010, it’s lucky barrel number 144. Each foeder is its own ecosystem, a mixture of yeasts, funky bacteria, and old wood saturated by the Devil’s cut of every beer that came before – which, with as much as 150 years of age on each foeder, is a very long list. When crafting their “regular” beers, Rodenbach’s brewers blend threads of aged beer from multiple foeders with certain quantities of young beer to arrive at a finished product that is remarkably consistent month to month, year to year, decade to decade. But, Vintage is something special, a snapshot of one beer from one foeder, at this point in time. Thus “Vintage” is the perfect descriptor for this most individual of products from the producer of the world’s most wine-like of beers.
Expect an attractive, deep, brownish-red color on the pour, capped by plenty of fluffy beige foam. Acetic, vinegary notes are obvious on the nose immediately, with the tart impression melding beautifully with a soft maltiness, prominent wood notes, sour cherries, apple, caramel, and hints of brown sugar and honey. The sharpness of the balsamic-like acidity never seems too sharp as there’s a balancing underlying sweetness apparent as well, creating a sort of sweet & sour sauce impression. The oak foeder has certainly made its presence known too; the beer presents a refined and somewhat musty woodiness that in some ways seems older than its two years of age – no doubt attributable to the advanced age of the maturation vessel. You can almost smell the brewery’s history.
The beer opens on the palate with a profound fruity tartness that lasts from start to finish. Expect strong notes of apple cider vinegar, sour cherry with a ghostly wisp of raspberry, and a moderate residual sweetness that’s a bit bready, leading to a mild, vaguely cake-like impression – all enrobed in an undeniable old, wet, oak barrel character. Perceived hop bitterness is low to non-existent, with the tart, wine-like acidity providing more than enough balance to the residual sweetness. This brew finishes with an interesting and lingering grain quality, and at full warmth, the final sour note comes across so incredibly satisfying and mouth-filling it can only be described as savory – begging you to take another sip. The brewery recommends serving this ale at about 45ºF, but we actually enjoy it much warmer, closer to 65ºF. We’d recommend starting on the cooler side and letting this Flemish sour evolve slowly in the glass as it comes close to room temperature. We think the journey is worth it.
There is perhaps no more famous brewery in all Belgium than Brouwerij Rodenbach. While the country has a long history of brewing both tart and downright sour beers using wild yeast and bacteria, it was Rodenbach in the late 19th century that helped pioneer and define the specific style of beer we know as Flanders Red Ale, considered by many to be the most vinous, or wine-like, of all beer styles. The standard Rodenbach is a blend of approximately 75% fresh and 25% 2-year aged ale, while Rodenbach Grand Cru incorporates much more aged beer (approx. 66%). The Rodenbach Vintage we bring you this month is unique in that it is 100% aged beer, and it’s not a blend; the entire bottling is derived from one barrel. We were proud to bring you Rodenbach’s Grand Cru more than five years ago and are even more excited that close ties with the brewery and its importer have enabled us to now feature Rodenbach’s Vintage which is only bottled once a year and is 4 times less distributed than the Grand Cru.
The brewery bears the name of the Rodenbach family, who not only contributed their unique beer to the world, but also helped contribute Belgium to the world, at least as an independent country. The brewery was founded in 1821 by Rodenbach brothers Pedro, Alexander, Ferdinand, and Constantijn. All four played critical roles in the Belgian Revolution of 1830, which led to the secession of Belgium from the United Kingdom of the Netherlands. In fact, when Leopold I greeted the crowd from the balcony of the House of the Nation after being crowned king, Alexander (who ran the brewery from 1821 to 1836, and happened to be blind), appeared at his side.
In 1878, Pedro’s grandson Eugène became manager of the family brewery. From a brewing perspective, as opposed to a political one, Eugène is certainly the most influential Rodenbach in the family line. During his travels to southern England, he was exposed to, and learned much about, the early porter beers popular in London at the time. In the 19th century, these early porters were typically aged for at least several months in giant barrels where they matured and acidified. Eugène took what he learned and applied it at home in Belgium, developing and refining the technique, and creating the style of Rodenbach beer we know today. Sadly, Eugène died in 1889 at the age of just 39.
Rodenbach’s red ales undergo a primary and a secondary fermentation, with both yeast and lactobacillus bacteria, creating a beer with a distinctively acidic, sour quality. However, it’s when the beers enter the maturation stage that the fun really begins. The beer is aged in huge oak barrels known as “foeders” in Flemish (“foudres” in French), some of which are older than 150 years. Of these impressive foeders, Rare Beer Club founder Michael Jackson wrote, “Rodenbach, in Roeselare, has ten or eleven halls full of these tuns. There is nothing comparable in any brewery elsewhere in the world, and the whole establishment is a temple of industrial archaeology.”
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