How to Brew Flanders Red Ale | Homebrew Challenge

by Steve Thanos | Last Updated: April 16, 2021

Flanders Red Ale is a classic Belgian beer that is brewed by a few breweries in Flanders, Belgium.

This beer is sour and sometimes rather sweet, with malt flavors and fruity complexity from a mixed fermentation and occasionally some hints of oak.

The style can take on a slight to strong lactic sourness with a balanced acetic acid. 

“Burgundy of Belgium.” 

The style should not hit you in the jowels with acidity or tartness. Instead it is a balanced sourness with a biscuit malt character that makes the beer extremely smooth.

It has been known to compare this beer to red wine -”the Burgundy of Belgium.”  

Beers of the Middle Ages

Flanders Red dates back to the Middle Ages when Belgium separated into two territories and split by the Scheldt River. In the French-held west Flanders, brewers were not using hops to extend the shelf life of their beers.

The Count of Flanders sold Gruut or a mix of spices to brewers. Some found the spices destroyed  the value of their beers. 

Preserving Beers

In order to preserve their beers, many brewers were left with the choice of preserving their beers in oak casks. This would allow the beer to sour and allow the beer to get to a certain pH level. This allowed the beers to be preserved for a longer amount of time.

Afterwards, the oak casked beers would be mixed with younger beers to balance out the fruitness and the sourness of the beers. 

Consistency After All These Years. 

Flander Reds have not changed much over time. Brouwerij Omer Vander Ghinste traces their beer roots in Flanders, Belgium back to 1892.

Today they still sell their well-known Flemish sour Cuvee des Jacobins Rouge. The Rodenbach Brewey, established back in 1821, is another brewery well-known for the style. 

Style Profile for Flanders Red Ale

Appearance

Color of a Flanders Red Ale ranges from a nice, rich burgundy to deep reddish-brown.   

Aroma

The aroma of black cherry, currents, plums, and even a low level of orange character all can be found in the aroma of a Flander Red Ale. The mild aroma of chocolate and/or vanilla compliment this fruit invasion.

The malt presents a balance to the fruit without being too dominant. Some spice can be detected. No hop aroma.

The sourness on the nose should range from moderate to overwhelming. Clarity should be good, but will vary with the beer’s age. 

Flavor

The flavor of this beer is pretty congruent with the aroma. Complex fruit characteristics such as black cherry, currents, plums, and even a low level of orange character.

Low levels of chocolate and/or vanilla may be present. No hop flavor to speak of and very little hop bitterness. A tannic bitterness is likely on the back of the palate. This creates a drying character, like a aged red wine. 

Mouthfeel

Medium body, low to mid carbonation and astringency. The sourness may be prickling and puckering acidity on the palate. The finish is crisp and refreshing. 

Tips for Brewing your own Flanders Red Ale

Grain

The grist for a Fladers Red is usually built around Vienna malt. Sometimes Munich or 2-Row can be considered.

Some light or medium caramel malt can be used as can a small amount of Special B. There is also up to a 20% addition of maize to this grain bill.

Hops

As for hops, the IBUs should be under 10. Since hops are antibacterial, they will impede the bacteria needed for this style.

Traditionally, these hops are old, not fresh, low alpha acid, and European. Stay away from high alpha acid hops and citrusy American hops. 

Yeast

A good mix of Pedicoccus, Brettanomyces, Lactobacillus, and Acetobacter all play contributing roles on creating this beer.

Wyeast, White Labs, Imperial Yeast, and Bootleg Biology all have yeast mixtures that contain a mix of Saccharomyces yeast and the Pedicoccus, Brettanomyces and Lactobacillus.

Acetobacter is present in the open environment and multiplies when exposed to oxygen. 

Flanders Red Ale By the Numbers

  • Color Range: 10 – 16 SRM
  • Original Gravity: 1.048 – 1.057 OG
  • Final Gravity: 1.002 – 1.012 FG
  • IBU Range: 10 – 25
  • ABV Range: 4.6 – 6.5%

Martin Keen’s Flanders Red Ale Recipe

Grain

  • 38%        4 lbs.             Vienna malt  
  • 38%        4 lbs.             Pilsner Malt
  •   9%        1 lb.               Flaked Oats
  •   5%        8 oz               Caramunich II
  •   5 %       8 oz               Aromatice Malt
  •   5%        8 oz               Special B

Hops

  • 1.00 oz         Tettnang – Boil – 60 min

Yeast

  • 1.0 pkg   German Ale  Wyeast #1007
  • 1.0 pkg   Roselare Belgian Blend Wyeast #3763

Directions:

  • Mash at 152°F (66°C) for 60 mins
  • Boil for 60 mins 
  • Secondary: 4 oz American Oak Cubes – Medium Toast

Today is the first day in a year long process to brew and sour, a Flanders red ale. And yeah, I’ll also address why I’m wearing sunglasses indoors.

