OUD BRUIN AND FLANDERS RED ALE
Another manifestation of Belgian sour beer, Flemish brown ale - or Oud Bruin - can boasts the same boldly lactic character of the lambic family but generally without the horsey character. Another variety of sour ale is referred to as "Flander's red ale". Though there are different viewpoints on this, there is much reliable information to suggest oud bruin and Flanders red are really the same style. When commenting to a Belgian bartender that Oud Zottergem's bruin was not particularly bruin, he told me color is not a real issue in defining oud bruin. This idea was first posed to me by Johnny Fincioen, the owner of the Global Beer Network, a native Belgian who imports a wonderful line of beers. A contributor to this site commented that the difference between red and brown ale was actually regional. Don Feinberg of Vanberg & DeWulf added that the referrence to "red ale" was likely to have come about due to the creation of Rodenbach. As it was clearer, reder and generally more beautiful than the typical oud bruin (which I believe is true) it was deservent of it's own designation. Anyway, though there are differences between classic oud bruin and the benchmark red ale - Rodenbach (sometimes referred to as the "Burgundy of Belgium"), they are outweighed by their similarities.
The most recognized Oud Bruin, Liefmans Goudenband, is a spectacular beer thought I believe it has gone down hill in the last year. None the less I will always remember my first sip of this fabulous brew fondly. Other examples of the style are more or less lactic, some leaning towards the sweet side. A bruin originating from the same town as Goudenband, Felix, is noticably more tart. I would guess, based on its flavor, that it is not blended. Despite producing a benchmark bruin, Leifman's makes a beer called Oud Bruin that is not Goudenband. The difference between to two is the oud bruin is not blended.
Blending is a very significant practice in oud bruin production. Aging oud bruin makes it overwhelmingly (for most, not for me) tart. The malty sweetness some have is generally because younger beer has been blended with a lesser amount of aged, sour beer. Ichtegem's, for example, is a blend of 70% young beer to 30% old. Oud Zottergem's is another example of a beer that is only slightly tart, with a bready sweetness being more dominent.
Rodenbach makes three different versions of their beer, including the unblended red and the blended grand cru. The third is a sweetened beer, having cherry essence added to aged beer.
The general profiles that all share go something like this. Final gravity is about 1/4 starting gravity and the average ABV is around 5.5%. Duchesse de Bourgogne is the most powerful I have found with an ABV of 6.2%. They tend to not have hoppy aromas, nor is the use of black patient or chocolate malt or roasted barley given away by the nose. Aromas are usually tart, fruity and floral, never with the buttery scent of diacetyl or spices.
Hop character in the taste is always beaten back by sourness with some examples also emphasising sweetness or fruitiness. The afore mentioned grains are seldom the source of color. This is usually the result of crystal malts and long boils. Lighter versions, such as Rodenbach, derives color from more medium colored malts like Vienna.