Style: Bière de Garde
Ah, here it is: one of the best aromas in the world. Funk and clean-malts; vinegary sourness. The smell of one of my favorite types of beer, a perfectly balanced Flanders sour ale. Abbaye De Saint Bon-Chien is labeled as a biere de garde rather than a Flanders, but this could easily pass for an oud bruin, in my opinion — probably more so than a biere de garde. For one thing, it's a huge 11% ABV, which is highly unusual for any style of sour beer. (Lacto and pedio, the two bacteria primarily responsible for souring beer, generally get overwhelmed around 8 - 9% ABV).
That might explain why a bottle from the 2011 batch, having aged in my apartment for about a year, is still only moderately sour — maybe comparable to a Rodenbach or Rodenbach Grand Cru, but nowhere near the level of tartness and acidity you'll find in Flanders like Cuvee des Jacobins Rouge, and even further from the puckering acidity of a lambic or geuze. While undeniably sour, just below the threshold of "puckering", Bon-Chien relies much more on the funk. The aroma is a big bloom of Bretty barnyard funksplosions, with a nice, subtle foundation of sweet malts and tart cherry underneath. The mouthfeel is thin for a 11% ABV behemoth, carbonation extremely low, but Bon-Chien is medium bodied compared to other sours. There's scarcely a hint of alcohol, which is remarkable. Tons of complexity comes out in the taste, bringing stronger notes of vinegar, acidity and oaky tannins that create a slick, spicy, lingering finish. A world of malts still somehow co-exists in the middle of all this, with hints of bread, nutty butter, and pear.
An 11% sour ale sounds outrageously over-the-top, but surprisingly, Abbaye De Saint Bon-Chien is one of the most balanced sour ales I've had. This is a remarkable beer that will throw a huge range of flavors at you, yet refrain from overwhelming you with anything too aggressive. A must-try for fans of sours, for those seeking to get into sours, or people who have tongues and mouths, in general. And certainly a beer worth aging — a vertical of this would be real fun.
Availability: 750 ml bottles. Annual release.