Sunday, January 2, 2011

Drie Fonteinen

To kick start the new year here at Food and Fermentation I decided to pull up some recent reviews from one of my favorite breweries, Drie Fonteinen. Last month Jen and I were lucky enough to get our hands on some bottles of the recent Malvasia Rosso release from Ølbutikken (thanks to Rachel and Jeppe!); and on top of that, our local tasting buddy, Dave, brought over an '02 Red Label Oude Gueuze Vintage. December was a pretty awesome month all around for lambic and gueuze, but these two bottles were definitely the highlights.

The Malvasia Rosso, also referred to as Drie Fonteinen's Druiven Gueuze (druiven = grapes) was actually bottled in 2003, but was just recently released last fall at Ølbutikken in Copenhagen. Only a limited number of bottles (300-400) were for sale and this release also marked the first time that the beer was available for off-site consumption. Previous vintages of Malvasia Rosso have been for sale at European bars like Akkurat, but the consumer is only allowed to drink the bottle at the bar. Needless to say, I was quite excited to see a few of these bottles arrive at my doorstep.

Drie Fonteinen's Malvasia Rosso, like most Belgian lambics, contains a wheat base beer that is fermented with wild yeasts and other microorganisms. The yeast and the various microorganisms produce alcohol in the beer, but also give it much of the prized funk and sourness that is highly sought after in traditional lambics. To add to this already complex beer, the head brewer/blender, Armand Debelder, then added red malvasia grapes and allowed the beer to age further in oak barrels. This specific vintage of Malvasia Rosso was then bottled in 2003 and allowed to bottle condition until late 2010.

Anyways, on to the review. The bottle was served at cellar temperature (slightly cool) and upon removal of the cage I almost got a cork in my face. Luckily I wasn't directly over the bottle, but I still needed to act quickly, since we had a bit of a gusher on our hands. Fortunately there were three glasses right in front of me and we ended up losing very little of the bottle. The beer itself poured a slightly hazy tangerine-orange with a thin ring of white bubbles on top. Nice color, but no lacing of any kind. However, the aroma was great. Dry earthy funk, light orange citrus and oak barrel notes with a touch of dark fruit (grape). Quite refined and well balanced, but it was the flavor that stole the show.

Crisp barnyard brett with tangerine citrus, tart apple and a touch of grape on the tongue. Lots of funk and a medium level of constant sourness. The execution on this beer was perfect. All of the Drie Fonteinen funk that people love, but then another level of complexity and smoothness that I have not experienced with any other lambics, save for Cantillon's Blåbær. This is truly an amazing beer and one that should be sought out by all lambic/gueuze lovers. As a side note, the brett character at this point is well balanced and the beer may continue to improve for another year or two, but it is drinking extremely well right now. So if you have a bottle, I highly recommend drinking it in the near future before the brett becomes too dominant, unless that is to your liking.

In addition to the Malvasia Rosso, our local tasting group was also treated to a bottle of '02 Oude Gueuze Vintage (thanks Dave!). This beer is much like Armand's regular Oude Gueuze, but the Vintage labeling denotes that only the finest barrels at Drie Fonteinen were blended to make this batch of gueuze. Not that any of their barrels are bad, but the barrels in this blend were hand picked as some of Armand's finest. Another special note about the '02 vintage is that the label is different from the rest of the other Oude Gueuze Vintage vintages and the dates are hand written instead of printed. To add to that, the '02 vintage is regarded as one of the best of the Oude Gueuze Vintage, so a best of the best if you will.

This beer, like the Malvasia Rosso, was another beautiful work of art from Drie Fonteinen. With eight years of age the aroma was gorgeous. Earthy and floral with orange citrus, oak, barnyard funk and wet hay. A bit of lemon zest and vanilla worked its way into the nose as well. Probably a touch better than the nose on the Malvasia Rosso. Absolutely outstanding.

The taste was also quite good, but not at the same level as the nose. Many of the same notes, but the brett had become a little too dominant. Lots of dry earthy notes mixed with citrus and a funky sourness. The mouthfeel was crisp and dry with light carbonation. Definitely brett heavy. Makes me kind of wonder what this beer was like 3-4 years ago.

As far as gueuze go though, the '02 Oude Gueuze Vintage is one of the best I have ever had and the nose is phenomenal. One of the few noses I have ever rated as a 5 on BeerAdvocate. Drie Fonteinen knows their stuff and hopefully someday I'll be lucky enough to come across a bottle of Millenium Gueuze or one of the J&J's from Drie Fonteinen. If that happens I'll make it priority to post about it on here.

Cheers and Happy New Years!

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