Josh Pfriem is never quite satisfied.
That's true of every beer that comes out of the tanks in his eponymous Hood River brewery, from our 2014 Beer of the Year, pFriem Belgian Strong Dark, to this year's version of Flanders Red Ale.
"We're never content with our beers," Pfriem says. "We want constant improvement, and I'm confident this year's Flanders Red is better than last year's, and last year's was better than the first year. That doesn't mean I'm completely satisfied, because I never am."
Flanders Red is a beer Pfriem has dreamed of making since before he had a brewery. Back in 2005, Pfriem and his wife, Annie, spent three weeks touring the country via bike.
"We probably drank more beer because we were on bikes," Pfriem jokes. "There weren't many Belgian-style beers being made in the U.S. in those days. I suppose that's when I started thinking about someday making them."
When he got the chance, he didn't cut any corners on the Flanders Red, the winey style of barrel-aged red ale from far-west Belgium. Pfriem's Flanders Red is special largely because it is the result of a lengthy and labor-intensive process involving blending and aging.
"The process is pretty close to how the beer is made in Belgium," Pfriem says.
That beer starts out cloyingly sweet. After it's brewed, it goes through Pfriem's centrifuge—a device used to filter the solids from beer by spinning it at extreme speed—rare at craft breweries because it costs as much as an actual Ferrari—and into brite tanks. Some of it goes into neutral oak wine barrels while the rest now goes into foeders. The 2017 release, which came out just a few weeks ago, is the first vintage made with the foeders—the version that wowed us in 2016 was all barrels. And as far as we're concerned, the barrels are perfect.
Over the course of two years, the Flanders Red gets bright and acidic, picking up notes of cherry, stone fruit and savory hints of leather and tobacco.
"We don't do any back sweetening or flavor additions," Pfriem says. "Some brewers do that to make a beer less acidic. But we think consumer tastes have evolved, that they've become accustomed to sour beers. So we add nothing."
They don't need to. The resulting beer is deep and nuanced, with plenty of Belgian character and a welcoming softness.
"We've gotten incredible public feedback on the Flanders Red," Pfriem says. "I think that's because our sour beers aren't acid bombs. They're very approachable. Even people who don't generally like sour beers like ours."
Beer judges agree—the Flanders Red won a gold medal at the 2016 Craft Beer Awards and a prior gold medal at the Pacific Northwest Beer Awards in 2015.
Although pFriem's Flanders Red is ready to drink when released, it will develop different character if you let it age.
"It will have a brighter Brett character early on," Pfriem notes. "With a bit of time, cherry notes will step to the forefront and the Brett starts to mellow. We don't know what it looks like at three years because our first one hasn't yet reached that age."
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