Atlanta has somehow become a craft beer mecca with some of the greatest beer bars in the world. This is a tribute to the beers and the bars.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Sour beers, part 1

I've been writing a bit about sour beers lately so I decided to do a series of write-ups on a variety of them to hopefully help you jump into these beautiful and misunderstood varieties.

Orval: This is probably the best place to start if you're new to sour beers.  This is the only Trappist beer purposefully brewed with Brettanomyces, a wild yeast that gives a funky sourness often described as horsey or barnyard.  Aging changes the character of any Brett beer quite a bit.  I just drank a relatively young one (just over a year old), so the slow acting Brett had only contributed a mild funkiness.  There were fairly strong tart apple esters, faint pineapple, and a pronounce hop bitterness, leading to a long, dry finish.  I'd like to age a few bottles of this.

Brouwerij Fonteinen Doesjel Old Lambic: A lambic is a beer brewed in a certain region of Belgium, spontaneously fermented with yeasts and bacteria in the open air.  Very few lambics are available straight.  Different aged lambics are usually blended to form gueze, which will carbonate in the bottle because the young lambic still has sugars.  Fruit can also be added, making kriek (cherries), framboise (rasberries), and several others.  Doesjel calls itself a lambic even though it is a blend of a 1 , 2, and 3 year old, which would normally make it a gueze.  I'm assuming that it is still called a lambic because the yeasts went dormant so it did not carbonate in the bottle, making a completely flat beer like an old, unblended lambic.

This is an intense beer, made more-so by the fact that it's completely flat.  Sour apple and Brett take center stage.  There's only minimal hop bitterness in a lambic (hops are primarily used in a lambic as a preservative, so they use old, dried hops that have lost most of their potency).  There was nice oakiness and light malt.  Lambics are generally considered sippers because of their sour intensity, but I found myself wanting to take huge gulps.  Very refreshing.

Jolly Pumpkin Bam Biere: Jolly Pumpkin is a Michigan brewery that has been at the forefront of American sour beers, with virtually all of their beers boasting the touch of Brett.  Bam Biere is their flagship farmhouse saison.  This is hoppier than either of the above Belgians, but the overall flavor profile is similar, with tart apple at the front, surrounded by that Brett funk.  It's nice, but seems a little one dimensionally tart apple cider.  I think aging it longer to bring out more of the Brett would help a lot, but considering those Belgians cost 3-6 times as much this is a nice, easily available option.

De Proef/Bell's Brewing Van Twee: I thought this was pretty underwhelming.  It's a Belgian dark with some tart Michigan cherries and Brett.  The base of the beer was a pretty simple, mild chocolate Belgian dark, the cherries didn't provide nearly enough tartness to overcome the sweetness of the malt, and the Brett was barely there.   

Coming soon: the famous and rare Cantillon Grand Cru, a Lindemans traditional gueze, and two Flemish sours.  Stay tuned.

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