Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Sour Beers

Individual taste is a funny thing. The old adage that "one man's meat is another man's poison" pretty much sums it up. For example, I personally really can't stand beans. Baked beans, red beans and rice, green beans, you-name-it beans, I can't stand any of them. My lovely wife Elaine refuses to eat any sort of seafood, while I can't get enough of the stuff. So there's little in the way of rhyme or reason to explain what one person likes or dislikes.

Still, we can make a couple of generalizations. Research has shown that young children have a much greater preference for sweet, sugary food and drinks than do adults. Or put another way, as the average person's palate matures, they develop more of an appreciation for flavor components such as bitterness and sourness. How many folks start off taking their coffee with cream and sugar as teenagers and end up slurping it down black and bitter? I know I did. How many people start their drinking careers with rum and coke and finish up drinking single malt scotch? A lot fewer than go the other way, I'll wager.

So it's perfectly understandable that sour beers are not to everyone's taste. But for folks who do develop a hankering for them, they are marvellously refreshing and really something special.

Last Friday I was in the mood for something sour, so I went into the far recesses of my beer frig and came up with a 750ml corked bottle of Palm Breweries' Rodenbach Grand Cru. This beer is the benchmark of the style known as a Flanders Red Ale. It undergoes a mixed fermentation of yeast and bacteria, then is aged for over 2 years in real oak casks. Normally having bacteria present during the brewing process would be a cause for alarm, as it can consume the same sugars that the yeast does (and even some that the yeast can't), but produces things like lactic acid, which can impart a soured, vinegary flavor. This would be the destruction of most beers, but somehow Rodenbach takes what should be horrible and turns it sublime.

It's a bit like the way a chef can use garlic and butter to take snails (yecch!) and turn them into escargot (yumm!)...

Back to the beer. I poured it into a nice large snifter and spent the better part of the next three hours enjoying it. Tart from the start, followed by the flavors of plums and wood, with minor notes of other fruits, like grapes. Incredibly complex, the carbonation keeps the tartness from being overpowering as it moves to a long, dry finish. At only 6% ABV, it's not overly strong for drinking in quantity. All-in-all, a phenomenal beer.

The late, great Michael Jackson, was frequently quoted as saying that Rodenbach was "the most refreshing beer in the world". I'm not sure I would go that far, but it's certainly in the top five.

If you want to give a sour beer a try without shelling out $$$ for a whole bottle, you'll have a good opportunity this Thursday, August 13th, in Anchorage. Midnight Sun will be putting a keg of their highly regarded 13th Anniversary Good Mojo Sour Brown Ale on tap at their Loft Bar. It's a blend of young(70%) and old/sour beer (30%), with sour cherries and tons of wood aging. I had the opportunity to drink a growler of this in 2008 and I was amazed at the complexity of it. It's 9% ABV, so treat it with respect, and it's by the glass only, and only until the one 5-gallon keg is gone, so don't delay or you'll miss it. Maybe I'll see you there.

Next week I'm making a road trip to Homer, so I'll have a some words for the other brewery here on the Peninsula, the Homer Brewing Company.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

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