Category Archives: Sour Beer

There’s no taste like home

Recently I received a wonderful gift in the mail, three new beers from Steamworks Brewing Company. It is like somehow the beer gods knew I was feeling quite homesick and bestowed these three offerings upon me – also pretty sure the new Sales and Marketing coordinator may have had her hand in there as well.
The treasures in my mailbox included two limited releases the White Angel IPA and Tropical Tart Ale as well as one seasonal release YVR ISA. timely selections in light of the fact Ontario is in the midst of a heat wave, a tropical heat wave, the temperature is rising, it isn’t surprising that she can, really can-can …. Oops off on a bit of a digression there perhaps the heat has gotten to my brain. Thankfully though my palate has been spared.

YVR India Session Ale is a lightly hopped 4.4% session beer that pours clear straw gold colour with lots of bright white head. Big citrus hop nose, good carbonation and lots of flavour packed into a very accessible beer. All citrus and tropical notes at the front followed by a subtle bitter finish. Light bodied and perfect for a patio pint. I really love session styles, especially in the crazy humid days we have been having. If you think IPA’s are a bit too much this brew is a great segue. As always beautiful bottle artwork.

Tropical Tart Ale is as advertised a 4.9% ale with tons of passionfruit flavour. This beer pours a hazy gold with lots of airy head on the initial pour. Like the YVR, the nose on this beer is all about the tropical fruit, reminds me of papaya, but also a little bit of that sourness that kind of puckers the back of your cheek. Effervescent and a little too easy to sip, light sours are really one of the best summer options out there in my humble opinion. There is also some yeastiness on the finish giving it a subtle hefe quality. A very pleasant surprise. If this beer makes it easy I will be picking up some more.

White Angel IPA is a 6.9% hybrid of IPA meets Hefeweizen. Pours hazy straw gold with lots of thick white head that leaves nice legs on the glass. Lots of carbonation. Spicy almost funky nose, all hefe, with the IPA character coming through after a couple of sips. Not as hop forward as I thought it may have been. At first, White Angel seems like a fairly light beer but the strength really begins to come through the more you sip. Of the three I sampled this one is not my favourite but it is an interesting blend of styles and the slightly higher ABV lets the big flavours -spice and hop- come together nicely.

Thanks Steamworks Brewery for a little taste of home!


Birthday Beer!

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I always like to save a special beer to commemorate this oh so special day.

No, I am not talking about Easter, though it does have its merits as a candy-fuelled holiday, I am talking about my birthday!

To mark this momentous occasion I celebrated with Cascade Brewing’s Apricot an oh so very sour brew for this oh so sour beer-lovin’ gal.

Apricot ale is a Northwest Style Sour Ale aged in oak barrels with apricots. Apricot pours a bright gold colour, slightly opaque, with lots of bubbles and very little white head. Sweet dried fruit on the nose and just the slightest hint of funkiness. Now I love sour, the tarter the better, but hang on to your beer glasses fellow geeks because this beer is Sour (with a capital S nonetheless). Lots of apricot flavour, a bit of citrus, some earthy character, medium body and a dry finish. The sour finish lingers and lingers. This beer just never let’s up. It was so tart it made the back of my cheek pucker as I drank it but as sour lovers know this is not necessarily a bad thing.

Overall a great beer. At this point I feel like such a groupie that I am not sure Cascade Brewing is capable of making a bad beer. Happy Birthday to me indeed…


Strawberry Fields Forever

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There is something about that first truly gorgeous weekend of spring that just puts you in a great mood. The sun is shining, the cherry blossoms are blooming, there is a nice cool ocean breeze and I inadvertently got my first sunburn.

It sure is sweet.

To top off such a glorious day an equally glorious beer is called for. Thankfully when I called Strawberry Northwest Style Sour Ale from Cascade Brewing Company answered.

