Brewing All Stars #4: Rodenbach Fruitage, Roeslare, Belgium and Lieshout, Netherlands
Date: July 19 , 2019 —
The Story— Rodenbach has been one of our favorite breweries anywhere for decades. with Michael Jackson’s poetic encouragement we made the pilgrimage to it well over 30 years ago. Massive wooden foeders filled warehouse after warehouse– an apparent homage to the great porter breweries of 19th century London. The beer from one of these foeders ws transporting — and commercially unavailable.
At that point it was a very independent relic of the 19th century with an unusual business plan. Like Guinness, Rodenbach never tried to buy tied houses that would guarantee a market for their beers, but specializing in one distinctive beer, they sold to other breweries’ tied houses. Without question the strategy kept them independent in the great consolidations of the 70s and 80s. The big brewers wanted pub, not brewing capacity in and old brewery, and failed to see the potential power of the brand.
The 180 run as an independent brewery ended in 1998 when the Palm group took it over. In truth at that point the brewery was edging toward decay and the quality of a product that lives its life on the edge was in serious question. Palm dropped the equivalent of six million bucks restoring the brewery and increasing the viability of its brands. In 2016, however, the Dutch brewer Bavaria (yep, that’s confusing all right) bought Palm’s entire portfolio which included Palm’s signature brands, the outstanding Lambic beers from Frank Boon, and Rodenbach. These iconic outliers are now in the hands of a brewery that’s approaching six million barrels a year.
We admit to a bias. As long time beer can collectors, we became quite familiar with Bavaria in the 1970s and 80s as the brewery that issued literally hundreds of can labels with the same golden swill inside that made Iron City taste like a craft beer by comparison. They also put hundreds of bucks in our pockets as we sent cases of the empty cans back to the states and sold the cans for $5 each or more. remember in the 1970s, $5 could still buy a hamburger, and a few cases paid for a round-trip cattle car seat to Europe the next year.
Bavaria claims to be on the craft beer wagon now and talks a lot about the family brewing history We haven’t heard them mumble a word about their can exploitation days, but business do what they have to do to survive.
We’ve featured Rodenbach beers before in this blog, and we will again. Single foeder beers are released from time to time and they are among the greatest beers on earth. Today’s beer isn’t one of them, but it’s interesting. It’s one of the first clear outcomes of the Bavaria buyout. It’s brewed and adulterated in Roeslare, but then tanked to Bavaria’s Lieshout brewery for canning.
It’s also one of the few that have made it to this blog in which Ellie scored it high and I didn’t. She usually doesn’t like fruit-added beers any more than I do, but this passed muster for her. It’s 7% cherry juice and 2% elderberry juice. I’d have been happier without the elderberries no matter what your father smelled like.
The Beer– It’s only 4.2% alcohol, which is another big plus for Ellie, who is on something of a session campaign these days. It is very rich for the low booze. The deep cherry suggests a bit of Ludens cough drop and it sports a long tart, though not acidic, ending. Ellie: It’s a 4.2% beer with most of the Rodenbach flavors.
Value — Good (me); Very good (Ellie). 25 centiliter cans come in a our pack for under ten bucks.
Values: “fair” is a good beer at an above market price, “good” is worth the money, “very good” is a bargain, and “excellent” is a steal.
It’s All-Star season. MLB has finished theirs, but it seems like a new sport is showcasing exceptional talent almost every day. So we’ll be presenting our own all-star brewing line up. We don’t claim to present– or even know– what the best beers in America are, but out of the hundred or so that we taste every month, some are indeed special. For the second couple of weeks in July, we’ll share some recent standouts in a very crowded craft beer field. .
We’re often asked to share our tasting notes on over 33,000 beers; this blog is in answer to those requests. Not all our notes, though. The great beer writer Michael Jackson admirably followed the Thumper Rule, and we’ll try to do the same. (“If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nuthin’ at all.”) All the beers we post are from the top half of our ratings and most are from the top quarter. Of greater value, we think, are the stories behind the beers, and we try to give you enough about the brewery, the style and the places to find great beer to help you on your own beer journeys. At CulturAle Press we try to write books and publish posts that will help you “Drink Well and Travel Safely.”
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