TAP Beer of the Week: Kasteel Rouge

(July 5, 2010) With no fireworks at hand yesterday, I lit off a cherry bomb of a beer to celebrate the Fourth.

It was not an American beer, but Belgian. My habit of drinking imports on the most iconic American holiday stretches back to my younger drinking days, when there weren’t that many American beers around of any great interest. To try anything somewhat different, something with a little more impact than the typical watery lagers of the day, imports were the way to go.

I was taking beer hunting fairly seriously early on–the drinking age was still 18 then (I’m talking late ‘60s-early ‘70s in suburban New York). But there weren’t a lot of big finds to be found, beyond obscure German lagers. To unearth a dark beer was a coup; a Belgian oddity would have seemed like something from another planet. Still, before the Fourth I’d head to the local beer distributor and stock up on whatever was new and unfamiliar.

I was a lucky kid growing up. My family belonged to a pool club–five families split the expenses originally, though the number grew over the years. The luckiest part was that the pool was in our backyard. I learned to swim there, and spent many a Fourth right there: playing baseball or volleyball as the day went on, downing countless hamburgers, hot dogs, ears of corn, slices of watermelon, while swimming for hours, sunning, contracting skin cancer….

The wonder is I never lost an eye or went deaf or blew off a bodily appendage from all the fireworks we set off as evening fell on the Fourth. We put on major illegal fireworks displays in those days, all fueled by our day-long ingestion of fairly potent beery imports.

True, the odd bottle rocket would sometime go screeching into the assembled crowd, sending a few of the timid diving off their lawn chairs for cover. A patch of lawn might catch afire from time to time, but that only suggested another fine use for all that imported beer.

All was well as long as we followed the four-word mantra of the fireworks-obsessed: Light fuse, get away. Those were the concise instructions right on the pack of firecrackers, cherry bombs, ashcans, Roman candles, fountains, or whatever ordinance we were torching. Sometimes the translator of the Chinese (all the fireworks seemed to be Chinese) aimed at a slight literary note: Light fuse, retire quickly. Or the always helpful: Do not hold in hand after lighting.

Those Fourths were among the most thrilling and satisfying days of my life, and I think I say that without undue nostalgic haze.

This Fourth was a bit muted after my wife pulled a muscle (or something) in her back. Lynn and I were supposed to march in Brattleboro’s Fourth of July parade in support of Vermont gubernatorial candidate Peter Shumlin, but that as well as an evening party had to go by the boards.

But there was still the beer! If Belgian, the Kasteel Rouge is just about as American as cherry pie, since that’s pretty much what it tastes like. Well, a spiked cherry pie, anyway.

The brewery site in West Flanders was a monastery in 640, succeeded by an eleventh-century castle, and the present building, dating back to 1736 but maintaining the Middle Ages cellars. The Van Honsebrouck family bought the castle in 1986, and maintain an outdoor café and indoor beer cellar for those looking to try the various brewery lines–Kasteel, St. Louis, Brigand and Bacchus.

The Van Honsebroucks have brewed in Ingelmunster since 1900, giving them clear entry into the non-profit Belgian Family Brewers association, a group which requires that members have been brewing beer in Belgium non-stop for at least 50 years. Wetten Importers of Virginia distribute the Van Honsebrouck beers in the U.S.

The brewery suggests that the Rouge would pair well with barbecue, so that worked for the Fourth of July. It pours out garnet with a red-tinged head and is thankfully not overly sweet, but would surely serve as an aperitif or dessert beer, too. There’s a sophisticated swirl of flavor, spice and depth to the Rouge, but there’s no question that tart cherry dominates the experience.

Cherry Bomb Vortex, by E.V. Day

The base of the beer is Kasteel Donker, a brown ale of 11% ABV left to mature for six months on sour cherries, and then cherry juice is added as well, which probably accounts for lowering the ABV to 8%.

But at 8% ABV, this is no half-inch firecracker. Nonetheless, it was a hot day, it was the Fourth of July, so after I popped the cork and lit its proverbial fuse, I took great satisfaction in retiring the Rouge rather quickly.

Name: Kasteel Rouge
Brewer: Castle Brewery Van Honsebrouck, Ingelmunster, Belgium
Style: Fruit beer
ABV: 8%
Availability: Year-round, about 33 states nationwide
For More Information: vanhonsebrouck.be

Thanks to E.V. Day for use of Cherry Bomb Vortex, 2002, Red Sequin dress with monofilament and turnbuckles (192 x 240 x 240) in the Exploding Couture series.

Cherry Bomb Vortex

5 Responses to “TAP Beer of the Week: Kasteel Rouge”

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  1. Ilya Feynberg

    Tom,

    I could say the typical “great post! keep em comin!” bullshit, but that’s a half ass attempt at appreciation. And really, this is about communication, discussion and passion…

    I love the detail you put in with the brewery itself. The history to be exact. I haven’t had a chance to visit them, but I’m worried that I might show a bit too much obsession when there ;). I knew that they were an old brewery dating back well into the middle ages, but had no idea that the building itself dating back that far! Can you imagine that…seriously think about it for a moment…640!!!! 640 AD!!! What that building has seen in it’s time is just mind boggling.

    I’m assuming that this Kasteel also come in the typical 750ml Champagne looking bottle ya? If so, yes that 8% will hit nicely once nearing the end ;). The responsible thing of me would be to recommend that you stay away from the fire works during this time…but since I would be reaching my hand in for the lighter and something that goes boom…I can’t do that with a clear mind. ;)

    Kasteel has thankfully become easier and easier to find here in the states and the bigger cities especially. I remember back even in 2000ish coming by them was a difficult task and being in Dallas, I had to order them from a cousin in NY at the time.

    Happy Kasteel drinking! And keep trying the entire line that they have! Let us know!

  2. Tom Bedell

    Thanks, Ilya. Yup, I had a 750ml corked bottle and felt downright celebratory when all was said and done. The current building “only” dates back to 1736, but lots of good history there to be sure. When you say, “Let us know,” who we talking about? Do you rep for Kasteel in some way, or are you just smitten with it? In any case, I’ll happily work my way through the entire line as I run across the beers!

  3. Ilya Feynberg

    Yep! Those big 750ml bottles are the best, because unlike many other types of beverages, you have an excuse to drink the entire thing yourself and not look like an alcoholic…but little do they know… ;)

    The date of the site itself is just incredible. To be brewing beer in a place who’s history (one way or another) goes back so long is just incredible. Just to think of working there, knowing all the history behind the place and what people where doing there before you as they went about their daily lives is just extremely interesting to me.

    By let us know I simply meant let all us blog followers and readers know :). I don’t work or rep. for Kasteel, but yes…I am…very much smitten ;)

    Do you have easy access to the entire Kasteel line where you’re at? What have you and have you not tried yet from their line up?

    Always a pleasure,

    Ilya

  4. Jack Decoteau

    Where can I buy Kasteel Rouge in the St. Louis area? Just a person who enjoys good beer. Thanks, Jack Decoteau

  5. Tom Bedell

    Don’t know for sure, Jack, but the state distributor for Wetten Importers, who bring the beer into the U.S., is the Missouri Beverage Company. According to the WI website, they can be reached at 314-231-5060. I’d give ‘em a call and let them tell you where you can find it. Cheers!

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