GoodLife Brewing Company debuted a special new beer at the recent Bend Brewfest that is currently available on tap, Man of the Hour. The beer is named in honor of founder and brewer Curt Plants, and it was the last beer he brewed before he died suddenly in 2017.
“There was a Thursday morning back in early 2017 that Curt finally had the chance to brew a recipe that he’d been wanting to brew for years,” the brewery wrote on Facebook. That recipe was for a Flanders red ale, a Belgian-style mixed fermentation sour ale aged in barrels.
The Flanders red ale style originated in West Flanders, Belgium, and is deeply complex with prominent fruity character supporting a balsamic tart body that finishes dry and tannic. It is the most winelike of any beer style, offering a depth of aroma and flavor not unlike red wine. So much so, it is sometimes referred to as the Burgundy of Belgium.
These red ales are products of mixed fermentation with a variety of yeasts and bacteria and extended barrel aging. The beer starts with a base of toasty amber malts, typically Vienna or Munich, along with caramel and often other specialty malts and even corn. Hopping rates are low, resulting in little or no hop flavor in the finished product.
The key to the style, however, is extended barrel aging. This allows the souring and winelike complexity to develop. The best-known brewer of Flanders reds, Rodenbach Brewery, ages the beer for up to two years in huge oak barrels, known as foeders. These vessels house the resident organisms that sour and mature the beer until the brewers determine that it is ready to be blended.
The blending typically involves adding a small portion of fresh beer to the aged brew to round out the flavors and balance the acidity.
There are only a handful of breweries producing the style in its native Belgium, and for a time it seemed an endangered style. Unsurprisingly, however, American craft brewers picked up the baton and have been advancing their own versions.
Breweries like New Belgium Brewing Company of Colorado, Side Project Brewing Company of Missouri, Jester King Brewery of Texas and, closer to home, pFriem Family Brewers in Hood River and Crux Fermentation Project all produce interpretations of the style.
Sour beers are still somewhat unusual for GoodLife, a brewery known for its IPAs and its popular Sweet As Pacific Ale.
“Working with sour and barrel-aging beer, we try to push our comfort zone and try new things with all our product development and new beers,” head brewer Tyler West said.
In brewing Man of the Hour, primary fermentation occurred in regular stainless steel fermenters. The beer was then transferred to French and American wine barrels, “as well as a few twice-used bourbon barrels for some more intense oaky characteristics,” West said. “The beer was aged around 24 months and had some very antique flavors, so we did resort to the style and blended some fresh beer to give it a smooth refreshing character.”
The beer is a strong 8.4 percent alcohol by volume, with 10 IBUs.
One of the first things you’ll notice is the tart aroma, with an acetic punch reminiscent of sour cherries and balsamic reduction. It has a deep garnet red color with a hint of chestnut, almost opaque with ruby highlights when held to the sun.
I found the flavor to balance a dark balsamic character with notes of oaky tannins, dark sour cherry, a touch of vanilla and some malt caramelization. A touch of alcohol heat and a vinous wood note does bring red wine to mind, and it finishes dry and approachable.
Is it a beer that honors the late Curt Plants?
“Curt had his own philosophies on brewing, and the one we stick within all day-to-day operations is to make a very drinkable beer,” West said. “We want our customers to want to come back for another.”
By that measure, I would say Man of the Hour measures up to Plants’ vision. In addition to being available on draft, it will also make its way into cans in a limited packaging run, available only at the tasting room. Be sure to pick up a can or raise a glass before it’s gone.
— Jon Abernathy is a beer writer and blogger and launched The Brew Site (http://www.thebrewsite.com) in 2004. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .