Today's beer comes to us all the way from Belgium. Monk's Cafe Flemish Sour Ale
is made specially for the eponymous establishment in Philadelphia. During a trip to Philly last Fall, I attempted to visit both the Monk's Cafe and its sister-establishment, the Belgian Cafe. As anyone who has made the mistake of venturing into the heart of Philly in the evening by car can attest, it was practically impossible to reach either place, much less park there once we arrived. Our hopes for hops were dashed last year, but lo! Monk's Cafe also distributes this beer in limited quantities, making it available for those of us unable or unwilling to risk the road rage needed to reach the restaurant itself.
Before being imported to our shores, this Flemish Sour Ale is made just outside of Ghent, Belgium by Brouwerij Van Steenberge N.V., brewer of Piraat Ale,
and my all-time favorite, Gulden Draak
, among many others. This beer's style is technically Flanders Oud Bruin. As the name suggests, they are most prevalent in Flanders, but other regions have adopted the style as well. Like Lambics, most Oud Bruins tend to be a blend of old and new ales balanced by a master brewer for a unique taste characterized by fruity alcohol esters, lactic sourness, a little vinegar, and-- occasionally-- some lightly roasted malt. For those of you who hate hops, this is the perfect beer for you as the aging and blending process eliminates any trace of hop taste from the brew. For most Americans, it's an unusual style that requires an open mind and an adventurous tongue. As with an old Lambic or a solid Scotch, however, training yourself to appreciate its finer points pays off immensely (for your tongue as well as for the bragging rights).Brewed By:Brouwerij Van Steenberge N.V.
Style- Flanders Oud Bruin
Poured from a 12oz bottle with no freshness date into my trusty snifter.Appearance-
2.5 out of 5. Aside from an initial burst of excitingly active fizz, this beer appears very lackluster. A charming ring of slightly tan lace rounds the top, but the beer itself is a dull dark brown that seems almost entirely opaque when held up to the light, ringed only with a little equally dull red. Not only is it rather boring, it's also a bit uncharacteristic for the style-- more translucency and ruby-reddish tint should be present.Smell-
3.5 out of 5. On the other hand, the aroma is refreshingly pleasant and true-to-style. With hints of cherries, woodiness, and fruity wine that's been left out so long that it slowly turns to vinegar, it tickles the nose with anticipation. Pale and crystal malts provide a solid foundation for the rest of the scents, which do not include any hops at all. Nothing overpowering, but it's a step up from the appearance.Taste-
4.5 out of 5. Jesus H. Christ, it's like a sour cherry warhead just pulled out my tongue, cut it off, and proceeded to beat the rest of my mouth with it. Be prepared for mouth-puckeringly strong sourness when you first sip this beer. It fades as your tongue becomes acclimated to it, but my god does it catch you off guard after the deceptively mild aroma. Make sure your palate is cleansed to fully enjoy the sensation. After the initial tongue-punch, it mellows out into sour cherries, fresh tart apples, and raspberries. A little earthy oak peeks in before washing away in a tide of mild sweetness that lingers in the aftertaste. As with the nose, no hops are present. Acidity is low, as is the "funkiness"-- the yeast did a great job of turning out a clean, mellow Sour Ale. It's not nearly as vinegary as other Sour Ales I've had. The fairly low alcohol is hidden behind everything else going on in the glass. Taste-wise, it's a classic example of the style.Mouthfeel-
4 out of 5. Slightly dry with a medium body and astringent finish. Easily quaffable, but why waste such a treat for your mouth? Take it slow and savor each sip; they become creamier as it warms.Drinkability-
4.5 out of 5. I'm tempted to give this a slightly lower drinkability score because both the price and the slowly-sipping nature needed to truly appreciate it make it a rather poor choice for a session, but if you were flush enough and so inclined, you could easily spend a few hours having a few of these. This is a great choice for people who dislike hops, wine drinkers who want to get into beer, and people who love sour candy and sour fruits. Keep in mind my bias-- this may not be for beginners coming from a macro-lager background.
Overall, an A-
If you should happen to be in Philly anytime soon and want to get a glass on draft, check out The Monk's Cafe
264 South 16th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103
Otherwise, pick up a bottle at Total Wine, Grape and Gourmet, or other similar establishments.
Ramster--- Petrus, the brand you mentioned hating, primarily makes beers like this. That strange sour taste you mentioned may have been entirely intentional, unless it was a sampler pack of standard ales and lagers.
Britzy- This may be the beer you need to prove that not all fermented grains are laden with hops
Will- You and the lady could share one of these to broaden your mutual horizons.
Neroon, Lord Mayerling, and all you other quiet people, come back! This thread should be about sharing our love of good beer, not just be throwing reviews at you.