Flemish Sour Ales 

Fill your head with brown and red

Flanders is the Dutch-speaking region of Belgium famous for its brown (Oud Bruin) and red ales. Both styles typically blend aged ale with new ale, use particular strains of yeast that result in varying levels of tartness, and feature muted hops that contribute to the brew's stability, while adding little or no bitterness. Oak fermentation or aging can come into play, along with lightly bitter tannins. Here are three very different Flemish sours, all in 11.2 ounce bottles:

Bourgogne des Flandres Belgian Brown Ale, $3.79-$4.99

This beer is a vibrant mahogany in the glass, with a generous mocha head that dissipates quickly. It's fairly sweet on the nose, where ripe stone fruit, fig and caramel are complemented by soft oak. This brew is rather subdued for a sour; tart cherry lurks beneath burnt brown sugar and smooth malt. A touch of oak comes through on the refreshing finish. If you are new to sours, this might be a good place to start.

De Brabandere Petrus Aged Red, $3.79-$4.99

A percentage of Petrus Aged Pale is added to a base of brown ale, along with fresh cherries, resulting in an ebony-hued brew topped by a persistent, pale-brown head. There are fresh baked and spicy black cherry pie aromas on the nose, while the palate is rich and creamy--a combo of fig, date and just-sour cherry. The 8.5 percent alcohol adds warmth and begs caution.

VanderGhinste Oud Bruin Flanders Sour Ale, $4.49-$5.99

A blend of fresh ale and oak-aged lambic, this brew pours a crimson-hued chestnut with a wispy, off-white head. Fruity aromas dominate, leading off with spicy, sour cherry backed by touches of earth, mineral and blue cheese. The flavors are round and well-balanced, offering tangy berry and cherry, just-sweet malt and a soft, tannic bitterness. This beer is the tartest of the three, so may not be for the uninitiated.

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