Friday, October 4, 2013

Van Steenberge Monk's Cafe Flemish Sour Red Ale review

Brouwerij Van Steenberge Monk's Cafe Flemish Sour Red AleBelgian beers are quite the treat at times. They always seem to have a lot of flavor and character. And when they happen to also be a sour ale I like to grab them when I see them. This beer review is of a beer made by Brouwerij Van Steenberge of Ertvelde, Belgium. It's called "Monk's Cafe Flemish Sour Red Ale". This beer came in a small 11.2oz solo bottle and was inexpensive enough to warrant a sampling and full review.

Monk's Cafe Flemish Red Ale weighed in at 5.5% ABV and around 165 calories per bottle. This beer was described as: "We blend young and old beers to make this mildly tart sour ale. Light bodies with a lactic/sour nose and a bit of sweet and sour in the finish. Very refreshing."

This beer was imported by WIN-IT-TOO Inc of Santa Barbara, CA. I had no idea how old this bottle was. Knowing my local store, this bottle could have been sitting there for a while. The label was stamped with some letters 02GL and other numbers I couldn't read. I had heard some good things about this beer, but I wanted to see for myself.

I've had another beer from this brewery before, Gulden Draak, and really liked that, so I was expecting this beer to be equally comparable. Let's find out.

Appearance: Monk's Cafe poured out a very dark, dark red - nearly brown - with ruby edges along the glass. There was a light tan head that had no problem building up several inches in the glass. As the head subsided, it left a sticky lacing along the sides of the glass. While it was a very dark beer, I could see that there was a bit of yeast sediment that came out from the bottle of the 11.2oz bottle. So pour carefully, but don't worry about that affecting your experience.

Aroma: Monk's Cafe is the kind of sour ale that instantly alerts you to the fact that is has a lactic, or sour, side. I could pick up some dark malts in the nose like caramel, slightly sweet with some fruit highlights, yet behind the sour tones. I got the feeling that this bottle had seen some age as the aromas seems a bit subdued for a sour ale, even after letting it warm up a bit. If there was any wood tones in the aroma, it was hidden in the background.

Monk's Cafe close upTaste: Unlike some sours, this beer didn't strike you with a big sour taste up front, rather, there was a sweet malt taste with some fruitiness followed by a subtle sourness. The beer itself is light to medium in body and has a clean taste. The level of sweetness seemed consistent from start to finish. The taste ends sweet without any sting of acidity. It was very easy drinking and had a pleasant taste, although it lacked a crispness that other sours typically have.

I was hoping for a bit more of a biting sour hit, but there was none. Perhaps this beer had mellowed a bit on the shelf, but I can't say for sure how old this beer was. This could almost be called a sessionable sour ale, even at 5.5% ABV. It seemed well made, a tad on the sweet side and lightly bittered.

Overall: On the sour scale where 1 is barely sour to 10 which is extremely sour, I'd put this beer at a 4. I was expecting a bit more sour bite, but then again I've been spoiled by some great local sour beers from Colorado and may have set my expectations too high. I would recommend this beer to anyone who was looking to start drinking sour ales. This will give you a good introduction to sour ale without putting your taste buds through extremes.

The beer was admirable, satisfying and a bit ponderous at the same time. I had no problem drinking it and would probably seek this out on draft to see what a truly fresh tapping would taste like. Worth a taste for sure, but don't expect this to blow your socks off with big tart flavor. It's only mildly tart. Still, an above average brew.

Disclosure: I paid full retail price for this beer at my local liquor store.

Related articles:
- Van Steenberge Gulden Draak Ale review. (2008)
- The Inaugural 2010 Boulder SourFest.
- Odell Brewing releases The Meddler Oud Bruin. (2012)

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