A truly unique, inspired collaborative effort here, folks! Flanders Fred pours a vibrant brassy color, topped with an enormous fluffy ivory colored head. The froth leaves behind a gorgeous cling in the glass, doing a little interior decorating for us within our oversized red wine glass as it fades to a respectable covering that dresses the beer for the duration of our sampling (note the ample jets of carbonation that continue to recharge it). This is indeed a very pretty beer. On the nose, if you’re familiar with the base beer, Fred, you might expect blasts of hops, but at only about 51% of the blended volume, much of Fred’s 10-hop intensity has been muted by the very tart lambic. Our mouths are puckering just sniffing it! Swirling the glass allows other aromas to escape, providing a sturdy backdrop of marzipan, almonds, flashes of lemons, under ripened nectarines, dark cherries, and what’s this, orange-infused chocolate? Also expect plenty of Belgian yeast spiciness. Somewhat tropical fruit notes emerge as well, nicely blended with wafts of alcohol, while some piney hop notes manage to assert their voice too in this bold aromatic statement of blended beer. The beer is, not surprisingly, quite tart upfront—you can almost “feel” it before you manage to taste it**. And just like that, the tartness nearly vanishes, allowing other flavors to rush the palate. Many beers provide various flavors which can be quite diverse even from the start to finish of the flavor profile, but Flanders Fred provides a more robust sensory experience—your salivary glands may even surge for a moment at first taste, bristling with an almost electric tingle in response to the tartness and acidity provided by the lambic. But almost as soon as this tartness strikes, it recedes, and returns to lying in wait for the next sip. Is this beer, with its animal influences, part snake as well as dog? What’s perhaps most noteworthy about this beer is the incredible fruitiness that follows the tart opening—as though you’ve managed to bite though the citrus peel and taste the fruity flesh beneath. We got notes of cherries, apricots, nectarines and quite a bit of green apple. There’s also more malt-forward influences, such as a subtle rye-spice, toasted malt husk, and a persistent undercurrent of marzipan and toffee. Alcohol is present throughout, and offers its own unique contribution to the flavor profile (think rose hips). A Burgundian influence is keenly at work here, as a distinctly robust wine-like character pervades. In the finish, look for some produce-aisle funkiness, with a splash of horse-blanket (both good things in this context). This beer is indeed wild, yet tame enough for domestication. Fred as we know him can hardly be coaxed from his doghouse here, but you know he’s in there—you can detect his presence, though his hop-bomb nature has been kindly tamed by the leash of Flemish lambic. The contrast from tart to vibrant fresh fruit, then into Fred’s big maltiness and final bitter quality is quite the ride—offering an additional axis of sensory experience that is rarely encountered in beer. It should be noted that we’re tasting our samples quite young—within 2 months of brewing/blending—and that this brew will age with the best of them, like a fine wine. Do not, we repeat, DO NOT miss the chance to pick up bottles for your cellar, as this one has all the hallmarks of a world class vintage that will hold up for 5 years plus. Who would have thought such a hop-beast, hound-themed ale could be worked into a world class Burgundy of Belgium? Dirk Naudts, Alan Sprints, and Alan Shapiro, that’s who. It seems you certainly can teach an old dog new tricks (we’re referring to Fred here, not Dirk, Alan or Alan). Enjoy!
**If you’re not that into tart or sour beer, this one might be the one that changes your mind—but to increase the odds, let the beer come up to about 50 degrees before pouring. Then pour a glass, and leave it be for about 30 minutes, so that it comes up to just below room temperature (we’re talking about 65°F—yes, quite warm for your typical beer—but this is NO typical beer). Time and temperature will let the beer’s hoppy bitterness come up in the mix, while the tartness will recede as it breathes. Of course, the initial tartness of this beer is part of what really makes it something truly special, however, you can “season” the beer to your liking using this approach.