Monday, September 17, 2012

Homebrew Tasting: 2011 Flanders Red + Blending Tips

I have been slacking on doing reviews for my homebrews lately, but that will change soon. I haven't been able to brew as often lately (due to a few recent changes that I'll share soon). I also realized I have far too much beer "cellaring", so this combination means I need to start drinking.

I'll start with a review of my award winning Flanders Red. I am reviewing my 2011 batch of Flanders Red. I have a yearly tradition that every May I bottle and brew a new batch with some slight adjustments based off the previous batch. The batch I bottled this year had the right elements as you can see below in my review, but needed tweaking in order to better meet the style. This was my first attempt at blending this style beer and I'll share some advice from the experience.

Blending Advice (Notes from a Novice):

 - Most Important Step: "Tastualize" your final product. This is very important as you taste each component, you have to figure out how it will fit in to your Final Blend. This sort of knowledge can really only come from experience. Taste as many beers from that style and figure out what you love in each beer.

For example, my "Perfect" Flanders Red:
Aroma - Leads with cherry pie notes, then follows with oak (vanilla/coconut) and a sweet/sour balance. No sharp notes (like vinegar), the acetic acid level should be low enough to come across as a rounded soft sourness.
Taste - Flavor should mimic Aroma with same intensity of each character. I like my first taste to be sweet pie cherries, then some less sweet - candied dark fruits flavors from the malt and finish with the oak that helps to balance the sweetness and sourness so it feels drinkable and medium to full body.

 - Look for differences between your batch and the "Perfect" beer

After I tasted my current batch and reviewed my "Perfect" Flanders Red, it was easy to identify what was missing. This batch needed that middle dark fruit flavor complexity and need an increase in mouthfeel.

 - Evaluate options for missing components

Luckily, at the time of blending I had my Imperial Stout still aging in a keg. The Imperial Stout was very fruit forward and had very little roast character. After tasting it, it would better be labeled as an Old Ale. Using a graduated cylinder, I did several different ratios until I found a ratio I liked.

 - Have experienced and non-experienced drinkers review your beer

Over the years I have realized the value in having both experienced beer judges and casual drinkers try my beers. The experienced judge's feedback is obviously helpful, but the casual drinker's feedback helps in other ways. Often times they aren't stuck on the common flavor terminology plus they don't know the style, but can tell you if they like it or not. If a casual drinker tastes a gold medal beer from almost any category in a homebrew contest, I will venture to say they will like it. To be the best beer for that style it will have  great flavors that work together.

For the Flanders Red that we are discussing, I did this exact thing. I got my blend into as many mouths as I could. I had well respected beer judges try it and asked them to give me honest feedback. I also poured this for several friends that have never had this style. I learned that my "Perfect" beer is not always the most preferred. The majority of the feedback was to increase the sweetness (More toward Duchesse than Rodenbach Grand Cru). So for my competition blend, I added a bit of sour cherry juice and pomegranate juice to increase the fruit flavors and sweetness.

My final blend ended up being:
85% Flanders Red
10% Imperial Stout
2.5% Sour Cherry Juice
2.5% Pomegranate Juice

The blend was carbed up in a 2 liter bottle using a carb cap to around 2.5 volumes only 2 days before the competition. I left the bottles in the fridge to help with clarity and make sure the extra sugar wasn't consumed to add extra carbonation. This beer placed 2nd in Category 17 at the San Diego County Fair (which has turned out to be a huge competition) and after talking with the judges it was a coin flip for 1st and 2nd. My scoresheet was lost, but wouldn't be too helpful since this was a one time blend. For future competitions, I plan to open bottles and blend starting 2 weeks before the due date.


  1. Did you enter the blended beer into 17B?

    To each their own, but if you did that without noting it on the entry form it is a bit disingenuous.

    1. Yes, I did enter this beer into 17B. I am not too sure why you think it is disingenuous. Do you mind explaining?

  2. When I drink a "Flanders Red" I assume that the fruity flavors and aromas are fermentation products. I think it's cheating a bit to get these components by adding fruity flavors at bottling. As you said yourself, the blend probably isn't even a stable product.

    If you somehow pasteurized and then blended I could see the argument a little more, but even then I would still rather see the beer entered into 20 or 23 with a full explanation of what you did.

    Do you really want to see a traditional Flanders Red (blended or unblended) lose to a "doctored" version?

  3. Sorry if I'm being pedantic, it's really not something to get worked up over. Competitions should be fun and it looks like you're having fun!

    Unfortunately for me, this type of thing is just one of many reasons that I have stopped entering sours into competitions.

    1. Oh Luke, no worries I enjoy healthy discussion like this.

      It actually never crossed my mind that this type of blending would be "unfair" or require the beer to be entered into another category.

      Flanders Reds are traditionally a blended product and commercial fruit juices are added to beers all the time. I'm not sure why it would matter if I added the juice at the beginning or end of fermentation (is dry-hopping "doctored"?).

      And what's your reasoning behind pasteurizing or having a stable product making this less of a "doctored" beer?