Strawberry is a blend of wheat ales aged in oak barrels and then aged again on strawberries. On first pour this beer is cloudy, dark gold in colour, with a slight ring of head. The nose is summer in a bottle, earthy, sweet and berry. Oh so very berry. Less tart than most of the Cascade beers but still bringing a nice touch of sour to offset the very prominent strawberry presence. Fairly light in body with a sweet and ever so slightly oaky finish. This ale is, like the majority of Cascades line-up, utterly amazing.

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Out of the Cellar: Deschutes Brewery The Dissident 2012 Reserve

To honour the out of the ordinary weather inversion we were having here in Vancouver I thought it was time to pull another beer from the cellar; an added bonus of the cold weather at low elevations was I could chill this beer on my back porch!

 

The Dissident, a Belgian-style brown ale, is a blend of 20% malt beverage aged in French oak wine and 80% malt beverage brewed with cherries. This 2012 version had a recommended best after date of 8/20/13 but I always like to give my beers a little longer to develop their full potential.

The Dissident pours a reddish maple syrup colour, with slight haziness, good carbonation and some light airy head on the initial pour. You are left with a nice ring of head around the glass after a few minutes. Big red wine character on the nose, dark fruit and leather, with lots of malt to boot. This beer has one of the most aromatic noses I have smelled on a beer. First few sips are viscous, lots of dried cherry flavour and syrupy caramel malt. This is a very warming beer that you can feel long after you swallow. As you continue to drink the oakiness comes through but malt and fruit are the key flavours competing for your attention. While I have heard this beer called a sour, more accurately it is a wild ale, there is no real tartness to speak of instead The Dissident reminds me of kirsch cherries, all boozy, rich and sweet.

Overall yet another great beer from a brewery known for delivering consistently great beer.

 

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New Brew Friday

Happy Holidays to all my fellow beer nerds, I hope Santa treated you well bringing a sack full of new and interesting beers for you to share with friends and family.

This new brew Friday is somewhat special for me because I finally got to drink a beer I have been looking forward to for quite some time now, Lustrum Wild Sour Ale from Driftwood Brewery.

Anyone who knows me or has ever read this blog will know that I am to sour beer what hop heads are to Double IPA’s. To find out that one of my favourite BC breweries was trying their hand at my most favouritest style was exciting.

Lustrum

Here is the description from Driftwood: “Aged for over a year in French Oak this blood red vinous beast holds depth of color, flavor and aroma unparalleled in any beer we have brewed thus far. Fermented with locally sourced wild yeast and a copious load of black currants, Lustrum will be enjoyed on many levels!”

And here is mine: Lustrum pour a beautiful deep plum red colour with tons of reddish tinged soapy head that really stuck around. Big dried fruit nose with an equal helping of funky yeastiness. Tart at the front then giving way to an oaky character and some sweetness. The currant really dominates giving this beer an almost lambic like quality meets red wine reminding me of Unibroue Cassis or Lindeman Cassis. A dry beer that finishes with some tartness but also a bitter quality. To me this beer tastes a bit young, like the flavours have not really blended together, and I think it could have benefited from further aging. I found the currant taste over-powering at times and also a bit cloying while the yeastiness seemed a bit too up front. Personally, I like my sours to be quite tart and very dry. Overall it felt like a bit too much was going on in this beer at once making it feel like a bit of an identity crisis.

Nonetheless to see BC brewers delving into sour/wild ale territory is quite exciting and hopefully this is the beginning of something big. #BCneedsabarrelhouse


Decoding Duchesse and Re-inventing Rodenbach

Let’s talk about Flemish Ale or Red Ale or Flanders Ale or Sour Brown Ale or Oud Bruin. Confused yet? Well I usually am when looking at this ‘family’ of beers so I thought I would do a little beer geek research and try to figure out just what defines this style.

For quite some time now I knew at least one thing for certain, I like Duchesse De Bourgogne.

Duchesse is described by the brewery as “Belgian top-fermented reddish-brown ale, a blend of 8 and 18 months old beers following the careful maturation in oak casks.” Sour? Check. Malty? Check. Carbonated? Check. Okay I’m on board.

The problem became how to find like-minded beers. Do I ask for a sour beer? A Belgian beer? A brown beer? A wild ale? A red ale? All of the above? Will the beer store clerk ridicule and mock my lack of knowledge?

