8262 Clairemont Mesa Boulevard, San Diego
“So, when are you going to release your sours?”
It’s been the most uttered question (thank in part to yours truly) since Societe Brewing Company (8262 Clairemont Mesa Boulevard, Kearny Mesa) opened last year. Even with plenty of high quality IPAs as well as various stouts and Belgian-inspired ales, fans of this young and thriving business won’t be fully sated until Societe releases tart blends of the beer aging away in a stock of over 100 wine barrels.
The sours have yet to be unleashed, however, last week at an intimate dinner in Societe’s barrel room, headmen Travis Smith and Douglas Constantiner shared the first offerings of what they refer to as their “feral” beers. It was perhaps the hottest ticket of any San Diego Beer Week event. I attended and took fastidious notes in an effort to help out the droves of local beer enthusiasts biding their time over these beers get an idea of what they can expect.
South Park's Alchemy restaurant paired The Swindler with quail served with a pee wee potato, Thai yellow curry, and a quail egg "purse."
The first of the beers was a blonde sour called The Swindler. According to Smith and Constantiner, once extracted from the barrel, the base beer was so intense in its oakiness that they needed to cut down on the wood presence while adding acidity. That required blending, to the point where just over fifty percent of the original beer made it in. The result is a rather mild, 6% ABV sour with soft scents and flavors of Granny Smith apple and added viscosity that’s almost milky in its feel. As it warmed, the beer showed added complexity, giving off nuances that reminded me of straw and red berries. A knowledgeable beer fan seated next to me described it as “more Belgian than American,” meaning not as in-your-face and abrupt in its tartness as sours hailing from lambic’s birthplace. I couldn’t agree more.
Next up was The Highwayman, a 7% ABV ale dosed with Saaz and Styrian Golding hops as well as Brettanomyces. The latter is wild yeast that adds spiciness and dryness to a beer that’s light but by no means thin, and almost creamy on the front end. Barnyardy funk shows up in the finish; all from the Brett, as this beer is unoaked.
Last but not least was my favorite of the evening, The Savage, which was nowhere near as rangy and untamed as its name might suggest. The same base beer as The Swindler rested on cherries, it brought on the fruity flavors as well as the tight, drop-off finish often seen in a Flemish-style red ale. One of my fellow diners said it “cut off like a Champagne.”
So, for those who wondered if Societe would be able to replicate the quality of their other beers via this much more labor intensive, niche, artisanal undertaking, wonder no more. In their first night taking patrons to the tart side of their operation, they came up three-for-three. In truth, I’m even more excited than I already was about the sour ales that will rise from all that former Stag’s Leap Winery wood.
So, when will that happen? So far, the only answer provided is, “at a future date.” So, expect more sour-related interrogation at Societe’s tasting room for awhile, but know that any waiting that’s required should be well worth it.