    2. I can't think of any 'Flanders Reds' that have fruit juices added that are then entered in 17B by breweries in competition. Which ones do that? Dry hopping doesn't make an IPA a fruit beer. Nevertheless I always inform the judges about dry hopping too.
      -plum berliner guy

  4. Jeff, You have some good advice above, I am close on blending my Flanders Red. But with kids getting a solid date is harder than expected. Either way we should meet up again soon to start planning that collab beer.

    On adding the fruit, a lot of homebrewers do the same additions that are listed above. Personally I don't see anything wrong with the additions but in the future the AHA will need to address this. Maybe having a blended and unblended style guidelines.

    1. Yes, I have become increasingly busy as well. I'm still very interested in brewing a collab Biere de Garde. I actually wish I had one right now.

      I think at least for the sour beer category that blending is assumed since that is how every company commercially makes it.

  5. As someone who always lists the exact procedures and components that comprise my brews I can tell you it is disingenuous. Your beer should have been in Belgian Specialty or Fruit Beer. Look at it like this, do you really think you would have gotten a comment like, "the cherry notes are fantastic" in the Flanders category if the judge had known they were achieved with cherry juice? Of course not as a proper Flanders doesn't need that to achieve big cherry flavor. It's taken me years to learn how to get a complex Flanders using natural means.

    Another point showing it matters would be the fact that I have repeatedly had points deducted for being honest and even been prevented from winning. For example, I recently submitted a beer into Belgian Specialty that was as follows: a classic Berliner base fermented with sacc and lacto followed by secondary on 2.5lbs of plums per gallon with the addition of a lambic smack pack. The beer scored a 41, but was not allowed to win because Berliner isn't a Belgian style. I knew this would be an issue when I chose the category and could have entered it as a fruit lambic (pretended it wasn't a Berliner base) and won, but that would have been disingenuous. Of course the alternative was to enter it in general specialty, but I knew the Belgian Specialty judges would be in a better position to evaluate this beer. As long as entrants hide additions the very subjective process of judging will be precluded from identifying the truly best beers.

  6. Blending together aged beers is not the same as blending in fruit juice.

    Rodenbach and New Belgium do not add fruit juice at bottling to their Flanders Reds.

    I'm done arguing though so do whatever you want.

  7. Thanks for all the feedback guys, I appreciate it. I definitely understand your point, but I'm not totally sure if I agree.

    It appears that the juice is the main complaint toward my blend as being disingenuous. I guess I just look at the juice as any other ingredient I would use in the beer in order to fit the style. How about if I added wine to the beer? I imagine that this would be considered disingenuous, but how about the countless brewers that ferment their beers in red wine barrels. What if I added oak extract at blending instead of aging this in barrels for years? What if I added lactic acid to increase the sourness?

    The conversation is really over the methods of how the flavors are created and I think this will be a topic that will be debated indefinitely.

    1. I have a barrel in my house. Every beer I submit out of it goes into specialty as oak aged, or if the standard category allows I at least state it is barrel aged. We could agree this is less important than disclosing fruiting in 17B as the best examples will be oaked. Nevertheless, I disclose it. Beyond that I list the type of barrel and any fruit/other additions. A Flanders Red (17B) is never really fruited, but right in 17C it states that fruited versions should go into fruit beer category. So yeah, to add cherry juice in 17B or 17C without stating I consider cheating.

      I am adding oak soaked pinot to a Belgian Quad this week. That too will be disclosed. If I ever hit rock bottom and add lactic acid (horrible!!) I would 100% disclose this. I've actually been accused of adding lactic acid by judges to an exceptionally sour unblended Flanders. Why? Because people that add it don't disclose it. If they did, judges wouldn't have to guess. So yes, I think each of those examples would be very good examples of ways to be disingenuous. Adding cherry juice to a blend is the easy way to get cherry pie notes that take years to get naturally. That is my problem with it. It takes zero effort really while the natural route is super hard. Without disclosing it you are held to the same standard as someone who had a much more difficult task. Still, your score shows it was a good beer I just think it was achieved in a way that is easier than natural means. To each their own.

  8. It sounds like this is a discussion over the merits of reinheitsgebot which fortunately we don't have to comply with, especially considering this is a Belgian, not a German beer. There is no rule in the BJCP that states a brewer must specify all their ingredients; the goal is to produce a beer that most closely resembles the category.

    I actually tried this beer, Jeff, at the Fair. When I finished judging my category, I had the opportunity to try a few other categories and I thought your beer was fantastic and was a little surprised it didn't take first, but it makes sense now that it came down to a coin flip. I'm glad I now know who the brewer was of this exceptional beer.

    1. Thanks Curtis.

      This was an eye opening debate for me and glad that homebrewers have such an open dialogue.

      Now, that I know there are people at the QUAFF meetings that enjoy this type of beer, I'll make sure to bring some to share.

  9. I always consider brewing beer as fun. I remember during my college days, I use to hang out with my friends and we have brewing competition, I really enjoy it because every time we successfully able to formulate new Home brewing recipes . I think this is something the most beautiful, enjoyable, memorable and thrilling competition of my college days.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...