In Tasting Beer Mosher describes sour brown ales as having two regional focal points. One in West Flanders and one in East Flanders. Like many great styles the defining hallmarks of these beers (oak aging and the blending of young and old beers) were merely common practice. As these beers fell out of general favour they became regional specialties.

In West Flanders the defining beer is ‘red’ Rodenbach and in East Flanders the defining beer is ‘brown’ Liefmans Goudenband. Each region using different methods to sour their beer and different processes for aging though not exclusively.

Rodenbach

 

Eventually, as all good beer styles do, these sour red-brown beers caught the eye of North American breweries who sought to reinvigorate and reintroduce this historical ale to an eager population of new world beer nerds.

New Belgium La Folie, Jolly Pumpkin La Roja, The Bruery Oude Tart, The Lost Abbey Red Poppy Ale, Deschutes The Dissident not to mention our very own Yaletown Brewing Co. Oud Bruin, are just a wee few of the examples.

 

Oud Tart

Purists, by which I mean hard-core beer geeks and style guide enthusiasts, proffer that the West Flanders/East Flanders divide marks two distinct styles the Flanders Red Ale and the Flanders Brown Ale/Oud Bruin. Is it starting to feel like this may escalate into some sort of gang-like allegiances? But in reality, my reality anyway, call them what you will these styles all fall under that most glorious and ever-expanding umbrella called sour beer. The old world variations were never hard and fast and the new incarnations of the style are neither. So red or brown what are you waiting for? Get on the bandwagon!


They say you can’t go home again

Philosophically speaking this rings true but when visiting the place of one’s birth you can take time to try lots of different beers so in a way (a somewhat obscure way) you can make it feel like home again by bringing your wonderful beer geekiness with you in your travels.

Okay so that probably doesn’t make sense but I am stretching for an introduction to highlight the fact I am back from Ontario after an extended visit with the family and while there I visited a couple of local tap rooms and tried lots of interesting craft beers that never make their way out west.

Specifically, I was in Peterborough, Ontario a mid-size city that boasts a couple of breweries, The Old Stone Brewing Co. and The Publican House Brewery and a couple of tap rooms St. Veronus Cafe and Tap Room and  Ashburnham Ale House.

Each time I come home I make a concerted effort to try all the Ontario and Eastern US beers I can find as well as visit anything new that falls on my radar.

Ashburnham Ale House

Ashburnham Ale House is new to Peterborough and it is located in the old part of town known historically as Ashburnham (now East City). I was really excited when I read about this tap room, local beers, rotating taps, eco decor and a great location. The Ale House is a large space heavy on the wood and leather accents and equally heavy on the meat menu. Seeing that me and the vegan hubby were not going to be eating we decided to head on over to the bar to enjoy some craft beer.

Ashburnham Ale House

Ashburnham Ale House

In an almost completely empty space we were seated, immediately asked what we wanted and then left to fend for ourselves. Inquiring about the rotating taps we were told the names of the beers and the ABV with no real description, when I asked again another server gave me a totally different ABV -do people really only pick a beer based on the alcohol content???

The bottles were listed on the menu but no descriptions were provided. Somehow I expected the staff to be a bit more enthusiastic about the beer in a tap room! After looking over the bottle and tap selection we decided to try a flight of everything on tap but sadly they have no flights and no small pours.

Overall, I was really disappointed in Ashburnham Ale House and I hope they get some passionate beer geeks to make this space come alive.

 

Thankfully we were able to head to St. Veronus Cafe and Tap Room, which beer for beer may be one of the best tap rooms I have ever been to. Their beer menu is extensive focusing on Belgian beer but also boasting a nice selection of Canadian options. They always manage to find something unique to have on tap and the rare bottles are numerous (the photo below is one of three pages!).

