Vote 2020 graphic
Everything you need to know about and expect during
the most important election of our lifetimes

Beer of the Week: Rodenbach Classic is so much more than a sour beer

Illustration for article titled Beer of the Week: Rodenbach Classic is so much more than a sour beer
DrinkeryDrinkeryDrinkery is The Takeout's celebration of beer, liquor, coffee, and other potent potables.

One of the most frustrating aspects of writing about beer is the limitations of beer vocabulary. Terms like “hoppy” and “malty” and “smooth” are imprecise, but sometimes they feel like the least technical way to convey what I’m attempting to describe. But one beer term frustrates me more than others, the linguistic version of an itchy tag on the back of a shirt. That word is “sour.”

Advertisement

“Sour beer” has become a catch-all term for beers that contain noticeable levels of acidity, usually derived from fermentation by bacteria in addition to yeast. Sour beers could refer to Berliner weisses, fruited kettle sour beers, Flanders reds, lambics, American wild ales, and plenty more styles. I’m not scolding people who use this term; I know I certainly have. It’s an off-hand way to describe a wide swath of beers, and it can be useful as shorthand. But drinking a beer like Rodenbach Classic—now available in cans in the U.S. for the first time—reminds me just how frustratingly limiting the term “sour beer” can be.

Rodenbach is a renowned Belgian brewery that’s been making beer since 1821. While it makes even more premium offerings like Grand Cru and Alexander, its Classic is still a very refined beer that uses traditional Belgian brewing and blending methods, mixing a proportion of freshly brewed beer with beer that’s been aging in large oak vats called foeders. (It’s pronounced “FOO-durhs.”) Even though the brewery’s own marketing materials and the can itself pushes the “sour beer” aspect of Classic, I find that reducing this beer to just another sour beer does it a disservice.

Advertisement

Truthfully, the beer isn’t even sour. It’s tart, and not mouth-puckeringly so. That tartness—derived from a mixed fermentation by yeast and bacteria—is clean and somewhat fruity, like a very mild apple cider vinegar. It’s cushioned well by this beer’s elegant malt base and its time in the oak vats, producing a fruity, lightly sweet, softly tart beer . The aroma is redolent of green strawberry, fresh-split wood, pear skin, and sourdough bread—almost producing a white wine-like nose.

The flavor is refreshing and lightly acidic but tempered by complex malts that contribute flavors of graham cracker and light caramel. Those form the base for dark fruit notes of cherry, dried cranberry, and plum, creating a beer that’s sweet, lightly acidic, effervescent, and layered. This beer would be great with a nutty cheese like Gouda that could draw out some of its deeper toffee tones. With its combination of graham cracker and fruit, it could also be dessert all on its own.

Calling Classic a sour beer and putting it in cans might make it more accessible to people who might have been intimidated by its very traditional-looking bottle—and that’s great. But let’s be careful not to oversimplify such a nuanced, special beer.

Where to get it

Rodenbach Classic is imported to the U.S. year-round and should be available in all 50 states, either in brick-and-mortar stores or through e-commerce sites.

Advertisement

Have a beer you think should we should consider for inclusion in an upcoming Beer Of The Week column? Email details to beer@thetakeout.com. 

Advertisement

Kate Bernot is a freelance writer and a certified beer judge. She was previously managing editor at The Takeout.

Share This Story

Get our newsletter

DISCUSSION

I followed a rather circuitous route to my current love of sours. The first time I ever tried one was at a New Belgium “tap takeover,” back in the day when Fat Tire was viewed as the holy grail of premium beers (aka a long time ago). I had a table with some friends and we ordered every single beer on the menu. There was a sour on the list and it basically looked like your basic white beer, so I took a big sip expecting that. I remember it tasting basically like bile and I nearly gagged. That put me off of sours for a long time, even as it grew in popularity and my beer snob buddies extolled the virtue of the style.

It wasn’t until a coworker told me his all-time favorite beer was Rodenbach Grand Cru. When he told me it was a sour, I told him the story of the only sour I’d ever tried. He was like “dude, Grand Cru is like liquid sweet tarts. It’s soooo good.” I bit the bullet and bought a bottle, and it was like the scales fell from my eyes. I’m guessing I’d probably like that New Belgium sour if I tried it today.

tl;dr: Rodenbach is the gateway drug to sours.