Flanders Brown / Oud Bruin
Last week’s style article featured the native West Flanders sour beer known commonly as Flanders Red. This week we’ll move on over to the East side of the Flanders region and explore a similar sour ale called “Oud Bruin” (Old Brown).
While these two beer styles obviously share a regional correlation, they also share a commonality in base ingredients and brewing practice, apart from a couple of noteworthy distinctions. Since we’ve already covered the Flanders Red style previously, we’ll focus here primarily on what makes the Oud Bruin style distinct from its Westerly counterpart. As with most world beer styles, of course, these distinctions are only generally indicative of most examples, and exceptions can and do occur as brewers with a particularly avant garde slant take these traditional Belgian styles in new and innovative directions.
While the Flanders Red style in its time-honored form exemplifies the traditional brewing techniques of aging and blending batches of beer to achieve a harmonious result, the Oud Bruin is typically made these days in a somewhat more clear-cut manner and relies solely on the hands of time to achieve its artful alchemy.
Moreover, Oud Bruin beers are often matured in stainless steel tanks rather than oak and therefore depend on the addition of multiple yeast strains as well as souring bacteria by the brewer to infuse the beer with its characteristically tart disposition. Since stainless steel doesn’t harbor live bacteria like oak, the souring effect must come exclusively from an extrinsic source and is therefore a somewhat more controlled practice in the case of most contemporary examples of Oud Bruin. Because of the consistency this technique provides, Oud Bruin may also sometimes be used as a “base beer” for the making of fruit Lambics such as Kriek (cherry) or Frambois (raspberry), as is the case with one of the most well-known examples of the Oud Bruin style - Brouwerij Liefmans (now owned by Moortgat) “Goudenband.”
The beer style itself tends to be a deep red-brown to brown color and should be clear when viewed in front of a light source. A moderately sized head of foam is common and typically appears as just off-white or very pale tan in color. On the nose, expect a good balance of dark fruits and malt – one of the main differentiating factors between the Oud Bruin style and that of the Flanders Red. A moderately more assertive malt character is common of the style, with notes of caramel or toffee being predominant but also typified by a hint of chocolate due to the use of some heavily kilned (roasted) malts in the grist. On the palate, the interplay of dark fruits like black cherry, prunes and raisins along with a caramely malt backbone create a pleasing counterpoint to the sourness produced by the bacterial agents like saccharomyces, lactobacillus and acetobacter. Because lactobacillus (the same strain used in the über-tart Berliner Weisse style across the border in Germany – see my style article here) is impeded at somewhat elevated alcohol levels, and some examples of Oud Bruin like the Liefmans example cited above can reach 7%-8% ABV, the use of a portion of “acid malt” – a malt that contains a small percentage of lactic acid, originally created to help adjust mash pH levels – may be employed to enhance the sourness of the finished beer. Hop character should remain essentially undetectable in this style and very low alpha-acid, or even aged hops are commonly used. The mouth feel is generally perceived as medium with relatively low levels of carbonation and a lingering sweet-sour finish.
Oud Bruin is a beer style that, despite its typically modest alcohol strength, can be cellared for extended periods of time and will undergo significant maturation in the bottle. In fact, the style is referred to as a “Provision Beer” because of its ability to develop and evolve over time in the cellar. Older examples of the style have a propensity to take on a sherry-like character due to slight oxidation in the bottle over time and this is actually considered by most aficionados to be a virtuous trait in this particular beer. Since Oud Bruin is somewhat more malt-heavy and lacks the stronger acetic characteristics that often mark the Flanders Red style, it is something of a more accessible “sour beer” for the uninitiated. While it’s sure to elicit a pucker here or a grimace there, it is often considered to be the more docile (relatively speaking) of the fabulous Flanders Red/Brown ales.
Statistics: O.G: 1.040 – 1.074, IBUs: 20 – 25, SRM: 15 – 22, ABV: 4% - 8%
Popular Examples: Liefmans Goudenband and Oud Bruin, Brouwerij Bavik Petrus Oud Bruin, De Dolle Oerbier Special Reserva, Deschutes The Dissident.