St. Veronus

St. Veronus

While there the hubby and I tried a couple of Rodenbachs a (mildy) sour Flanders Red Ale, the Bacchus a Flanders Oud Bruin described (accurately) as tasting like flat coke and the Gueuze Fond Tradition a tart unsweetened lambic. All the beers were interesting and the server really knew his stuff. Oh and did I mention the food? Well it is incredible, savoury, filling and creative with options to fit even the pickiest eater in our party.

Stay tuned for more of my beer explorations in Ontario…


My Beer of the Year (so far)

The best beer.

Well as we all know best is a pretty subjective word and when it comes to beer, really what does it even mean? The best example of the style, the best for drink-ability, the best beer you can keep in regular rotation or the best extra-special extra-rare beer you try once in a lifetime? Does the best beer shift over time or is it the beer that can weather the latest craft beer fad?

In my time on this planet (while I was over drinking age of course) I have had the pleasure of trying many truly remarkable beers including Westvleteren 12, Pliny the Elder from Russian River, Red Poppy from The Lost Abbey, Bourbon Barrel-aged Fred from Hair of the Dog, The Abyss from Deschutes, Rochefort 10, Tactical Nuclear Penguin from BrewDog and many others that at the time I felt were viable contenders for the mantle o f ‘best beer’ for various reasons.

Needless to say after that many great beers a geek can become just a little picky and by extension a little hard to impress. Often I tend to fall back on the breweries I trust to not break my heart if I try something new.

So when I heard my friends would be passing through Portland OR on holidays I asked if they would pick me up a couple of bottles from just one of those steadfast breweries Cascade Brewing Barrel House.

Taking a quick peek at their availability I requested The Vine (a perennial favourite) and Manhattan (a beer I knew literally nothing about but figured what the hey).

When my non beer geek friends went into Cascade they were told Manhattan just happens to be the best beer in the house (finely honed my beer intuition is) and this assessment got me a little excited. I mean if the people at the brewery think this is the best then its’ got to be impressive.

Manhattan Love

Manhattan Love

So how was it?

Wow, just wow.

Okay I guess I can provide a bit more information but I worry my words will not do this beer justice so here is the official description. Manhattan NW 2011 project is “A blend of spiced Blond Quads, aged in Heaven Hill Bourbon barrels on 150 pounds of sour pie cherries for five months before additionally aging on apricot noyaux for three months”.

…and here are my words. Manhattan pours a bright cherry brown colour with very good clarity and lots of light airy head that clings to the glass in rows of lacing. A liqoury and sweet nose with just a hint of cherry. Very smooth mouthfeel, no harshness from the strong alcohol, and a very still beer with no effervescence. Lots of flavours going on here dried fruit, rich caramel, bourbon, herbal notes and a bit of an underlying funkiness, It drinks like a cocktail, a Manhattan in fact. The sourness in this one is subtle just cutting through the beer’s richness and sweetness with a slightly tart finish. A warming beer that deserves to be sipped especially since the 11.5% ABV packs a very big wallop.

Overall I was beyond impressed, Manhattan is quite simply the best beer I have had this year.


Cali or Bust – Part 1

I recently returned from my road trip to San Francisco and while the primary purpose of my vacation was to (finally) marry my handsome and charming boyfriend, as any self-respecting beer geek would do I also planned to fit in lots of brewery visits and craft beer sampling along the way.

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California is one of those states blessed with a disproportionate number of amazing breweries and, more importantly, it is the home of my all-time favourite brewery Russian River Brewing Company located in the historic town of Santa Rosa (also the birthplace of Charles Schultz). To me, getting the chance to visit Russian River was akin to some sort of pilgrimage and needless to say my expectations were sky-high. I even wrote an open love letter to the brewery but alas they never responded.

For anyone who may have been living under a rock, in a cave, on a deserted island, Russian River Brewing Company creates some of the most memorable belgian beers (read barrel-aged sours) and IPA’s in the world. Beer for beer, Pliny the Elder, Supplication and Temptation may just form the triumvirate of just how good beer can get. The time and craft that goes into creating these beers painted a picture (in my mind) of the type of tap room and brewery that produces such wondrous libations.

Russian River Front

So did the real live Russian River retain its’ cherished place on the pedestal when I visited? Well, no.

