Driftwood – Bird of Prey 2014

I was genuinely filled with glee when I learned that Driftwood was re-releasing their original sour from 2011, Bird of Prey.  I have all the others in my cellar, but Bird of Prey was sadly absent.  2011 was about when I got into sours, and I missed the original release because I wasn’t as well connected as I am now with what’s going on in the beer scene.  Thankfully, Driftwood gave me a second chance.

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Bird of Prey is a Flanders Red, which is quite specific geographically, but looser in flavour profile. For instance, Duchesse de Bourgogne is very sweet and only slightly tart, whereas Cuvée de Jacobins is a pucker-fest. Bird of Prey is kind of muted on both sides.

Flanders / Flemish reds get their character from Lactobacillus, which produces a sourness by way of the production of lactic acid.  Bird of Prey has a serious lactic funk, especially through the finish of each sip.  It’s actually slightly heavy, though not unpleasant.  There is grape must, sour cherries (though not overly sweet), and a heavy tannin bill on the nose.  The palate is gentler, with the fruitiness kept fairly low profile.  It is good, though not as lively as you’ll find in some Flanders reds.

I also decided to pop open a bottle of Lustrum to compare and contrast between, though these are not the same style at all and thus comparison is kind of moot.  Mostly I wanted to see which I preferred, and I bought so many bottles of Lustrum I am always looking for an excuse to open one.

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Mostly they’re different, but they do share a common thread when it comes to that lactic funk:  both exhibit a strong lactic funk which outlasts the rest of the flavours.  Lactic acid is a welcome and important part of many sour beers, though it is a taste that ought to clean up after itself.  By that I mean other characteristics of the beer (for instance, carbonation, barrel character, fruit flavour, or hops profile) come in and neutralize the funk towards the back end of the palate.  Neither of these fully clean up after themselves in this regard, but the funk that’s left behind is by no means unpleasant.

I’m looking forward to seeing how Bird of Prey does with a little age.  It will be joined by its pals Lustrum, Belle Royale, and Mad Bruin in the cellar and the next tasting will likely involve all four.

Gueuzerie Tilquin – Quetsche Tilquin

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Tilquin’s oude gueuze is a fairly available, mid-priced gueuze that is quite delicious.  Quetsche is a special release from the folks at Gueuzerie Tilquin that adds plums to the mix.  The label is boldly coloured in plum-like dress but the gueuze itself still, well, looks like gueuze.

The smell is still, for the most part, what you’d expect from a standard oude gueuze.  There is the slightest hint of plum in there but it is mostly the acidity and yeast character dominating the nose.  Strong oak notes as well, the plum comes across for me as a hard-to-place background sweetness.

Taking a sip and I am enveloped in a full-bodied gueuze experience, lots of oak and tartness, and natural and gentle sweetness and an acidic, dry finish.  The plums are in the background on the finish for me, and they are tart and dry like under-ripe plums.  You know the ones, where the pit is desert dry.

More than anything I feel like the addition of the plums bolsters the feel of this beer, bringing it well into full bodied territory for the style.  The beer is slightly puckering due to a combination of the sourness and the dryness.

This is a lot less fruit flavoured than I expected and I’m more than just okay with that, I think I’m pretty glad.  This is a superb gueuze!

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New Belgium Brewing – Le Terroir

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Le Terroir is a French term meaning “from the earth,” and is visually depicted on the bottle as what appears to be the water table (or an oil deposit).  It is also a dry hopped sour ale that New Belgium has been releasing annually since 2010.  It is unique and has been patiently created, spending between two and three years in wood barrels before being dry hopped with Amarillo and Cascade hops to put a different spin on the standard sour.

This beer has a fantastic smell thanks to this dry hopping; I was surprised by just how fruity and floral it was, much like a great IPA.  Tons of citrus smells, from orange to passion fruit to pineapple.  There is an undercurrent of tartness and lactic sourness, as to be expected, which is actually really quite complimentary.  It tastes like a cross between a sour ale and a bright and fruity IPA, and the combination is really pleasant – I am a huge fan.  The carbonation is quite strong and offers a tonic-like quality when combined with the barrel notes.  The finish is quite tonic-influenced in my opinion, likely in part due to the barrel oak in there and the big earthy hops.  The sour ale base is top-notch and actually reminds me of Cantillon gueuze in its dry acidity and great fruit and oak flavours.  The big hops addition is extremely bright and offers no counterpoint woodiness or any bitterness at all really – it’s just crisp and fresh and wonderful.

I wish I bought more than two but I’m glad this won’t be my last chance to drink the 2013.  This has definitely been added to my “find and buy every season” list.

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Here is my review from BeerAdvocate, where I gave it a 4.85 / 5  (almost my highest marks yet):

A: Bright golden orange with off-white head that dissipates to lacing.