My name’s Martin Keen and I’m taking the Homebrew Challenge to brew 99 beers in 99 weeks. This week is the wonderfully complex style of Flanders red ale.

Now, there are a few steps to this, but we’re going to start with the familiar, which is the mash in.

Now here is my grain and it’s a relatively big bag of grain for a beer that’s not all that high in alcohol. And that’s because I’m brewing a five gallon batch. I’m going to spend a year waiting for this beer to be ready and I’m not doing a half size batch for that.

Todays mash will be conducted at the 150 Fahrenheit. It is 66 Celsius. Okay. Let’s mash.

So the story of the sunglasses, I’ve got this new desk set up here that I’ve been hooking up and I was just doing some cable management and, uh, well, I had my head under the desk and yeah, my, uh, my Mac book charger fell off and hit me right in the eye here, got a bit of, uh, a Shiner. Those things are really heavy.

Anyway. Okay. You’ve seen it now. So, uh, dispense with the glasses and let’s talk a little bit then about where I am in the Homebrew challenge, because I’m now in a category of European sour ales.

And I have already completed 23A Berliner Weisse. And I soured that through kettle souring, but the remaining styles, 23, B C D E & F. Those all really need more traditional souring methods, which is to say time a lot of time for the bugs to sour the beer and do their work.

That means I’m not going to get to taste any of these beers doing these challenges because, well, frankly, I have not been so prepared as to prepare these a year in advance.

So here’s what I’m going to do. I’ve got two spare fermenters. These are P E T fermenters, and I’m going to use those to sour 2 at the beers of the European sour ale category.

The first being today’s beer, which is Flanders red ale. It means I’m going to be skipping three styles in this category, but don’t worry. I’m still doing 99 beers in 99 weeks. I’m just going to look a little bit further down the list for my, uh, three makeup beers.

It doesn’t look great does it? Anyway, the beer I’m building has an original gravity of 10 51 or 5.4%. ABV. For the basemalt I am combining Belgium pilsner malt with Vienna malt at 38% each. I’m also adding in 9% of flaked oats. Then for the remaining specialty malts to really get the malt character that we’re looking for, I’m adding in aromatic malt, caramunich II, and special B each at 5%.

Flanders red ale is a complex beer with aroma’s taste notes of dark fruit and a finish that resembles an aged red wine. What it is not is a hoppy beer. So we want virtually no hop flavor and very little hop bitterness.

That means I’m only adding one hop addition, the bittering hop, and you’re going to want something that is a low alpha acid hop. I am using Tettnang, I’m going to put this in right now at the start of the boil.

A quick update then on how I’m getting on with my glycol chiller paired with these spike brewing fermenters. This is a beer that I brewed a little while back, and I want it to cold crash it. One thing with cold crashing is you get negative pressure.

So as the beer temperature drops, pressure builds up inside the vessel. Uh, often I’ll see if I use a better bottle it’ll sort of shrink in on itself. Or if you happen to be using a blow off well I brewed a belgiam triple that sucked up all of the sanitizer up the blow off tube with that negative pressure.

Now to get around negative pressure. I’ve used the gas manifold here, and I added five PSI of pressure before letting my glycol chiller loose on chilling this thing down.

And you can see that I’ve gone from five PSI down to two PSI. That’s negative pressure for you. I’m also going to be using this gas manifold now to do a closed transfer into a keg.

So let me show you how this works.

I’ve got this little device here, which I’m going to attach to the output. Now I’ve already sanitized this keg and purged it with CO2 next, I’m going to maintain five PSI of pressure in this fermentor. So I have some CO2 here and that’s now five PSI. So I’m ready to send the liquid into the keg. Let’s open the butterfly valve.

Okay. Pressure is going to build in this keg pretty quickly. So what I’m now going to do is I’m going to take this hose. This is a bottle of sanitizer. I’m going to connect this to the gas post. You hear the bubbling? That’s the air from the keg escaping going through here. Okay. Close transfer is in progress.

