Beer Geek

Bad date with a beer: Why Duchesse doesn't 'wow' me

March 15, 2012 at 3:58 PM ET

Jim Galligan /
A shot of the Duchesse de Bourgogne

I have to admit I wasn’t at my best the first time we met. It was at a get-together with friends, and I was in no shape to appreciate her subtle charms by the time our paths crossed late that evening. I came away unimpressed, finding her too cloyingly sweet, like a raspberry caramel from a box of drug store chocolates.

Still, I held out hope. Everyone kept saying how wonderful she was, how I had sold her short and needed to give it another shot. So I tried again.

This time it was Christmas, and I introduced her to my entire family. Everyone thought she was lovely enough, but for some reason we failed to connect once again.

But then my brother fell under her spell. He couldn’t believe I wasn’t captivated with her delicate body and sweet nature. He talked her up to our beer-loving buddies, and some of them swooned for her as well. They all agreed that I was wrong, that she was special and belonged on a pedestal.

I’m talking about a beer, of course, the Duchesse de Bourgogne to be exact, a Flanders Red ale brewed by Brouwerij Verhaeghe in Vichte, Belgium. It’s a beverage crafted with love, a blend of top-fermented ales that have been aged 8 to 18 months in oak casks.

The Duchesse de Bourgogne scores a 91 out of 100 over at Beer Advocate, and Rate Beer gives it a 97, so most everyone agrees that the Duchesse is the bee’s knees. Everyone, that is, but me.

But there’s still hope. I have a rule that a well-respected beer like this one has to be tried at least three times before deciding it’s not for you. So much goes into your impression of a beverage: how it’s served, what it’s paired with, the company with whom you share it, the occasion. You really need three points of data before you walk away for good.

So I’ve decided to give the Duchesse a third and perhaps final whirl before writing her off. It’s date night for the Duchesse and I, and I’m not leaving anything to chance.

First off, I’m a little hungry right now, and my taste buds are primed to receive a delicious treat. I’ve had a relaxing day, so I’m in a good mood. The Duchesse has been chilled in the fridge to a temperature of about 50 degrees – perfect for a Flanders Red. I have a fluted glass to gently chimney her aroma to my nose. I’m wearing slippers. The kids are in bed. It’s not going to get any better than this.

Story: Three flavor notes that make a good beer go bad

I start by popping the caged cork off the top of the bottle (this always makes me feel like a fancy, fancy man) and giving her a pour. She sure is a looker, with a refined caramel color that has a slightly red tinge and a finger-high head that quickly dissipates. The beer appears to be delicious, and suddenly my hopes begin to rise. I really want to like the Duchesse. Actually, I want to LOVE her.

I bring the glass to my nose and slowly inhale, breathing her in. The first thing I think is, “This beer smells like balsamic vinegar.” Uh oh. I can also detect notes of tart fruit, like raspberry, but because balsamic won the race to my brain, this simply makes me think of raspberry vinaigrette. Not a good omen.

Taking the first sip, the salad dressing theme continues, and I shudder a bit as the beer passes my tonsils, remembering when my mother told me never to drink salad dressing - its not good for the constitution. I half expect my stomach to seize up when the balsamic brew hits, but thankfully it doesn’t. Instead, the Kraft-crafted flavor fades, giving way to an unpleasant sourness, reminiscent of the smell of old beer bottles sealed in a plastic bag and left out in the sun. This is a disaster.

A palate more refined then mine might be able to appreciate the nuances of cherry, some mildly astringent notes from the oak barrels and a hint of the funk from the wild yeast. But all of that is crowded out of my senses by the idea that I should be pouring this onto a salad, not into a glass, and certainly not down my gullet. I love balsamic vinegar, but not as a beverage.

They say “third time’s the charm,” but they also say “three strikes and you're out.” The latter certainly applies here - I’ve struck out for good with the Duchesse de Bourgogne. I simply cannot find a way into this beer; I cannot create a circumstance under which she can “wow” me.

It’s a shame, too, because I was really hoping we’d hit it off. I love the idea of curling up with a refined lady like this and catching up on Season 2 of “Downton Abbey.” But that’s not going to happen. Instead, I’ll probably just hear about what a tasteless moron I am in the comments below. Terrific.

Jim Galligan is co-founder of the Beer and Whiskey Brothers blog, where he and his brother Don cover the ever-evolving world of craft beer and distilled spirits.

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