Friday, August 5, 2011

The Session 54: Tales of a Sour Beer Nothing

Okay, I'm going to admit something to you guys. I don't know a whole lot about sour beers.

Yeah, I know, I'm surprised they've allowed me to have children, too. In any case, I've made it thirty-six years having only Lindeman's Framboise to draw reference from—and the only reason I have that experience is, it's the only beer my wife will drink. (Yup, they let her have kids, too.) Because, in her words, it doesn't taste like beer. Amy is not a beer fan, but I still love her.

So, having such a limited history with sour beer, I've decided to execute an experiment, of which you are invited to witness. Granted this little project, is probably going to be more exciting for me than you, but, you're already here, so why not stay a while. Here's what I'm proposing: I'm going to drink a beer. WAIT! Don't go zipping off to Alan or Stephen's blog yet—hear me out. I'm going to drink a bottle of Ichtegem's Grand Cru, from Browerij Strubbe, and give you the, Al Michaels, play-by-play breakdown—from first the first sniff to the last burp. I've had Porters and Pales, Dunkles and Dopplebocks, but Belgians, in general, are my weak link. I know what's in my wheelhouse, and the Flanders funk ain't in there. I don't know where this is going to take me, but a real-time, jump-in-the-deep-end of beer sounds like a blast. So, here goes nuthin'.

10:12 pm - Hmm? Smells fruity; cherry-like, with a little cocoa in there too. It's very red wine-like. (See, I know my wine—there are two kinds—red and white, right?)

10:13 pm - First sip. Sweet, and tart. More fruit. Definitely berry-like.

10:16 pm - Getting a bit syrupy. It's decidedly rich with a leathery earthiness.

10:24 pm - Again, it's tart, and a bit sour with just an acetic touch on the back of the throat.

I'm shocked how berry-like this is, almost distranctingly. It's significantly sweeter than I expected. I do have to say, I was expecting, or rather hoping for, a tad more sourness. I do love the smell, though.

10:29 pm - Yeah, it's warming up, now—I'm getting more caramel. It's quite port like. It seems a lot bigger than 6.5% ABV.

10:33 pm - It just hit me, balsamic vinegar. I knew it reminded me of something, and that's it. I'm not quite sure how I feel about that.

10:37 pm - Giving it a good swish around. It's drying and almost Cherry Coke-like, sweet at the swallow, then building to a soured aftertaste.

10:41 pm - It's lacing the glass, fairly well.

10:42 pm -  I mentioned port earlier, but now I'm really getting that. Woody and just a bit nutty.

10:47 pm - Last swallow.

There you go 35 minutes of sour beer exposure.

I've got to be honest. This was not my favorite beer, or my second favorite, or even third. Was it drinkable? Sure. Was it enjoyable? Maybe, maybe not. Although, I don't think I could do more than one of these in a sitting. I'm not sure I needed all eleven ounces, either. I know I'm breaking one of Stan's new beer rules, and I know sour beers are all the rage, I'm just not over the moon with this one. Maybe it's because I'm not a cherry fan. Even as a kid, the red popsicles were my last choice. Cherry pie? Apple, please. Ichtegem's Grand Cru has a prominent cherry essence, and as I've said, it's sweet—bordering on cloying. Guess what else I'm not a big fan of—balsamic vinegar. Even the good stuff, I personally think it tastes like wine vinegar spiked with caramel flavoring. I get how a sour/sweet combination could be appealing, but this one seems to miss the mark. The thing I found most appealing was it's aroma.

As far as the sour beer trend goes, I see why people like this approach to brewing—it's different. I do however, think the hype around sour beer is trendy. I feel the, "Are sour beers the next IPA?" question is a little off-base. I think folks are attracted to the uniqueness of sour beers, just as they were to IPA when those hop-heavy beers became more common. It's not a question of replacement, it's a comment on availability. I'm not just saying this because I have some great affinity for IPA, either. The spotlight has been shone on sour beer; more breweries–and not just in Belgium–are making them; and sours are being more widely distributed, all of which play into the sour beer, and I hesitate to use this word, craze. I think there's an aura around Belgian beers, generally, that elevates their status. There seems, to me, the idea that the Belgian brewing and beer, by monks or otherwise, is more traditional and pure. That they somehow are above the pettiness of the rest the brewing world. An elite blanket has been cast over our Flemish friends–and not by them, I might add–like that of the Champagne region of France.

Belgian beers can be great, and I'd imagine that some sour beers can be as well. What I don't think we should do is simply say all sour beer is great and, oh by the way, it's going to replace IPA—So, you best get on board the sour beer train, or get left behind with that boring old hoppy stuff. Those little remote-control floor cleaners are great, but I hope they don't replace humans, any time soon.

But, what do I know, I'm a sour beer nothing.

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