Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Belgium’s Duchess de Bourgogne

By William Brand
Thursday, May 25th, 2006 at 11:20 pm in Uncategorized.

Beer of the Week, May 10, 2006: Duchesse de Bourgogne

By William Brand
Staff Writer
Are you a beer evangelist? I certainly am. When someone tells me they like wine, but “really don’t like beer” – I usually rise to the challenge. Vic Kralj,, who owns The Bistro in Hayward, is the same way.

What follows is a true story.

Vic brought a selection of Belgian beers to a Hayward Chamber of Commerce event featuring Hayward Mayor Roberta Cooper’s charity, Chime-In, which buys musical instrument for Hayward students. The mayor, of course, went for the wine.

“I said, `I basically don’t like beer,” Cooper explains. Then, Vic handed her a glass of Duchesse de Bourgogne and a beer lover was born. “It was just delicious,” she said. “It had flavor. It was a real delight.”

Duchess de Bourgogne**** is our beer of the week. Named for the Duchess of Burgundy, a 15th century champion of the Flemish people, who died at 25 in a fall from a horse while falconing.

The beer is fairly new to California, but it’s showing up on tap handles of places like The Bistro, Luka’s in Oakland and the Toronado in San Francisco, and in stores with well-stocked beer shelves.

Officially, this is a 6.2 percent alcohol by volume Flemish brown ale, made by blending fresh beer with ale aged at least a year in oak barrels that originally held spirits or wine. And when you put beer in wooden barrels and let it ferment, stuff happens.

The Duchesse (pronounced DOO-SHAY) is amazing. There’s a lively head of tan foam, and an unusual aroma. Some tasters compare it to balsamic vinegar. To me the aroma is almost lambic, tart notes picked up from the residue in the barrels. Taste is shocking – a short initial burst of sweetness from the fresh beer, then a lasting tart wall.

It goes on from there, sweet, tart, sweet, tart, in its own beery Iambic pentameter. You may love this beer or loathe it. But you will have an opinion.

It’s made at the Verhaeghe brewery in West Flanders, or as one fan wrote, “Your passion is sharp, sweet, honeyed, sweaty and so deep you can hear the boom of the guns over the fields of Flanders only a heart beat away.”

Well anyway. The fresh brown ale, made with roasted barley malt and spicy hops – the brewers, the fourth generation to operate the 126 year old family brewery – told one American fan that which hops didn’t matter.

I agree. About $3.99, 11.2 oz. bottle. Can’t find this beer? Email or call and ask for our 2006 Retail Beer List.

By the way, Mayor Cooper welcomes contributions to Chime-In: P.O. Box 449, Hayward, CA 94541.

Contact William Brand at or call him: (510) 915-1180.

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  • wooden rocking horse

    there are some excellent belgian beers. generallt much more powerful than english beer, so brits beware