Today’s agenda has been all about cleaning my apartment, with a few breaks to read about Alania (a medieval state located in the Caucasus region, which was later conquered by Kublai Khan’s dad), and to watch bits of Battle Royale.
By 4pm, it was time to wet the old whistle. Today’s been warm, and I wanted something refreshing, but also beery, because Tim Robbins is right when he’s redeeming it Shawshank-style— there’s really nothing like a beer after some hard work.
Luckily, I had just the beer hanging out in my booze closet.
This past June, my friend, fellow power palate, and brewer extraordinaire, Shilpi Halemane, gave me a bottle of a sour ale blend he and Spencer Porter had brewed. For all you non-brewers out there, a sour ale is a labor of love. Most beers finish primary fermentation quickly, requiring just a few days, and are carried out with a particular strain of saccharomyces cervisiae. Sour beers, on the other hand, can be fermented by a variety of microorganisms, including the brettanomyces yeast, pediococcus and lactic acid bacteria.
Now it might just be me, but one thing I love about sour ales is that they kind of remind me of a drink I used to make myself after school in junior high. I called it “Smartie Pop.” It’s the sort of drink that if an adult had given it to me, Child Protective Services might have been called. I’d take a couple rolls of smarties, beat the hell out of them with a rolling pin, and then dump the dust and candy chunks into a glass of Sprite or 7-Up.
I loved this drink, but my god. What the hell was I thinking? Still, whenever I drink a sour beer, I get a distinct tang of Smarties…
Anyway, Shilpi and Spencer’s beer was done in the style of a Flanders Red adapted from Wild Brews, by Jeff Sparrow. The Flanders Red style originated in West Flanders, and is aged for up to two years. Some easily obtained commercial examples include Rodenbach and Duchesse de Bourgogne.
I’ll spare you all the extreme technical details that Shilpi provided me, but here are the basics. Shilpi and Spencer each brewed a batch, but started the fermentation differently in order to see how the same recipe carried out under different fermentation conditions would turn out. Traditionally, a handful of grain is pitched into the wort, the resident microorganisms, along with those living in the barrels, contributing to the fermentation process. This is the tack Spencer took, though after four months he added a commercial culture— White Labs: Belgian Sour Mix. Shilpi, on the other hand, started off with a commercial blend of yeast and bacteria— Wyeast’s #3763 – Roeselare Blend. Other pertinent additions/ingredients? Vienna base malt (to give a malty base flavor), Tettnang hops (to emulate the hops used by Belgian brewers), and oak chips (to impart what an oak barrel would impart to the beer).
And then the beer sat, quietly fomenting and plotting its takeover of the free world. For a year and three months.
After its long wait, the guys blended. 55% Shilpi’s, 45% Spencer’s based upon blending trials. The beer underwent bottle conditioning— about three additional months worth.
The wait was well worth it. Right out of the bottle, I was struck by the beautiful color— a rich, reddish amber with small, fine bubbles. The aromas are medium in intensity, and are of pickled pie cherries and toast. The flavors are delightfully tart, with a well-balanced acidity (important, as some sour ales can get out of hand in the sour department, overwhelming the subtler flavors the beer might otherwise display). In the taste department, you get what you smell with this beer, plus a lot more. There’s a hint of savory spice, a whisper of funk, and a distinct citrus note that falls somewhere in the spectrum between orange and grapefruit. As the beer warms, the malt becomes more prominent. Were this a beer available commercially, it would be an easy sell to any beer drinker who is just getting started on his or her sour beer journey or any wine drinker who tends to shy away from beers.
In short, it’s delightful. Mouth-watering and refreshing, with a complexity that continues to change in the glass. Well done, brewers. Thanks for sharing this bottle.