Sunday, November 17, 2013

Starting again, on a sour note

It only makes sense, after so long a break, that there might be a few sour notes. Hopefully, this one won't be too bad. 

A couple of nights ago, I opened a bottle of Bridgeport's 2013 "Stumptown Tart," brewed this year with raspberries, blueberries & blackberries, and weighing in at 7.8% ABV. I usually pick up a bottle or two every year, if only to encourage my local supermarket to carry sours. It is always pleasant, as I expect from Bridgeport brews, and never exceptional. I find that as my taste for sour beers has developed, my appreciation of "Stumptown Tart" has remained roughly the same. The first year I tried it I was something of a sour novice, and was a bit surprised to find it a pleasant brew. As I've developed into a little bit of a sour snob, I'm still pleasantly surprised to find it well-brewed and tasty. 

To be fair, "Stumptown Tart" is merely tart, and not at all in a pucker-inducing way. It has a restrained Belgian character, no doubt thanks to the yeast, and a revolving variety of delicious regional berries give it enough sweetness so that you're sure you're drinking a fruit beer, but overall it is perhaps a bit drier than you might expect. It is no substitute for a trip down to the Cascade Barrel House, but it is always a very pleasant addition to the selection in the supermarket coolers. 
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Tonight's treat is a bit more outspoken sour, The Common's seasonal "Biere Royal," a 5.5% ABV "sour ale with black currants," which gets its bite from a combination of Lactobacillus for wild-ale magic and the currents adding their sugars to the fermentation. It's light-to-medium bodied, and pours purplish-pink with a fizzy head which quickly disappears. The currents and yeast are strong in the nose. The taste is indeed sour, with the currents restrained enough so that at times this comes across more like a mystery-berry brew. But sour beers always play a sort of balancing act between the specific flavors and the sour, and this does not strike a bad balance. There are notes of lacto funk—think yogurt in your beer, because that's the right yeast—and the brew seems to be gaining complexity as it warms. The malt base, which includes spelt, is of the sort that you know is good because you don't have to think about it. The Saaz hops function in roughly the same way. Folks who like the Russian River wild ales might well enjoy this. There's enough to it for a fall night, but it is not heavy. Honestly, when I go for a sour or wild ale, I usually go for something a little heavier, but I'm enjoying this quite a bit.
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The one real sour note of recent days was a bottle of Lost Coast's "Raspberry Brown." Their tangerine beer is one of my favorite of the readily accessible fruit beers, and I had high hopes, but this was quite simply not a very good beer. 

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