De Proefbrouwerij - Zoetzuur Flemish Reserve Ale
- ABV: 8.5%
- Int’l Bittering Units (IBUs): 21
- Malts: Tomahawk East Kent Goldings
- Hops: 2-Row Munich, Pilsner, and Cara malt
I’ve always had difficulty figuring out a style name for those brownish-red sweet and sour beers that they make in West Flanders. And a brewery has come to my rescue – they have made a beer that is just called sweet and sour beer. In Flemish it’s called Zoetsuur, which has a nice rhythm to it. You might think a sweet and sour beer would be for drinking with Chinese food. I might give that a try. I certainly love these sweet and sour beers with pickled herring, but beer and food is getting more eclectic all the time.
And brewing is getting more eclectic. There was a time when if I talked about a traditional West Flanders sweet and sour red beer, we would be thinking about very old breweries. But this example of a very old style is made in a new brewery, probably the most modern brewery in Belgium. It’s a brewery called the “Proef” brewery, which in Flemish means “tasting”.
The genesis of this brewery is quite interesting, because it was started by a husband and wife team who were both professors of brewing. They figured that in Belgium, with an amazing range of highly distinctive traditional beers, how do you come to a greater understanding of them when each has a quite different type of brewery behind it. They wanted to create a test bed brewery that was incredibly flexible. You could go in all of these weird, different directions that Belgian brewers go, and test those different types of beer to see where the problems are, and where the potential is. It’s a very modern and unromantic brewery, but very beautiful in its own modern way. It’s the sort of brewhouse that anyone who is a home brewer would love to see. Dirk Naudts and his wife have created the ultimate toy for a home brewer, or a commercial brewer, and they are making some very interesting products in it. As a consequence of that, maybe they won’t be able to last as a test bed brewery because their own beers will become so popular.
This is one that they have made for us, with all of those characteristics of sweetness and sourness, iron-like fruitiness, sort of a passion fruit character. All of that is in very big flavors against a very clean background, with a fresh and refreshing character. Lovely color, and a lovely rocky head. It’s a style of beer that doesn’t always hold its head very well, but this one certainly does. It has a very complex aroma, and a pretty complex flavor, which is not surprising because these are complex ingredients. Three different types of malt: a pilsner malt, Munich malt, and caramel malt. The hops are quite a startling mélange, with classic East Kent Goldings from England, and a hop called Tomahawk from the Pacific Northwest of the U.S., giving a lot more floral and fruity characteristics. It is a really unusual mixture. In addition to all of this there is some sour black cherry juice, which there is in some of the traditional sweet and sour beers from West Flanders.
And it has the classic element of those beers, a combination of a cultured yeast and a semi-wild yeast. A cultured yeast is a normal beer yeast, a Saccharomyces, and the semi-wild yeast is a Brettanomyces, the classic type of semi-wild yeast used in Belgium. I always try to make an attempt to explain what I mean by semi-wild yeast. A wild yeast is one where you open the windows and hope that it comes in. A semi-wild is a type that has been cultured but lives in the slightly wild way in the brewery, maybe in some old casks. To put it in animal terms, a dog is a real domestic animal. A cat plays at being a domestic animal, when it suits the cat, but you can’t make the cat fetch the Sunday newspaper from the store. Semi-wild yeasts are like cats. Dealing with semi-wild yeasts is one of the tough things in brewing, but Belgian brewers love this kind of challenge in the relationship with yeasts.
When you have this sort of combination of yeasts, you get strange things happening in the fermentation. You get a lactic fermentation, and lactobacilli begin to grow in the beer. It’s like creating a traditional beer that evolved over 300 years in a new brewery.
The Belgians just love brewing. They are the beer counterparts of people who make hot rod cars. They want to try everything, to do everything, take every risk, prove everything. You can do an awful lot of research with microscopes, but in the end the palate and the pleasure that it gives you is the only way of really assessing a beer. The proof of the pudding. Prosit.
Crafted in 11-hectolitre batches exclusively for the Michael Jackson Rare Beer Club by the Andelot Proefbrouwerij of Lochristi, Belgium. The Proefbrouwerij was founded by highly regarded Belgian professor and brewing engineer, Dirk Naudts. Prior to creating the Proefbrouwerij, Dirk was the Brewmaster at Roman Brewery, and also directed the brewing studies program at the prestigious St. Lieven University in Gent, Belgium.
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