Hello Sour Beer Friends!
In a follow up to my recent article on Flanders Red Ales, today I would like to share with you a tasting of Rodenbach Caractère Rouge, a specialty Flanders Red blended with cranberries, raspberries, and cherries. While the Rodenbach brewery has been in continuous operation for nearly 200 years, Caractère Rouge is a relatively recent product for the brewery. The first batch (a mere 900 bottles) was released in 2011 and the second (larger) batch was released in 2014. This tasting was of a bottle from the second release. I have been very interested in trying this beer since listening to Rodenbach’s brewmaster Rudi Ghequire talk about it on Episode 9 of The Sour Hour. If you haven’t listened to the episode, make sure to do so! Rudi is one of the world’s foremost experts on sour beer production and his skill as a brewmaster and blender became clearly obvious to me after tasting Caractère Rouge!
The beer poured a crystal clear deep burgundy red with a moderate level of white head. The first aromas we picked up were of fresh pressed fruit juice. This aroma was predominantly of cranberries. Some specialty malt character from the base beer could be smelled in the form of figs and other dehydrated fruits as well. Lastly, we picked up a lighter, spicier, fruit aroma that reminded us of strawberries.
When tasting Caractère Rouge, I was blown away by its smooth fresh fruit juice flavors. I was immediately reminded of Ocean Spray Cranberry Juice. The beer was mildly tart with all of the perceivable acidity coming from lactic acid. I couldn’t detect any vinegar in this blend. The beer was light to medium in body with a fairly low level of carbonation. The second notable fruit flavor that we picked up was the distinct tannic flavor of fresh raspberry seeds. The juicy nature of Caractère Rouge was carried both by these tannins, which gave the relatively thin beer a bit more body, and by some residual sweetness from the specialty malts. The moderate acid, light sweetness, and relatively low carbonation really come together in this beer to give the impression of drinking a fresh and delicious cranberry juice cocktail.
Despite being 7% ABV, the alcohol content of Caractère Rouge tastes transparent. There was no alcohol warmth nor were there any off-flavors of any kind to be found. Additionally, hops played little to no role in Caractère Rouge’s flavor or aroma profiles. While the light presence of Brettanomyces was evident in the beer’s mouthfeel, this was not a funk-forward beer. I would say that this beer was a three-way balance between clean lactic acidity, specialty malt sweetness, and fresh fruit esters. That being said, if these attributes were engaged in a tug-of-war, the fruit would definitely be winning. The beer is tremendously cranberry forward with more subtle flavors of raspberry, caramel malt, tannins, and oak taking on supporting background roles. I could not personally taste the cherries used to make the beer and suspect that they may have been a smaller component of the blend.
Overall, I thought Rodenbach Caractère Rouge was a delicious example of a fruited Flanders Red Ale. Fans of cranberry will love this one, as this fruit definitely takes center stage when smelling and tasting the beer. Each sip started with a big juicy splash of cranberry which then gave way to the neutral oak and tannins present in the blend. The finish, which was well balanced between acidity and sweetness, allowed a bit more of the specialty malt to shine through in the form of caramel and dehydrated fruit notes. For me, this finish would help to bring a drinker out of fruit wine territory and firmly back into the realm of beer. If you get the opportunity to taste Caractère Rouge, I highly recommend doing so. I will certainly be on the lookout for future batches!
Cheers and Happy Father’s Day to all the sour beer loving dads out there!
Matt “Dr. Lambic” Miller