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Thursday, September 04, 2008

You Say Flemish, I Flanders...

Folks, the arrival of Dissident creates a great opportunity to discuss the sour ales of Flanders, those not-really-brown oud bruins and the not-totally-red sour reds. In comments to the thread below, Anónimo raises some interesting questions and points out the growing number of American breweries tinkering with these old styles: Walking Man, Cascade, Russian River (not to mention Double Mountain and New Belgium). So, I will have reviews of the Dissident along with Liefmans, which is the classic of the style, as well as a general primer on what distinguishes these beers.

But briefly, per Jackson:
  • Flanders Brown (Liefmans) - "The classic style, with an interplay of caramel-like malty sweetness and a sourness gained in several months of maturation (usually in metal tanks), is sometimes identified as Oud Bruin. The most complex examples have a secondary fermentation in the bottle. The most famous producing town is Oudenaarde (also known for Gothic architecture and Gobelin tapestries), not far from Ghent, in East Flanders. Oudenaarde's water, low in calcium and high in sodium carbonate, gives a particularly textured character to the beers."
  • Flemish Red (Rodenbach) - "They are more sharply acidic, leaner, more reddish, half-brothers to the Brown Beers of East Flanders, with the additional difference that they are often filtered and pasteurised. Their sharpness makes them perhaps the most quenching beers in the world, and their acidity renders them very food-friendly. The sharp acidity, and some of the colour, derives from aging in large, fixed, wooden tuns."
In the mean time, don't miss the chance to try Dissident--on tap or bottled--for I fear the chance is fleeting.


  1. I'd (casually) wondered in the past what the difference was between Flanders and Flemish… by the original MJ's description, the two terms seem directly associated with the color - Flemish for red and Flanders for brown - yet I've seen more "Flanders Red" references than Flemish (Rodenbach being the only example of which I can think, far and away my favorite).

    I guess they're not so dissimilar after all, which would explain why I like them both so much. :)


  2. It's just a detail, but actually, "Liefmans" is spelled without an apostrophy. It's a family name, and quite a number of Flemish family names end in -mans. Brewery names such as "Lindemans" and "Timmermans" are two other examples.

  3. Maaike, you are correct. I have fixed it in the post.

  4. I've added a longer, more descriptive breakdown of the two styles on my Blog.

    Go here:

    The two beer styles are very complex, but there are identifiers that separate the two. It's best to take 2-3 proper Classics of both styles and put them side to side... I think everybody would get the idea.


  5. Cross-posted from dr wort's blog:

    Quite an interesting read… and although the question wasn't so much red vs. brown as it was Flanders vs. Flemish, it still highlights some discrepencies between how they're described vs. what I perceive from their examples.

    New Belgium's La Folie is a prime example of one which I would put closer to the Flanders Brown category - both in appearance and in taste/smell… it seemed to be "Malty with fruity complexity," with "some caramelization character" and more of "a 'sweet-and-sour' profile" (not all that "acetic/vinegary") at first, but then its acidity (which I was informed at the time was more lactic) built to the point where I could barely tolerate it (after a full pint… should've stuck with a 10oz - actually, I did order a 10oz but the bartender "misheard"). An interesting disparity to be sure…

    The Duchesse is another which I question belongs in the Flanders Red category - despite the fact that it is red… while it smells pretty sour, it tastes quite sweet/"funky" and it never builds an acidity to any appreciable degree; I don't even see this one having room for contention (aside from its color).

    Another value-add from this investigation is that I now realize I don't think I've ever actually tried a Flanders Brown… something else worth investigating. :)