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[Ed. Note–Having pulled off an upset against make it snow in fantasy football this past weekend, OSZ won the privilege of penning this column this week. Well, it’s either that or snow wanted a week off. Either way, that’s what you get for relying on Sam Bradford to see you through.]
I live in Portland, where you can’t trip over your dick without falling on a delicious beer. Even our sizable homeless population hang around drinking the Widmer Hefeweizen’s that infest our homes. This is the land of micro brewers–ones that are strictly local, some that you might see if you’re lucky, and others that no matter where you are, you can’t avoid. Some of our grocery stores are better than some bottle shops, and some of our bottle shops should probably be considered brothels for how much they turn you on. It’s an embarrassment of riches.
Portland is also a town full of every flavor and shade of pretentious asshole. Most of this town can’t bust a nut without the stimulation of continually telling their sex partner how they’re Doing It Wrong. This can be especially prevalent in our beer culture–oh, you’ve never tried [super obscure limited release from tiny brewery]? Oh, you like [style that’s not a DIPA]? Oh, you can’t handle [overly ridiculous IBU number brew]? Pfft. You’re not a real beer drinker.
I am not a dogmatic beer drinker. I hardly buy six packs, mostly because it’s so easy to put together a smattering of singles of beers I know nothing about and try a whole bunch of things. That is why I love this town’s beer culture–sure, I could find many universally regarded awesome beers, but I can also just try something based on the label or see some style I’ve never heard of or, hell, just have a $2 Rainier with my burger. It’s all there. To stick to just one style or brewer or flavor would be like getting married in college. I would miss out on so much.
My favorite random discoveries have often involved sour beers. One of our tiny restaurants around here had Monk’s Cafe, a Flemish red, on tap and that mix of fruit and sour and dark beer tastes really appealed to me. Deschutes’ Dissident, a less-distributed special release, was in a similar style, but really blew my mind, and then I had a Commons Farmhouse, which was more of a straight Saison, and the chase was on.
Sour styles have, for better and for worse, come out more and more often in the last couple of years. I’ve been able to easily find some of the classics, like Duchesse De Bourgogne, Cuvee de Jacobins, and Petrus Aged Red, but also have any number of new contenders, like a number of Gose varieties, anything Flanders or sour by pFriem out of Hood River, and a bunch of different special releases–the single taste of Goose Island Halia convinced me to buy and save a quite expensive bottle of it.
A couple of years ago, I found a bottle of Deschutes Green Monster and it was a trip. This was a true wild sour, and upon opening the bottle, I was met with the smell of very tart green apples and fresh yeast. As a baker, I’ve used fresh compressed yeast (pictured at top) in making pastries before, and it has a distinct funk and bite to its odor. As a baking yeast, it works fast and is most certainly alive. I like when I get to have it around, because it is so distinct, and always reminds me of bread baking. Green Monster was like that, but plus that tart fruit flavor, a bit of an amber ale piece, and some definite wine barrel wood. It was by far the most interesting and challenging beer I’ve had, and I really wish I still had a bottle of it.
There’s a local brewpub that only makes sour aged beers, usually all based around various fruit fermentations. They are not really from any one heritage or style, and can range from universally tasty, to somewhat sweet, and to so tart they are challenging. Their bottles are perfect for aging for a number of years to let the flavors mature and take some of the edge off, but heading down to the pub to see what they’ve freshly tapped is always a great adventure. It won’t be beer as you know it, and it will be worth it.
This past week, I opened a beer I recently nabbed in a special purchase, an Almanac Farm to Barrel Citrus. The description on the bottle says it combines a sour blonde with Buddha’s Hand Citron, Yuzu, Blood Oranges, and that it is aged in wine barrels (7% ABV and was $12.50 for the bottle). The initial aroma when I opened it was that sharp fresh yeast aroma I so enjoy; real sharp and a distinct sour, so this was clearly not some half hearted Saison. The pour was slightly cloudy with a very active but thin head. It was very effervescent and really prickled the roof of the mouth, which was reinforced by the sharp and bright flavors that go along when the selected citrus inputs combine with a sour blonde. I have not had Buddha’s Hand, but I know citron and Yuzu flavors, which are not quite pure lemon tartness, but more in that realm than that of an orange. I can’t say I picked up any single one citrus flavor, nor could I pick out the blood orange exactly, but put it all together with a slight wine barrel edge and it rounds out like a really fine white wine, in a sense. I think that works in its favor–rather than tasting like a beer spiked with fruit flavor, it tastes like something completely separate, an intense and complex sour beer. I like it, and recommend it for those who enjoy the bolder sour styles.
NSZ says: It cured my scurvy, but I didn’t pass out after just one. 5/10.