Friday, 25 May 2007

Beer O'Clock: Duchess!

Stu from Real Beer and SOBA gives you his Friday heads up on beer...

I love to promote great NZ beer. And, even more so, I love to promote easily accessible NZ beer. Today however is not one of those times.

Sometimes I’ve just got to follow my palate to an obscure beer that almost nobody will have heard about or be able to find at his or her local bottle store. This is one of those times.

Indeed, it's a time from for some nationalistic generalisations. The English are known for their perfect malt (and for their inveterate whinging); the Americans for their fantastically fruity hops (and their equine-filtered mainstream 'beers'); the Germans for their very clean, very perfect lagers (and their fascist brewing laws). Generalisations are fun, aren't they?

Now, the Belgians ... and remember we're talking beer here ... well, the Belgians are known for their esoteric styles: full of wild yeasts, bacteria and very unique flavours. And for their blending. Some people reckon Belgium is boring. I couldn’t think of anywhere less boring.

Ale blending is an age-old task that, unlike the tradition in whisky, has all but died out in most countries. Belgian blenders are at least as highly thought of as brewers. One blended ale that I’ve been eyeing recently, and have finally purchased, is the rare Duchesse de Bourgogne. Duchesse (pronounced: doo-shay, don’t ask me how to pronounce Bourgogne) is a Flemish "sour ale" that falls into a category of beers known as Flanders Reds. I'd been looking at the bottle on the shelves at Rumble's Wines in Wellington for quite a few months before I finally picked one up.

What a revelation!

Duchesse de Bourgogne is a 6.2% masterpiece. Bottled in a beautiful little 250ml bottle, it is an absolute bargain at $6.50. Pouring a ruddy dark garnet, with a lacy light tan head, it vents off a heady aroma of sour cherries, fruity balsamic vinegar, fruitcake crust and oak with a background lactic mustiness. Lots of fruity cherry-like fruit and malt sweetness are balanced extraordinarily well, in the mouth, with a lovely sour bite and a beautiful touch of oaky tannins. Duchesse is as complex, and as drinkable, as the very best wines, and a whole lot more affordable.

If just one person buys this beer based on this recommendation, then I will have performed my good deed for this month.

Now for the bad news: like almost all of the best Belgian beers (Liefman's, Cantillon, Rochefort, Rodenbach, De Dolle), Duchesse de Bourgogne is certainly not stocked in your local Belgian Beer Cafe. I've only ever seen this in Rumble's Wine Cellar, Wellington - not even at Regional Wines and Spirits. The Beer Emporium in Christchurch is a good chance, but other than that I’m drawing blanks. What I'm saying is that reports of sightings from around the country would be welcome here. If you've ever seen it anywhere else, then please let us all know.

For those that can’t find it, and are keen to try a blended beer, look out for Green King’s Strong Suffolk Vintage Ale in your local New World or good bottle store. It’s not close in style, nor is it a patch on the Duchesse, but it still has a little of the blended romance.

Slainte mhath Stu

LINKS: Belgian beers; Flanders Red technical; Fascist brewing laws; Society of Beer Advocates.


  1. Waikato Not PC readers can get their fix at the Hamilton and Cambridge Wine Company stores. Cambridge Wine Company will let you order this great beer online!

    Oh, and it's bore-gone-yay (where gone rhymes with stone). At least I think it is. :)

  2. When I was I was in Belgium last month, I drank beer (as one must). A group of us ordered a veritable smorgasboard of different beers, and tried them all. Some of them were quite startling, to say the least (one was very much like aniseed?!). Jolly good fun.

  3. Drinking stuff you can't pronounce at the beginning of the session is a bad sign

  4. Cheers Greig. Great tip.

    And Regional Wines and Spirits now have a new shipment of Liefman's Kriek and Goudenband... two of the most fantastic sour ales... oh happy day!


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