Brouwerij Slaapmutske - FLOSS
Serving Temperature:52–57° F
Suggested Glassware:Tulip, Burgundy Glass, or Lambic Tumbler
FLOSS will likely feel like new turf for many fans of Brouwerij Slaapmutske, which is better known—for sure—for its non-tart Belgian beers. We’ve long been fans of their Tripel, their Blond, the Winterbier and Kerstmutske Christmas, and that exceptional Dry-Hopped Lager.
So it was exciting for us to see these folks heading into style terrain that felt rather different from what we knew them for. This beer also, for us, was one of the most precise and dialed-in examples of the oud bruin style that we could recall sampling in recent years. There is an engaging feel to FLOSS that we often find lacking in sweet-and-sour brown ales, and a lean body and assertive lactic tartness that often made us think of a well-attenuated Flemish red.
Briefly: this beer felt like the best parts of Flemish red and brown ales combined.
FLOSS pours a bright, honey-brown color with a reddish tinge. The light-tan head forms a quick cap: small bubbled, modestly retained, leaving a hint of shimmering lacing in its wake.
Note: definitely let this one warm up a bit from fridge temperature. While the overall feel of this was dead-on from the start, we felt that a fair bit of the nuances were lost when this was sampled super cold. Eventually this shows an inviting mixture of smooth lactic tartness plus honeyed maltiness that opens up into biscuity notes, light caramel, and dried dark fruits. The crisp pop of lactic tartness was the key feature when super cold, but there’s a lot more here.
That first sip, even straight from the fridge, was brilliant stuff: a pleasant jolt of acidity, with notes of lemon juice and a slightly milky tang, followed by the brown-malt complexities that this category is known for: toastiness and toffee, crispy cereal, a subtle honey sweetness, and richer qualities suggesting caramel and even a touch of brown sugar (when things finally get up to appropriate temperatures). Again: make sure this has time to warm up, despite the fact that we’re pretty impatient and not exactly ones to talk. This is such a elegantly handled oud bruin rendition, with subtly integrated carbonation and lingering rich toastiness in the finish.
Slaapmutske FLOSS, in addition to being pretty spectacular, is unsweetened, unpasteurized, and unfiltered (though it does pour reasonably clear). The best-by date on the cap suggests a couple years in the cellar might be worth the wait, though pop one every six months or so to ensure the oxidation and acidity aren’t unraveling what’s an especially good beer when fresh.
This would work well beside a traditional Belgian carbonnade flamande, although we would be hesitant to give up a drop of FLOSS to its preparation. Also: grilled pork, Belgian frites.
When it comes down to it, brewing beer can be like raising a child. The brewer has a rather parental relationship with his or her brew—it is born of themselves, sometimes behaves in less than desirable ways, and in the end, hopefully, rewards their hard work with a sense of pride and self-respect. Many brewers regard their beers as their children, with each new beer becoming a new member of the family. The story behind the Slaapmutske Brewery is, at its heart, a story about family, and the ways that family can nurture, support, and inspire success.
Dany De Smet was born and raised in Melle, Belgium, a small town near Ghent (in the Belgian brewing capital of East Flanders). In 1992, during the same year that he graduated from brewing school as a brewing engineer, he achieved an impressive milestone by becoming brewmaster at the renowned Huyghe Brewery (known primarily for their Delirium Tremens & Delirium Nocturnum beers). While working for this respected family brewery, he also developed his homebrewing skills when out of 'the office'. He has also worked in various other industry positions as a brewing hygiene specialist and served as an educator in Brewing Technology and Quality Control. During the time spent honing his craft, he met and fell in love with Marleen Vercaigne, a fellow beer-lover from the neighboring town of Ronse. It was early in their relationship that Dany, as he puts it, "infected her with the beer microbe"— pretty much how we'd expect a brewing hygiene specialist to sum things up.
The beer-loving couple spent a considerable amount of time crafting homebrews in their kitchen along with one of Dany's former Huyghe Brewery colleagues, Patrick Scheirlinck. After creating many batches of homebrew together, Dany and Marleen married, and in 1999, brought another bundle of joy into the world—their son Jonas. To celebrate their new arrival, Dany brewed a spicily-hopped, brownish-red beer of 9% alcohol by volume which was much appreciated by family and friends who came to visit little Jonas in the hospital (beer in the hospital?). The beer was dubbed "Jonasbier", and soon people were keen on buying the beer, which got the proud new parents thinking about getting their homebrews on the market.
The couple birthed a new beer, inspired by the original Jonasbier formula, but they had yet to come up with a name for their new brew. One night while brainstorming, it happened that young Jonas was crying. As is quite common in Europe and elsewhere, the couple would often dip their son's pacifier in a little bit of beer to calm the child (beer-flavored pacifiers? As you’ve mustered, the attitude about brewing and drinking is a bit different in Belgium than here in the states). This old trick was commonly used to calm children over time, but when the pacifier was dipped in their new, soon-to-hit-market beer, Jonas instantly stopped crying, was fast contented and quickly fell asleep. Marleen smiled and remarked, "This beer is a real 'Slaapmutske'" (which literally means 'sleeping hat', or as we would say, night cap). At that moment, the proud parents knew their newborn brew would be named Slaapmutske.
Because it was winter when they developed their first batch of Slaapmutske, they named it Slaapmutske Winterbier, which they proudly released on the local Belgian market in 2000. The beer quickly became a local success, so much so that demand warranted brewing facilities larger than their kitchen. They promptly partnered with one of Belgium's most prolific brewmasters (Dirk Naudts, affectionately referred to by his nickname "the Prof") at his suitably named, ultra-high tech De Proefbrouwerij in nearby Lochristi. One year after their first beer hit the streets, they introduced Slaapmutske Blond, and in early 2002 they rounded out the Slaapmutske trilogy with Slaapmutske Tripel (called 'Triple Nightcap' in the U.S.). The proud family of three has given the rest of us a family of fantastic brews—and for that, we'd like to thank Dany, Marleen and Jonas!
In his Great Beers of Belgium, the Big Poppa of beer writing, Michael Jackson, summed up the situation of sour Flemish red beers. “The most winey and intense version of Rodenbach—the Grand Cru—was for a time at risk of being dropped because its appeal was deemed to be too limited.” The same could historically be said of most tart, acidic beer styles at some point in the past century, constantly at odds with a tendency to sweeten and simplify them.
Jackson added, “That crisis of confidence seems to have passed.”
If there ever was a particularly clear line between oud bruins and Flemish reds, between the sour beers of East and West Flanders, modern interpretations of these styles have ultimately blended them into a broadly defined spectrum of darker acidic ales. Thankfully it seems that at least one guiding principal in recent examples is that a majority do accommodate tartness.
If you dug this month’s Slaapmutske FLOSS, be sure to try Liefmans Goudenband (both its fresh and aged states), as well as that Rodenbach Grand Cru on the opposite spectrum side.
Regarding modern U.S. archetypes: one could certainly do far worse than Lost Abbey Cuvee de Tomme (which I had by the pint for the debut of Beer Hunter: the Movie, about Jackson and his legacy), Russian River Consecration, and New Belgium’s La Folie (though admittedly, the last often varies by vintage). The resurgent interest in sour beer overall means that we’re also witnessing fresher efforts like Rodenbach Vintage, Captain Lawrence Rosso e Marrone, New Glarus R&D Wild Peach, etc. That blurry Flanders-style sour spectrum is stronger than ever.
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