Walter Mencken 11 a.m., May 24
A Tale of Two Beerfests: Part 1 (Sour Fest)
Sour beer — it sounds wrong and, on first taste, most (myself included) confirm that theory with a disapproving lemon-faced grimmace. But, just like one's first beer, distaste typically gives way to an amour that darn near borders on a serious problem.
Over the past four years, this style, which is the most niche and least understood in the US (though much more popular in Belgium and other Old World European countries from which sours originate), has become my most favorite. There's just something about a crisp ale inoculated with lactobacillus and other (safe) bacteria and brewed using exotic yeast strains and methods to come out astringently tart and fruity.
It's certainly an acquired taste, but as evidenced by last Sunday's sold out Stone Sour Fest at Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens, its one that's catching on, surely if not slowly. 102 lambics, krieks, gueuzes and other sour styles were on-hand and I made my way through much of the pack. If you are curious about checking out sours, but have no idea where to begin, here are some of the best I came across. You may as well start with the best.
Cantillon Rosé de Gambrinus (Belgium): A lovely crimson hue visually communicates the flavor that comes across when you take a sip of this exquisite standout. A bit like gourmet Kool-Aid with a balanced sourness and a crisp, instantaneous finish. (pictured below).
Liefman's Cuvée Brut (Belgium): It's a tart beer that would go well with a tart; fruity with flavors of apple intermingled with some berryishness with a finish featuring notes similar to turbinado sugar.
Russian River Sanctification (Santa Rosa, CA): My personal fave from this cultish, innovative brewery, which specializes in barrel-aged and critter-stoked strangebrews. It could be a prototype for an American sour; acidic and clean with a delightfully dry finish.
Craftsman Sour Lavender (Pasadena, CA): There's nothing subtle about the lavender in this brew, which comes across like flowery lemon meringue pie sans sugar on the tongue.
The Bruery Sour Stout (Placentia, CA): Somehow, two beer styles, a tart sour and a roasty stout come across equally on the palate. This one vies for my top 10 beers of all time (and I've literally had thousands).
The Lost Abbey Duck Duck Gooze (San Marcos, CA): This is an honorable mention. It wasn't at Stone Sour Fest, but it is the most thought-provoking beer I've ever had and was named best sour beer in the US at the Great American Beer Festival in 2009. So sour, it'll draw the fillings right out of your teeth.
Admittedly, these are tougher beers to find, so here are some more common sours to pick up if you get the chance: 3 Fonteinen Oude Geuze, St. Louis Fond Tradition Gueuze, Girardin Gueuze, Oud Beersel Oude Geuze, The Lost Abbey Framboise de Amarosa, Russian River Supplication, New Belgium La Folie and anything Jolly Pumpkin (no pumpkins are killed in the making of this line of beers, all of which feature SERIOUS bacterial funk...maybe work up to these oddities).
Cantillon Rosé de Gambrinus - a photoworthy beer if ever there was one.