Christmas Classics | New Belgium Brewing Foeder Frambozen
When it comes to holiday beers, New Belgium Brewing had the market cornered for years with Frambozen: a medium-bodied brown ale awash with fresh raspberries and a delightfully festive pinkish head. The seasonal release was eagerly anticipated every year, and when they discontinued this brew back in 2015, I mourned the loss deeply.
Luckily, though, fans of the tartly fruited brown ale have been treated to new iterations of the classic over the past few years. An imperial version with cocoa was delightfully similar to the original, with subtle hints of chocolate that deepened the overall flavor without adding too much sweetness. I suspect it was the success of that iteration that brings us to the current limited release: New Belgium Brewing Foeder Frambozen.
That’s right: for the first time, we have a sour brown ale version of Frambozen.
Foeder Frambozen uses the same brown ale base found in New Belgium’s famous La Folie, and ages it in the same giant oak barrels (or “foeders”) to achieve the sour flavors. After this brown ale (nicknamed “Oscar” for those of you in the know) had aged for nine months in the oak foeder, it was transferred to a stainless tank, mixed with 800 gallons of fresh raspberry puree, then transferred back to the foeder to age for another three months.
Then, in the final stages of reinvention, New Belgium’s master blender Lauren Limbach wanted to add mint and chocolate complements. The mint was supposed to come from her very own garden, but an early frost killed off that idea and she opted for the grocery store instead. As for the chocolate, Limbach worked with Nuance Chocolate, a local Fort Collins single-origin chocolate company.
Toby Gadd, the founder of Nuance Chocolate, humbly presented his perspective on the beer at a recent tasting for New Belgium’s Cellar Club (a special members-only beer club held at the Fort Collins taproom). He explained how cocoa husks have traditionally been considered waste material in the chocolate-making process, but with the right processing, they can impart deep and rich flavors similar to using cacao nibs. Gadd worked with Limbach to select husks from specific origins (Nigeria, Tanzania and Vietnam) to cleanly ensure the exact cocoa profile that would be imparted on the beer. At the Cellar Club tasting, Gadd provided bars of these chocolates for everyone to pair along with the beer.
And what a pairing it made. The final product of Foeder Frambozen retains the beautiful juicy burst of raspberries that bloom on your tongue, but with a mouth-puckering tartness and aged character that makes it feel like a more sophisticated version of its younger iterations. The cocoa is artful and, thankfully, subtle: it doesn’t overwhelm or compete with the delicate fruit flavors, and it tastes more like dark chocolate dustings than the sickly or syrupy thickness that can sometimes occur in these types of brews. Lastly, the ingenious mint addition is more noticeable on the nose than in the actual beer. You can taste notes of lightness and freshness, but again, these complements seem content to broaden the beer’s profile without needing to be the star flavors.
This attention to balance pays off; New Belgium Brewing Foeder Frambozen is at once instantly recognizable as an old favorite and yet more complex and intriguing than it’s ever been. This new/old favorite continues to deserve a space on your holiday beer shelf—along with several bars of chocolate, of course.