Review of Monk’s Cafe Flemish Red Ale

I’ve chosen to review Monk’s Cafe, a Flanders red ale. This beer is brewed by Brouwerij Van Steenberge NV in Ertvelde, Belgium. I purchased this bottle from Publick House Provisions on Beacon St. in Brookline, MA. Flanders red ale is usually characterized by having a moderate to intense sour flavor, imparted by inoculating the beer with bacteria after fermentation is complete. The souring process takes 6 months to 1 year or longer. The most prominent example of a Flanders red that is available in the United States in Rodenbach. However, Rodenbach recently has been increasingly harder to find in my area due to a distribution change. I’ve since been on a mission to find decent Flanders red ales to fill the hole Rodenbach has left.

I’ve found that Monk’s Cafe in particular has stood out as a great example of the style, and it’s a damn fine beer to drink. Like Rodenbach, Monk’s Cafe is a blend of “young and old beers.” The regular Rodenbach that most people know and love is actually a blend of very sour older beers with younger, less sour ales. My only guess is that the sourness is hard to precisely control and a consistent, mildly sour product can only be achieved by blending.

It’s hard to tell from my photo, but I promise that Monk’s Cafe is actually red. It pours a deep reddish brown with a slight haze. A frothy light tan head dissipates into the beer and a ring of bubbles remains, clinging and creeping up the sides of the glass.

It smells bright and sweet, like like freshly sliced Granny Smith apples. Notes of other fruit juices, including grapes and pears, are present. There is a faint sugary caramel smell, but it is generally an underlying aroma. There is no hop aroma.

The first sip is makes quite the impression and really sets the tone for what this beer is all about. When it first enters your mouth it is both tart and sweet and the body is very light. Imagine biting into that aforementioned freshly sliced apple, but with some caramel on it. It’s tart – that is the foremost and obvious flavor. It’s not sour enough to make you pucker, but it is still prominent. I think the underlying actual beer is very simple. If one were to taste this beer before the souring process, I would imagine a very dry, light-bodied ale, with toffee malt flavors and low hop bitterness – like an underhopped pale ale. It is hard to detect these flavors under the sourness, but I’m convinced that they are there. Swallowing unveils some totally different flavors. When it reaches the back of your tongue it begins to taste slightly acidic and metallic, like putting a penny in your mouth. It leaves your mouth a bit sticky – like you just polished off a bag of sour patch kids. This is curious because when then beer initially enters your mouth it tastes crisp, fresh and light bodied.

Overall Monk’s Cafe is a quenching and refreshing Flanders Red. I love to toss it in and switch it up at the bar after a flight of hoppy IPAs or roasty stouts. Sometimes something totally different like this resets the palate. Perfect paired with a bowl of carbonade flamande, or by itself, Monk’s Cafe is a beer that I will continue to choose when I’m feeling funky.


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