Sour beers… how I love them. I’ve never been big on drinking (or brewing) sweet beers. Aside from the occasional Christmas beer or Russian Imperial Stout, I tend to gravitate towards the dryer side of beer. And then there are sour beers.
What I described the other day to someone as “Beer 301,” sour beer is a small niche in the craft beer world full of wild yeast, complex bacteria and spontaneous fermentations. And while “wet mildew,” “horse blanket,” and “rotten cherry pie” and not desired tasting notes to the everyday beer-drinker’s palate, they were just the types of flavors we were looking for at this past weekend’s April Sours event at Jimmy’s No. 43
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April Sours was basically a crash course in wild beers. From Brussel’s quintessential Brasserie Cantillon Brouwerij to American wild beer forunners Allagash and Jolly Pumpkin, five countries and over two dozen beers were represented (alongside much needed snack bites from Jimmy’s Kitchen.) The beers ranged from delicate and inviting Montegioco Quarta Runa – a peach beer with subtle sour notes – to the abrasively puckerish Hanssens Oud Geueze.
The best offerings fell somewhere in between. Our favorite was Cantillon’s Cuvee des Champions, an oak-aged, unblended lambic dry-hopped with Styrian Goldings. While its subtle aromas of mint and black pepper were not translated to the palate, the oak and hops added a nice complexity to the acidic backbone of unripened raspberries, lemon rind and wet spices. Another favorite was the BFM Abbaye de Saint Bon Chien Grand Cru Edition. BFM has been hit or miss with me lately as a lot of my bottles have been completely lacking in carbonation but the Grand Cru – their flagship beer – never disappoints. Less sour than the Cantillons, the Abbaye de Saint Bon Chien is incredibly vinous with lot of green grape, sour apple and pear notes. There is a subtle spice and a bit of caramel as well but the dominant player is sour fruits. If you have a refined wine drinker that you are looking to convert, this may be the bottle to do it.
The American showings were equally as strong although less assertive in their acidity. Our favorite – in part due to its balanced level of tartness – was the Allagash Vrienden, a limited collaboration brew with Colorado’s New Belgium Brewery. Brewed with wild yeasts from both breweries, Dandelions greens and elderberries, Vrienden was slightly acidic, mildly earthy, and filled with mango and papaya notes. Also notable was Jolly Pumpkins La Roja, an oak-aged and blended Flanders Red ale that exhibited the most balanced complexity I’ve tasted in a Jolly Pumpkin beer.
We were sad that a few of the listed beers did not show up at the event (at least not while we were there) as we were looking forward to trying some of the more obscure offerings such as Hanssens Experimental Raspberry and De Dolle Oerbier Reserva as well as revisiting some old favorites such as the Montegioco Bran Reserva. But with a list of this magnitude, our disappointment was quickly distinguished with another glass of the Cuvee des Champions.
If you missed April Sours then be sure to join Jimmy’s no. 43 on April 28th as they celebrate the 30th anniversary of Belgian beer importers Vanberg & DeWulf.