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Granted I did visit the pub on Cinqo de Mayo, but it felt kind of like visiting Boston Pizza loud, busy, full of pretty drunk patrons, lots of crazy crap on the walls, given a blinking coaster to signal an available table. Now to be clear I am not a complete fossil who wants to sip and spit from champagne flutes whilst I sit in a cellar full of oak barrels BUT I did kind of expect an environment where people paid more attention to the beer that was served up in their pints. The wait staff did not seem keen to chat beer and while they served up flights with great presentation you were kind of left to do your own thing. At the very least I expected our server to follow-up on this massive flight to see what we liked or did not like.

Russian River Flight

Concerned that the boisterous college crowd may have coloured my first perception we returned the next day in the morning to pick up some bottles. Oddly enough it was already full of early morning drinkers and once again getting beer from the bartender was more of a chore than any sort of interaction i.e. most staff just walk by you while you try to get someone’s attention.

I am not really sure what I expected but somehow I expected more.

Russian River Inside


Baby, why are you so Sour?

Somewhat contrary to my fellow beer geeks, when I first started exploring craft beer one of the more challenging styles quickly emerged as my favourite and that style is soured beer. I  know this category of beer is not everyone’s ‘cup of tea’ and in fact many people are initially turned off by the often over-powering tartness of  a gueze or an oud bruin but if you think you are not a fan of wild ales you really do not know what you are missing.

 

Sour Beer from Cascade Barrel House

Sour Beer from Cascade Barrel House

 

Sour beer is technically not a style in and of itself, rather it is a process of using bacterial infection to impart tartness while fermenting and/or beer, as such under this broad category there is a range of flavours and, well, sourness from sweet and fruity lambics, to the deep and rich sour brown ales, to the accessible Flanders red ales, to the straight lambics, which offer no apologies for their tart kick.

Historically, lambic beers (a style of beer brewed with aged hops and a high proportion of unmalted wheat) were spontaneously fermented. That is to say you basically do the opposite of everything you learned in homebrew school and intentionally infect your wort with some of the many microscopic critter floating around in the air. The different resultant bacterial infections all work to ferment the beer while it ages in wooden barrels (the wooden barrel being a natural haven for microbes). Ensuring consistency is near impossible for the sour beer brewer so the resultant batches are blended to achieve the desired tartness levels.

According to Mosher in Tasting Beer, when Lindemans expanded their brewery they took a portion of their old wall and bolted it in their new building in order to preserve their signature mix of beneficial bugs.

 

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In modern times, the souring of beer is less by chance i.e. opening a window and hoping for the best but really not by much.

Bacterial agents like lactobacillus, brettanomyces and pediococcus are systematically introduced to the fermentation process; however, the outcome remains somewhat unpredictable and the time commitment to brew a sour beer is significant compared pretty much any other beer style think years versus months. Blending remains the most viable means to ensure the sourness of your beer is at a level that is drinkable.

 

Beet Sour Beer from Epic Ales

Beet Sour Beer from Epic Ales

 

Once the sole domain of dedicated Belgian brewers devoted to the art of brewing sour beers, wild ales are carving out an impressive niche in Europe and North America. Russian River, Cascade Brewing, Jolly Pumpkin and Epic Ales are all making a name for themselves in pursuit of excellent sourness.

A little more north Oud Bruin from Yaletown Brewing Company and Driftwood’s Bird of Prey Flanders Red are showing Canadian brewers are also getting on the sour bandwagon.

 

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Is sour beer the next big thing in the craft beer world? Well, not to self-promote (too much) I have to say I saw this one coming for quite sometime now. I even wrote a post called ‘Love is a Sour Delight’ back in February of 2011 espousing the wonder that is sour beer. If you require further confirmation, you just need walk into any decent beer store and observe the number of barrel-aged, wild and wine-blended beers now on the market.

As we move into warmer weather I urge my fellow beer geeks to crack open a bottle of sour beer on a warm summer night and tell me this isn’t one of the best affirmations they have ever had that craft beer will one day rule the world.

 


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