I’ve chilled the wort down to 68 Fahrenheit. And now I’m going to pitch the yeast and just the yeast. I’m just going to do a normal primary fermentation here. When this gets done, I’m going to transfer to secondary and add some bugs at that stage.

But so far, this is just a, a normal brew day. So I’m using wyeast 1007 . This is German ale yeast. Pitching at 68 Fahrenheit or 20 Celsius.

It has been seven days now. Fermentation is complete and it’s time to rack into secondary. My secondary vessel is this carboy, this is a p.e.t. Better bottle carboy.

Now you do need to be a little bit careful about oxygen permeability, because this is, this beer is going to sit in the fermentor for a year. So any oxygen that gets in there is going to be bad news. Um, so you’d often see glass carboys being recommended.

I don’t happen to have any glass carboys anymore. So I’m going to use a better bottle. Um, this is rated for low oxygen permeability though. So I’m hopeful it’s not going to be too much of an issue.

So I’ve added to my fermentor here, a little extra port so that I can take a sample. So I’m going to take a gravity sample now just to check on the beer.

This beer is not going to win any awards for clarity just now, but that’s okay. It’s got plenty of time to clear up. So the original gravity, the final gravity, I should say came in at 10 14.

Um, but that’s not quite the final gravity yet because we’ve got more stuff to add in. Uh, first of all, I’ve got some Oak chips here and these are medium toast, Oak chips. I have four ounces. Um, I’ve just put these in boiling water for a little while just to make sure that they are sterilized. And now I’m going to put those into the fermenter.

And finally, the bugs. What I’m using here is wyeast 3763. This is Roeselare blend. So this is going to both add the sourness that we’re looking for in the beer, but it’s also going to continue the fermentation a little bit and really dry this thing out.

Cap it off and well, now it’s just a case of storing it for a year. I’m not going to do any temperature control with this. I’m just going to leave this in a dark place in my basement. I’m going to put it in a cupboard or something. And then in one year from now, come revisit it.

So I don’t have a Flanders red to try because it’s going to take a year, but we do have, so we’re cheating? Yeah. We’re going to cheat. We’ve got a commercial beer.

So this is a Duchess de Gonia. That sounded very poor pronunciation, but we’ll go with it. Dee-Chess? The begonia. Okay, we’ll go with it. I like it. So, uh, let’s, let’s crack this guy open. Now. This is, uh, actually a blend. So this is a 18 month old beer blended with an eight month old beebr.

But we already said, we know it’s not carbonated like champagne that’s for sure. Yep. So I’m excited to see what this is going to look like. So look at this. This is quite lightly carbonated. It’s not superficial. It’s not a huge head as we saw when that cork came off. It’s definitely not champagne anyway, but it’s, the color is very deep.

Cannot see through this at all. Yes. Little bit of burgundy in there. I think very, very dark. Almost like a sort of like bourbon or whiskey type color smell. Oh, vinegary. I would say. Yeah, it’s got that. Yeah. It has got a touch of vinegar to it. Yeah, definitely can tell us it’s going to be a sour beer. Yeah. Yeah. And, um, what sort of wine and vinegar type less of a beer smell.

So, you know, let’s just see what this is gonna taste like. Well, let’s find out. All right.

Oh, so I don’t think it tastes very beer-y either to me. No, but it doesn’t taste very vinegary either. I was expecting it to be a lot more sharp, but actually there’s a bit of sweetness in this as well. Yeah. It’s not, it’s not very carbonated whatsoever and it’s not, although it is labeled as a, it’s going to be sour beer. I wouldn’t call that. I wouldn’t call that overly sour. No, definitely not. Pretty smooth. I would say actually, it is smooth.

Yeah, that’s right. Um, which belies the, the aroma to me, it doesn’t smell like it’s going to be sour. You think it’s going to be harsh. So you think it’s going to hit you in the back of the throat, but it’s not that way at all. Well, yeah.

So I’ll see you back here in a year and we can do it maybe a comparison between Duchess do bo Gonia and Martins Flanders red?

“Da-chess-da-bagonia.” I can’t wait for someone in the comments to tell me how much I butcherd that. Yeah. But until next year, cheers.

I am the former President of my homebrew club, Plainfield Ale and Lager Enthusiasts (PALE) in the western suburbs of Chicago, IL. I brew on my BIAB system with my incredibly patient and understanding wife, adorable 9 year old daughter, and 12 year old brew dog.