"Don't need to believe in hereafter, just believe in me…"

by Katie Pizzuto on February 17, 2010

in beer

I’ve always been on the same page with Michael Jackson…the beer world’s Michael, not Neverland’s, though I have been caught singing Smooth Criminal once or twice. Jackson calls Belgium’s beers the most wine-like in the world, and I agree, which is probably why I fell in love with them in the first place. Well, that and their funk. Belgium’s Flemish red ales are beers you either love or detest, but either way, you will undoubtedly have an opinion…one that forges your rite of passage into beer culture.

Verhaeghe Brewery’s Duchesse de Bourgogne is one of those Flemish reds that completely blew my mind when I first tried it, and left me staring into the glass wondering exactly what the hell it was that I was drinking. To say it is unique is to say that Michael Phelps is fast. Before you have a moment to even take a sip, strong aromas of cherry, dried fig, raisins and prune lure you in (or freak you out, but either way, at least you pay attention). Scents of balsamic vinegar reach your nose and the funkiness faintly reminds you of an earthy Burgundy. But it isn’t until you take your first sip that you are either lured in or warded off.

Duchesse is not like others in its class because it precariously holds in balance both its sweet and sour aspects. The balsamic quality is complemented by the notes of raisins, rum and apple, and what’s most intriguing is that you often don’t have a reference point for such descriptions when it comes to beer tasting notes. So you sit with it a while, you come back to it as it breathes and as its temperature changes, and each time, you sip something different. I guess it’s the aromas, the body and the personality that draw the oenophile in, but hand this to a life-long Heineken/Coors/Corona drinker, and I have no doubt that he would probably upchuck right on your new Dockers.

When Duchesse is made, Verhaeghe uses water from a Northern French aquifer 162 meters deep, that has a chemical make up not found anywhere in Belgium. And if you are of the ilk that doesn’t believe water makes much difference in brewing, please go back to your Coors. Brewing is a chemical science, and water has as much an impact on flavor as the other ingredients. After both the first and secondary fermentations take place (roasted malts only, no pale malts), the brew is matured in old oak barrels, some for 8 months and some for 18 months. Because the barrels are porous, they let through bacteria, which naturally sour the beer. And to take it a step further, they use oak liquor casks, some having been used for 80 years. During the time in wood, both lactic (think yogurty/lemony) and acetic (think malty/vinegary) acids develop in the beer. It even undergoes a little Maderization. The final product winds up being a blend of younger (8 month) and older (18 month) beers.

I’ve never been one to believe in divine intervention, but the Belgians heartily disagree and in the end, who the hell am I to argue? Throughout their breweries you’ll find Saint statues, placed on walls high above the din, overseeing the entire process to make sure what winds up in the glass meets their approval. In the Verhaeghe Brewery’s office, there’s even a statue of Jesus because, “If we can’t get it…perhaps Jesus can help.” That, my friend, is the sort of religion I can definitely get behind.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ben Simons February 17, 2010

I’m about to go search for a beer for a craft beer night that I’m hosting for some friends. I want to find something totally polarizing like this. 🙂 I’d love to try one of these bad boys.

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2 Katie Pizzuto February 17, 2010

“Polarizing” is a most fitting description, Ben. I would absolutely love to hear what comes out of it all if you do manage to bring the Duchesse! If you can’t find it locally, you can always order some from Bruisin’ Ales: http://www.bruisin-ales.com/beer_t-z.php

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3 Peter at Simply Beer February 17, 2010

This is a great beer to break into the flanders style or sours for that matter. I found this beer doesn’t get over sweet o over sour, but like you said a nice balance between the two. Personally prefer the more sour versions, but would not turn down a glass Duchesse de Bourgogne

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4 Katie Pizzuto February 18, 2010

By the way, guys, forgot to drop a link for readers to stop in and visit http://www.CraftBeer.com which is Brewers Association new site.

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5 Linsey February 18, 2010

think you need that trip to Belgium for real – recommends Bruges

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6 Scott-TheBrewClub February 18, 2010

Very nice review Katie, and great background info.

I think for the most part, people take the water that goes into a beer for granted. “Any water will do!” But you’re right. Water (and where its from) is important, and this beer is a good example of that.

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7 MAG February 18, 2010

Excellent review of an excellent brew! Thanks for mentioning that water *does* make a difference in the brewing enterprise.

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8 Don February 18, 2010

Polarizing is a great way to describe this beer. I am speaking out of observation, not ever having had the brew myself, but my Brother Jim has and he didn’t really care for it, but his wife flipped over it. He says it is a chick beer. I don’t know but with an opinion like that perhaps you would be more inclined to send those truffles my way instead of northern Jersey. Here is a link to Jim’s take on it. http://beerandwhiskeybros.com/2009/10/01/imagine-if-the-view-was-a-beer/

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9 Katie Pizzuto February 18, 2010

Thems is fightin’ words, Don….your brother will now get an earful from me, god save the boy. You’re now more inclined to get those manly-stout infused truffles for sure!

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10 Todd Abrams March 5, 2010

It has been a while since I’ve had a bottle. I’ll have to Duchesse de Bourgogne another try.

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