Duchesse de Bourgogne: A Valentine's Day Beer for the Ladies
Beer: Duchesse de Bourgogne
Brewery: Brouwerij Verhaeghe
Style: Flemish Red Ale
ABV: 6.2 percent
Because they tend to get me in big trouble both personally and professionally, I try to avoid making sweeping generalizations about the opposite sex. So it's at great peril that I start off this week's review thus: A lot of women don't like beer. Now, of course there are many who do -- I personally know some incredible women who sell beer for major craft breweries and brew their own. Several even own breweries. But they are vastly outnumbered by the ladies who seem to have been forcibly dragged into a craft beer bar by their significant others and, with sour looks on their faces, end up ordering a glass of wine because they just. Won't. Drink. Beer.
The problem lies not in any difference of anatomy. More likely it's that a century's worth of mass-market beer advertising aimed primarily at men -- and the flavor of the beers being advertised -- has left a bad taste in their mouths. But I believe that anyone who says they don't like craft beer just hasn't found the right brew for them yet, and I have yet to meet a person with ladyparts who doesn't love Duchesse de Bourgogne.
See also: Upslope Brown Ale: Feel the Love
Cherry-balsamic sour and unique as all hell, Duchesse de Bourgogne is produced by Brouwerij (that means brewery) Verhaege, a family-owned brewery founded in 1885 and located in the West Flanders region of Belgium. It's named for Mary of Burgundy, a 15th-century lady who ruled over several French regions until her death at age 25, when she fell from her horse while falconing -- which, when you think about it, is a pretty badass way to go.
Duchesse de Bourgogne -- the beer -- is brewed according to a very old and, to some, strange tradition geographically linked with the southwest of the province of West Flanders. These beers, today known as Flanders red ales, are brewed conventionally, with a focus on maltiness over hop flavor. Duchesse de Bourgogne, for example, contains a fairly high percentage of roasted malts, which gives the brew a deep, coppery hue. After brewing, they're stored for a year or more in large oak vats. Normally, such aging would impart smooth, woody flavors such as vanilla to the brew -- and it does here as well. But the barrels are also home to millions of bacteria and yeast like lactobacillus, acetobacter, and brettanomyces that do their part to ferment the beer while adding sour, vinegary flavors and aromas.
The result? A complex, delightfully sour ale with fruity sweetness as well as the tannic bitterness of a heavy red wine. Aromas of oak-aged vinegar, caramel, cherries, biscuits, and flowers are noticeable with a swirl of the liquid. The flavor can be shocking at first, as more sweet caramel, plum, and black currant are balanced and eventually overtaken by green apple, tart cherry, and balsamic vinegar. Moderate carbonation keeps things lively as the flavors dance across the tongue, and a soft tartness lingers between sips.
Guys, if you want to make a beer lover out of your lady, for Valentine's Day get her a bottle of Duchesse de Bourgogne -- it's a brew that can both please the seasoned craft beer drinker and make a convert out of those who demur.
Or you could always just save the beer for yourself and get that bitch some flowers. Bitches love flowers.
Zach Fowle is a Certified Cicerone. He works at World of Beer in Tempe.