“Sour beers will never become the pale ales of craft brewing,” opined Vinny Cilurzo, owner of Russian River Brewing Company, in 2010. His quote is from a New York Times article titled, “Sour Beer Is Risky Business, Starting With the Name.”
Russian River, based in Santa Rosa, California, is among the elite of United States’ swelling sour-beer vanguard. Its members, influenced by the centuries-old techniques of Belgium’s Cantillon and other Traditionalists of Tart, are boundary-busting, bacteria-adoring breweries on a wild pursuit to produce sours—an intriguing, varied, and flavor-expansive group of beers—that are both complex and pleasing to palates. These beermakers, most of all, yearn to stand atop our planet’s highest precipice and shout, “By the Power of Grayskull! I HAVE THE SOUR!”
While I agree with Cilurzo’s past statement—it’s tough to envision an abstruse ale like Consecration, Russian’s excellent sour aged in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels with black currants, two bacteria (Lactobacillus and Pediococcus), and Brettanomyces yeast, ever reaching Sierra Nevada Pale Ale’s level of ubiquity—the country continues to experience a sour upswing that few would’ve probably predicted in 2010. A year before the aforementioned Times article was published, in 2009, brewers entered 119 sours in four categories at the Great American Beer Festival: Belgian-Style Lambic or Sour Ale, American-Style Sour Ale, German-Style Sour Ale, and Wood- and Barrel-Aged Sour Beer. At last year’s event? 261.
As the number of sours made in the U.S. has increased–NPR just published a story on the popularity of kettle-soured beers last week–more drinkers are also asking for them. Crimson Krier-Glading, partner and manager of Mission Dolores in Park Slope, has noticed an increased demand by inquisitive beerloons, most notably for the gose, a German style brewed with wheat and inoculated with Lactobacillus to acquire its trademark tartness.
Mission is one of three brother-bonded bars in the borough–Carroll Garden’s Bar Great Harry and Park Slope’s The Owl Farm are the others–that collectively launched Brooklyn Sour Beer Fest yesterday. According to its website, during the month of September, “Participating bars will pour a range of [sour] beers … but during their main 10 day slot they’ll pull out all the stops with six draft lines dedicated to specific styles of sour beer.”
The six categories are:
Spontaneously Fermented (gueuze, lambics)
Lactobacillus Soured (berlinerweiss, gose)
Barrel Soured (flemish reds and the like)
Mixed Fermentation (most american wild ales)
100% Brettanomyces Fermented
Oddities (sour beers that fit no category at all)
We briefly chatted with Krier-Glading, as well as Steven Baird, partner and manager of Owl Farm, and Jon Tannen, Bar Harry’s manager, to learn more.
Niko Krommydas: So how did you come up with the idea?
Crimson Krier-Glading: Steven and I realized that we were planning overlapping sour-beer events, so instead of cancelling one or competing with each other we thought it could be fun to join forces and turn it into a multi-bar, monthlong festival. Asking Jon and Bar Great Harry to participate was a no-brainer.
Steven Baird: We thought it would be cool to try and make it a real thing. We figure we can work out the kinks this year and lay the groundwork for a larger fest in the future. If all goes well and there’s enough interest, we’ll ask other great beer bars in the borough to join us.
NK: What makes BSBF different from pouring a few sours simultaneously, which all three bars already do pretty regularly?
CKG: We’re treating this as a celebration of sours. We all do normally pour a lot of sour beers, but usually we only have two or three up at once. But here we’ll be pouring several across the spectrum and each bar’ll have their own separate week where all of the major sour styles will be represented. We really hope people come in a few times and explore them all.
SB: We’re also envisioning this as a very educational experience. Most people aren’t aware that there’s a whole world of sour beers out there. Often people walk in the bar and say, “I’ll have a sour beer.” Then when we ask them what kind of sour beer they’d like they’re surprised there are choices. When we first started working in the beer world people would come into the bar and say, “I’ll have an ale.” Now most people now that ale is a very broad category, and I’d like to head that direction with sour beers.
NK: Do you remember the first sour you ever drank?
SB: My first was at a bar called The Hop Leaf in Chicago about 13 years ago. It was Duchesse de Bourgogne. First time I realized that there was a whole different world of beer.
Jon Tannen: The first sour I ever tried was Rodenbach. I couldn’t believe that it was intended to taste this way, let alone that it was even considered a beer. Yet something kept pulling me back to it. I still think Rodenbach is a great gateway sour.
CKG: I can’t honestly remember the first sour beer I had. I was really into Belgian beers in the early 2000s and discovered gueuzes, Flanders reds, and oud bruins at the time. They were unreal; so different than what I had thought of as “beer.” But they were impossible to find. When Harry first opened, my husband and I begged the owners to find and buy a case of Lindemans Cuvèe Renè just so we could try it and cross off another entry from Michael Jackson’s Ultimate Beer book. It’s still a favorite of ours: bracingly sour, but it has that crazy nose and that “horse blanket” funk.
NK: So how will BSBF work?
CKG: Each bar is going to pour a few sours all month long, then during the 10-day feature spot each’ll have up to six taps of varying styles and probably some bottle pours. All pay as you go.
SB: There’s no set number of kegs, so we’ll all sell as much as we can.
CKG: To our customers: don’t worry we won’t run out of beer; we’ve all been hoarding!
NK: What’s the order of 10-day spots?
CKG: Mission is first, or now, then Owl. Harry finishes the month up.
NK: And these aren’t just American sours?
SB: Right. We’ll have sours from Belgium to Brooklyn, traditional to new-school and everything in between.
NK: Any specific sours you’re looking forward to?
SB: On the bottle side I’m looking forward to Del Ducato Brett Peat Daydram, a bizarre blend of a smoked barleywine and a Brettanomyces-fermented sour. On the keg side I have a Bear Republic bourbon barrel-aged Tartare Rouge that’s been in my cellar for a while. I’m also excited about a 2012 Del Borgo Caos.
CKG: Alvinne Phi “Demi.” Can’t wait!
JT: I just got word that we’ll have a keg of Artista Zynergia: Oudilis, which is a blend of a two-year-old Lambic brewed by Hanssens in Belgium blended with a Berliner weisse from O.E.C brewery in Connecticut. O.E.C. then takes the blend and ages it in French Chardonnay barrels for eight months. It’s gonna be awesome to try that one.
Find out which sours Mission Dolores, Great Bar Harry, and The Owl Farm will be serving all month long at brooklynsourbeerfest.com.