The old advertising for Rodenbach claimed simply, “It’s wine!” and while it does have the red fruit and savory, almost blood-like notes of a lower Rhone SMG blend, a Rodenbach Grand Cru aggressively shape-shifts in the sip to an extent I have not experienced with wine, from sweet to sour to savory, from pastry filling to balsamic to iron. While not the product of two different beers, with the Rodenbach, one wort is subjected to something like normal ale primary fermentation, though with a ‘yeast’ that is at least 20 different strains, and then put into oak foeders for as much as two years, where a series of more wild fermentations take place. One wort getting both an ale and a wild treatment reminds me of Orval. Just as the Belgians talk of the “gout d’Orval” or “taste of Orval” as being an ineffable, irreducible simple of the senses, I think there is a “taste of Rodenbach” that is quite distinct even from the many beers that are made in imitation of it.
(On an interesting historical note, with a malt bill straddling a level of roast similar to a porter and aged in oak foeders which expose it to wild bacteria for approximately two years, this is probably the closest we have to the legendary porters of London in the 1800’s.)
This being a wild sour, there is, of course, also a mushroomy, barnyard, forest-floor element, mostly in the nose. The beer is a sharp caramel-red with cream-russet head. The body is more slow cello than the thinly mixed buzzsaw guitars of most kettle sours. The combination of acidity and sweetness make this a very versatile food pairing beer, the acidy cutting through carbs and fat, and the sweetness coating the palate in the aftermath of spice, and the savory darker qualities making it a good companion for hearty meat-centric dishes, as well. In Belgium, the beer is always an extension of the meal.
Similar Beers in the Store: The Flanders Red from Blackberry Farm Brewery. A beer that might be said to be of the Rodenbach type, this Flanders red ale doubles down on the vinous qualities by aging in red wine barrels. See also: Duchess du Bourgogne, a classic in its own right.