Love at First Sip

Dear Duchesse de Bourgogne, I think I love you.

The Duchesse is a 6 percent Flemish red-brown ale that tastes like liquid candy. Think of a beery sweet tart.

I want to say “Ooh la la,” but they probably don’t say that in Flanders.

The Duchesse is an artful blend of two differently aged beers that have sat in oak casks for 8 months and 18 months. It’s got to be that 18-month-old ale that has made the Duchesse such a tart.

Words are not adequate to describe the heady sensations the Duchesse awakens. On top of the exquisite tartness is a warm spiciness that almost becomes a sensory overload. So many things explode across the palate that when they eventually subside, like a junky or one hopelessly in love you must have another sip and start the process all over again, until the 11.2-ounce bottle is empty, and suddenly you too are empty, the world is empty…Duchesse, I hardly knew ye!

This incredible beer is brewed by Brouwerij Verhaeghe in Vichte, a village in West Flanders, Belgium.

Flemish painters reigned in the 15th through 17th centuries, and I’m guessing the Duchesse – the painted lady with a bird on the bottle’s label – is from that period. I was not able to track down the actual painting or the lady, but the small type on the front label reads “Kasteel Gaasbeek/©Hugo Maertens.”

That’s it. They leave it up to you to decipher what it all means – that Gaasbeeck Castle is a 13th century fortified castle that was burned down and rebuilt in the 16th century and today is a national museum famous for its art collection, and that Hugo Maertens is a Belgian photographer who probably captured the image of the Duchesse de Bourgogne at Gasbeeck Castle.

The brewery leaves the Duchesse a mystery – or maybe it isn’t a mystery in Flanders, where, perhaps, the Duchesse may be as well known as our own stately ladies of yore. Maybe she’s the Flemish Jackie Kennedy.

The brewery does give one clue with a line at the top of the label that simply says: “Flemish Art of Brewing.”

And this beer is art. High art.

All hail sour ale!