S: Ooh! I knew it was dry hopped so I expected more hops than the average sour, but I didn’t expect this wonderful fruit bowl of orange, passion fruit, pineapple and apricot. Some floral too. The tart, lactic sourness flows below these fruits creating a surprisingly complimentary mix.

T: Good God. More perfect meshing of a sour base that I dare say reminds me of a Cantillon gueuze – big oak and dry acidity, great fruitiness – with just awesome hops additions that are bright and fresh and offer little to no drawbacks. If there’s any woodiness in the hops it’s meshing in perfectly with the oaked base, and the bitterness they are creating blends with the sour base to create a tonic-like dry finish.

M: Good carbonation which contributes to the tonic quality, the body evaporates off the tonque quickly but the flavour is longer lasting.

O: I’m blown away, I did not realize I would enjoy this so much. It’s like a really excellent sour beer and a really excellent IPA all in one, and the two halves combine to produce a beer greater than the sum of its parts!

 

Cantillon – Iris

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Iris is a unique beer for Cantillon, because it uses 100% barley malt.  Cantillon’s lambics, and lambics in general, are made up of a mixture of barley malt and wheat.  Another unique feature of Iris is the use of fresh dried hops for dry-hopping the beer.  Lambics use hops for their more ancient use in beer – their antibacterial quality.  Modern processes negate this need but lambics, being fermented openly with airborne yeasts in a largely uncontrolled manner, still benefit greatly from a healthy dose of hops to help prevent spoilage.  Older hops are used as they allow a higher quantity to be used without overdoing the flavour.  Iris, however is dry hopped (happens towards the end of the brewing process) with fresh hops for a more pronounced bitterness.  Iris does have many of the classic Cantillon features though: it is spontaneously fermented, bottle conditioned, and oak aged for two years.

A:  Iris appears a reddish gold, or an orange amber.  The head is small but fizzley, and crackles and pops its way into disappearance within a few seconds.

S: There is tart apple, plenty of funkiness and sourness, and lemon citrus.

T: Funky, sort of musty malt character, pretty light on the malts and with a citrus (lemon, and orange) hop kick that offers up some bitterness that really works in conjunction with the oak flavours imparted in the beer.  Finishes dry with an apple cider vinegar quality.

M: Gentle, fine carbonation and a light and crisp feel.

O: It is an interesting and very enjoyable beer, both unique and familiar at the same time.

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Storm Brewing – Flanders Red Ale

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Today I stopped by Storm Brewing, located in the industrial part of East Van, for a baby-growler (1L) of their Flanders ale that I had read via their Facebook page was in stock.  Having never actually been by the brewery, I was caught off-guard when I had to walk in through the loading doors on the side of the building and quite literally through the brewery to the small counter where growler fills could be had.  I also got to meet James, Mr. Storm himself, and profess my adoration for his Flanders and now-extinct 12 year aged Lambic.  They are the sours that got me into sour beers back in 2009 or so.

Storm’s beers are a little hard to come by because they aren’t bottled; you need to either go to an establishment with Storm brews on tap, or pick up a growler or keg from the brewery directly.  There are a handful of pubs and restaurants around Vancouver that feature Storm taps, but it isn’t exactly widespread.  For some inexplicable reason it took me this long to get to the brewery for a growler, and I’m really glad I get to have this at home now and, well, blog about it.

The beer pours a natural leather kind of crimson brown, with just a trace of head.  Smell is quite sour – I wouldn’t use tart to describe it, it’s proceeded directly to sour.  Some burnt toffee, weirdly enough.  Slight bit of fruit but not a lot.  It has a characteristic funky earthiness combined with the yeast aromas that is pretty common among great sour lambics.  Taste is fairly puckeringly sour – not over the top but it’s the main characteristic for sure.  Quite malty for the style and not much in the way of fruit flavour – I would peg it more along the lines of dates and figs, not cherries or berries.  It’s not sweet, though there’s enough to keep things in balance.  There is some heat as well – this is 11% ABV, surely the strongest Flanders I’ve ever had.

I’ve had enough incredible lambics now to know that this isn’t the end-all-be-all of sour ales, but it’s still completely amazing and I’m so impressed that it’s brewed so close to where I live.  James is a visionary and talented brewer, and I sure hope he continues to experiment with sours, especially now that they are more in style than ever.

Granville Island Brewing – Pucker Meister

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One of the more recent special releases under Granville Island’s ‘Black Notebook Series’ is this Berliner Weisse, a type of sour wheat beer originating from Germany.   GIB has been producing a flurry of these Notebook beers lately, no doubt thanks to brewmaster Vern’s wide-open schedule since the standard selection is now taken care of in Kelowna.  I haven’t been able to keep up with all of them, but this one I felt I needed to try because of my affinity for sour beers, as well as my spotty experiences with Berliner Weisse’s in particular.  I was under the impression the style just wasn’t for me after a couple lackluster experiences, but more recently I had Ale Industries’ take on the style and was a huge fan.  So having realized it’s not the style that I dislike, I picked up a bottle of Pucker Meister.

