This event is brought to you by our beer buyer, Katie Nierling
My early days as a craft beer neophyte sour beers were on the rise and pioneered in Colorado by the likes of Avery, New Belgium and Crooked Stave to name a few. It was mid May in 2013 and my best friend and I arrived at Crooked Stave for ROY-G-BIV day, Rainbow Day, and the final release of the Wild Wild Brett series, Violet. It was a 100% Brettanoymces fermented experimental ale brewed with pomegranate and Lavender, then fermented on whole passion fruit and dry hopped. There was a buzz about the day as the line wound around the building, nearly everyone arriving with another rare, limited or sour in hand to pass down the line – bottle releases sometimes being the best bottle share in town. I don’t think that Crooked Stave imagined that the release would draw that crowd and while it was successful it might also be viewed as an unmitigated disaster to those to walked away empty handed – the beer selling out and nothing allocated for outside distribution. I held onto that beer for a few years; knowing it was the last in the series a part of me had a hard time ‘letting go’ but while some brewers encourage cellaring of certain beers, it is designed to be consumed, shared and enjoyed. I don’t recall the exact flavor profiles but I do remember a door opening for a desire to learn more about sour beers and their often times, very difficult process.
I do not begin to know all there is to know about the fermentation and care involved to produce a well made sour, but I have a respect for those brewers who do spend years cultivating wild yeast in barrels – drawing those distinct whiskey, rum, tequila or wine barrel characteristics to blend with the bacteria’s added ending in a flavor profile unlike any other. Some will make you pucker as if drinking a lemon drop candy, while others will highlight a rustic funk combined with an aged fruit and subtle hop character. The combination of tartness with fresh fruit makes a hot summer day complete for me. The prevalence in the market today gives anyone a shot at liking a sour beer, much like IPA’s there are so many interpretations out there, one does not have to be intimidated to try.
Fast forward to 2017 and just last weekend I was privileged enough to take part in the release of New Belgium’s Wood Cellar Reserve series – the reinvented and reimagined specialty and sour line from this storied brewery. The team at New Belgium has built what many affectionately call the ‘foeder forrest’, a collection of foeders sourced since the late nineties integral in the building of the La Folie series among many other sour iterations from New Belgium over the years. Le Kriek Noir is an assertively sour dark blend from two continents and three years in the making. Authentic to its Belgian roots, a small portion of Oud Beerel from Belgium is blended with a single foeder of dark sour beer and aged in the brewery’s original wine barrels stemming from the start of the program in 1998. The first sip is lip puckering, but sharp aromas and flavors of cherries are immediately present. The next few sips the sour subsides and the complex flavors from the barrel aging take over with a rich and woody finish. It is a perfect illustration of the innovation and evolution in sour beers. New Belgium led the way years ago and now they have thrown their hat back in the ring so to speak, showcasing where we can all expect sour beers to go.