There is a lot to be gained, and nearly as much to be lost, from reading the label of a new type of beer. Reading it, you diminish the chance of surprise and risk colouring your own descriptions with aspects written into the bottle copy. Skip it, and you approach the beer wholly unprepared, a virtual blank slate.
Reading the front of the label told me a few things: that the beer was 6% abv, from Belgium, and based on the name, would be hoppier than the last few beers to emerge from this year's calendar. Oud Bruin seemed likely to translate into 'Old Brown' an apt description perhaps of an aged brown ale,
Well, sort of.
I poured the beer, marveling at its reddish coppery colour and robust, off-white head, the colour of parchment. A tangy, yeasty smell emanated from the glass, along with a crisp, fruity flavour I couldn't pin down. Citrus? Maybe. More appley though. (Appleish? Applesque?) It's a scent I've come to associate with several Belgian ales I have had over the years, and took an anticipative sip.
Very, very sour. Not pickle-juice sour, but heading in that direction. My entire palate convulsed at the intensity of the taste, but then noticed the fruit characteristics (sour apple, maybe some grapefruit in there) and some floral notes in the finish. It's medium bodied, but oaky tannins add even more nuance to the drink. Once the shock wore off, a complex and entertaining mouthful, to be sure.
Some very quick research reveals that 'Oud Bruin' is not a brown ale of the British variety, but an established type also known as the Flanders Brown, from the Flemish region of Belgium. It is twice fermented and bottle aged, and this Hip Hops variety is actually barrel aged in between. The sourness is a result of the yeast and bacteria associated with bottle-fermented beer, and is a desired characteristic of the style.
Even the label suggests this, had I bothered to read it: "wakes up your mouth with a big punch in the face." Well fair enough, does what it says on the tin, I suppose. I love sour things as a matter of course, but most sour beers have left me cold. Oud Bruin Hip Hops is a fascinating and challenging beer I am glad to have tried, and would explore again, given the chance.
The inherent tartness makes it a bit of a challenge in terms of pairing, but I think fish or seafood seasoned with lemon, or possibly a Greek salad or something else feta-based might complement it well. A bowl of spicy chips of some fashion might not go far astray either.