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Apr 2, 2014 03:01 PM

Sub for Flemish Sour Ale?

There is a recipe I'm dying to try for Carbonnade Flamande that calls for Flemish sour ale. While I haven't looked at the store yet, I doubt they have it. I'm in Texas and the beer aisle is mostly the standard IPAs where I live.

Would using a regular ale (I'm sure they have a few) completely change the taste of the recipe? What are the flavor notes of sour ale? Could I just add a little vinegar to make a plain ale work?

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  1. In my opinion, it is the Flemish sour that makes the dish. Rodenbach is a good example and is actually pretty widely distributed in the U. S. Duchesse de Bourgogne would also work, although it is a bit sweet for my taste.
    You could make an approximation of the flavor my using amber ale and some vinegar, I think it would be quite close and very tasty, even if not exactly the same flavor.

    1. I've made the dish numerous times and Flemish sour ale is absolutely not required. There's a pretty fascinating comment in a posted recipe for this dish on Simply Recipes from a gentlemen claiming to be of Flemish descent who posts his grandmother's recipe for the dish. According to this person, carbonnade is a peasant dish that would be made with any leftover beer on hand, along with whatever meat and stale bread was handy.

      I'm inclined to believe this account because the dish goes through such a long cooking time that the kind of beer used shouldn't matter, especially since one spikes the stew with vinegar and brown sugar near the end of the cooking time. There's no reason to spend good money on a Flemish red only to cook the daylights out of it.

      When I make the dish I usually will use some kind of Belgian dark ale, mainly to get the appropriate maltiness and diminished hop flavor profile, vs. a more bitter dark ale.

      Here's the aforementioned recipe comment:

      6 Replies
      1. re: Josh

        I'm puzzled that the Flemish gentleman is insistent that the recipe requires 'real bread,' but claims any old beer will do. I just can't imagine a very satisfying dish if one used, for example, Stella Artois. Also, what is 'stale beer'?
        I'm also curious that you can't see spending money on Flemish red, but would use another Belgian dark ale. I can't think of any Belgian dark ale, or even a U.S. brewed Belgian style dark ale, that costs significantly less than Rodenbach, which is a very good Flemish red.
        And finally, if one uses the Flemish red, one need not add vinegar or brown sugar at the end - the beer provides the tartness, and the caramelized onion provides the sweetness, at least to my taste.
        Of course, one could make a delicious beef stew with other beers, but the sour beer really gives the dish a peculiar and pleasant character.

        1. re: Idyllwild

          When I made this dish I'd use a bottle of Chimay Premiere usually, which cost $7 or so. Rodenbach was around $12-14. But more to the point is that the sour and sweet flavors in the Rodenbach are easily achieved by using the vinegar and brown sugar, vs. saccharine in the Rodenbach.


          1. re: Josh

            Just curious, do you mean by 'saccharine' that you find Rodenbach overly sweet, or that it actually contains artificial sweetener? If the latter, where have you discovered that? I had never heard it before and would be disappointed, since I generally avoid artificial sweeteners.
            Anyway, I'm sure the dish could be quite good with Chimay and a splash of vinegar. The pricing is different in my area, I can get Rodenbach six packs for about $15, so for me it is cheaper than the other options, and I prefer it.

            1. re: Idyllwild

              I have read in a number of places that it's used, but can't find anything official.

          2. re: Idyllwild

            I assume by "real bread" he means "not Wonder bread", and by "stale beer" means beer that's past its prime - probably an alien concept to us but not to someone of his or his grandmothers' vintage.

          3. re: Josh

            Anyone know how to modify this recipe for the pressure cooker?

          4. Hermitage Sour Ale made in Plano texas would work

            1. I would just say, in general, with my limited foray into sour ales, that if you can't do an authentic sour ale, then the closest thing at least to my palate is a moderately bitter pale ale.