Issue March 4, 2008

Mug Shots: Meg Ryan would approve

Imagine my delight as Publican when the beer I recommended to a knowledgeable (and as a bonus, curvaceous) female customer was immediately proclaimed as “an orgasm in a glass.” Public feedback is seldom of this magnitude, but in truth, the ale in question fully merits the accolade: Rodenbach Grand Cru.

Belgium’s Rodenbach brewery uses the term “Grand Cru” in the customary way, not as a specific indication of style, but as an indicator: “Here’s our best beer, and we hope you like it.” Rodenbach brews what are generally termed Flemish sour red ales, and the house yeast is a complex mixture of more conventional brewing yeasts alongside lacto-bacilli and micro-flora. These funky and almost Baroque microscopic living entities impart distinctive flavor characteristics during fermentation, as well as rendering the beer tart and lightly sour.

This acidic presence is enhanced and modified during the aging process, which takes place in vast cellars filled with almost 300 oak barrels, some standing as tall as 17 feet. In the barrels, the ale comes into contact with wood, which in turn is permeated with the previously mentioned micro-organisms, which continue their work. I’ve seen the aging cellars in Roeselare, and they belong in any listing of the Seven Wonders of the Brewing World.

After 18 months in oak and blending, which is necessary to achieve uniformity of character, the end result is Rodenbach Grand Cru, with flavors of berries and other ripe fruit that lend a “winey” character, a refreshing touch of sourness, a hint of oak and a moderate alcohol content of 6% abv.

The overall effect of Rodenbach Grand Cru is that of mannered elegance, and given its maturation time, a certain commitment to patience. Drink it slowly and permit the ale to entice your palate before a meal or to renew it afterward.

Roger Baylor is co-owner of the New Albanian Brewing Co. in New Albany. Visit www.potablecurmudgeon.com for more beer.