• Don McSwiney

Duchesse de Bourgogne, Flanders red ale

A Jackson Pollock explosion of flavor, where the sour, cider-vinegar nose are balanced by rich, sweet, fruity malts and complex spicy notes. Sublime

Describing the taste of a Flanders red ale to someone used to commercially produced lager, is a little like trying to describe a concerto to someone who has only heard “chopsticks” played with one finger.

Duchess de Bourgogne is one of those beers that really hits all the notes at once in a remarkable explosion of complex flavours that is almost bewildering: sour (almost vinegary) yet at the same time rich and sweet, spicy (almost peppery) yet citrusy. The complexity of flavours and rich wine-like mouth feel is really quite remarkable.

The complex, top-fermented ale is a signature brew of Verhaeghe Brewery, located in Vichte, Belgium. The family owned operation dates back to 1885 and focuses on brewing only a handful of world-class beers, including Duchess de Bourgogne with the motto: “a little less, but better” a novel approach in this day and age.

(Spoiler alert) Flanders red ales come from the Flanders region in northern Belgium, and are another unique geographical taste, like the Lambics of Belgium’s more southerly Pajottenland.

The mouth-puckering sourness in Flanders red ales is created by our old friend Lactobacillus during fermentation. The lactic acid creates those unique cider-vinegary off-notes, like a Neil Young guitar solo. The magic is really how these notes are countered by the sweet red malts in the almost magical interplay of yeast and bacteria. Duchess is aged in oak barrels, which contributes the tannins. The final product is a beer that mixes beer, which has been aged 18 months, with beer that has been aged eight months.

Combing different batches of beers provides an additional complexity to the beer, and the effect for beer geeks is sublime. These beers are often referred to as the “Burgundies of Belgium,” due to their wine-like character and complex, fruity flavours. Verhaeghe’s Duchess is one of the signature Flanders reds, and if you love beer, you really owe it to yourself to pick up a bottle. About $4 for a 330-mL bottle.