This stuff pours the palest yellow I think I’ve ever seen.  When the glass is filled very shallowly, it almost looks clear.  It is a translucent, milky straw colour.  It’s not just the colour that lacks intensity; the ABV is 2.8%.  This is actually more in line with traditional weisse’s which were never strong beers in terms of alcohol content.  Most breweries tend to kick up the strength when they recreate old beer styles these days, likely partly because craft beer consumers want more punch packed in their beer than a “standard beer”, and partly because consumers feel higher ABV’s justify the higher prices of craft beers.

The smell is, well, hardly present at all.  It is almost scentless, at least until it warms up in the glass a bit more.  What is there is a hint of milk or cream and some lemon tart.  A little bit of yellow hay in there as well.  Taking a sip yields a slightly sour start with more lemon and soaked straw- the flavours are mild though, mostly it is just crisp, slightly tart, and with a watered down milk texture.  This is not a powerhouse beer that you can use to assault your tastebuds with, but it’s quite pleasant.  If I didn’t have so many beers in my collection right now I’d buy it again – it’s not a must try perhaps, but I’m glad I did.  This is now my second favourite Berliner Weisse behind Ale Industries’, though I’ve only had four.

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Ale Industries – East Bayliner Weisse

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This is California’s Ale Industries take on the Berliner Weisse, a German wheat beer with a characteristic sour flavour.  It was once very popular but has since nearly disappeared – fortunately, the booming craft beer industry has helped bring it back a little more as well.  It is typically a pretty low ABV beer; this particular one comes in at 4.5%.  Ale Industries is a small craft brewery in Northern California with limited availability – it’s gone as far north as Oregon at this point but even there it is hard to find.  From the website, it appears they have a bit of a penchant for sour ales and interesting, barrel aged brews.

The East Bayliner Weisse is brewed with two infamous yeast strings:  Brettanomyces and Lactobacillus.  Both these constituents tend to provide a sour flavour, the brett tending to give a ‘barnyard’ quality while the lactic acid adds to the acidity of the brew.  These ingredients need to be exercised with great care if the right balance is to be achieved in the end result.

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The beer pours a slightly hazy straw-orange colour.  The brettanomyces and lactobacillus yeasts are dominant in the smell, along with oranges, apricots and bread.  Taking a sip, my first reaction is being pleased by the crisp and smooth mouthfeel with initial onset of gentle puckering sour and wine-like acidity… similar to what I’d expect in a nice gueuze.  The taste then moves on to something different, something new to me – lots of orange fruit, peach, some citrus as well.  The tail end is something like sour lemon.

After being disappointed by a couple German-style sours recently I was pleasantly surprised by this bottle – it has better balance than a lot of ‘funky’ beers, albeit slightly simple.  The sourness does not have any displeasing notes – the ‘funk’ isn’t coming across as gym socks or anything like that, as it sometimes can.

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Cantillon – Kriek 100% Lambic Bio

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Today, the 14th of September 2013, has been badged ‘Sour Beer Day’, likely to coincide with Cantillon’s annual Zwanze Day.  On Zwanze Day, very limited edition Cantillon bottlings are tapped at select pubs worldwide.  In honour of Zwanze Day, I have cracked a bottle of Cantillon Kriek that I had in the cellar.  Unfortunately, I lacked the commitment to purchase tickets to Vancouver’s first Zwanze Day happening at The Alibi Room.

Kriek is a fairly popular style of fruit lambic made with sour cherries.  Most breweries who specialize in lambics also do a kriek of their own, Cantillon is simply one of the most well respected.  In my experience, they tend to be sweeter than they are sour, fizzy carbonation, almost like a cherry soda.  I had not previously had Cantillon’s version, though.  This particular bottle was bottled in December, 2011 putting it at nearly 2 years cellared.

Cantillon’s kriek pours a deep red with white head that appears pink due to the liquid below.  It is a darker hue than the Rose from my memory.  The smell is quite tart and acidic with a sweetness that comes across as something like a cherry-infused vinegar.  Taking a sip results in a puckeringly sweet-sour start, like sour candy.  This initial hit eases into a smooth, almost creamy gentle cherry flavour, still sour but more balanced.  The finish is dry, though not as dry as most Cantillon offerings.  This is the most sour Cantillon I’ve had to date, and for me that is a great thing.  I would imagine that those who are seeking a more neutral, balanced kriek may find this too sour for their tastes though.

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