It never really crossed my mind to try sour ales. They sounded gross. I’m not a fan of fruity beers, but part of my New Year’s resolution this year was to expand my beer tasting palate and education so I can enjoy and appreciate things other than IPA, IPA, IPA, porters, and stouts. I’m still a hophead, don’t get me wrong, but I tried my first sour beer and was pleasantly surprised. I went into it with an attitude that it’s not supposed to taste like anything I’ve ever had before. The Belgians make great Flanders Red Ales and Lambic beers from the Senne River Valley, so I put my trust in them and went for the Duchesse to take my sour ale virginity… and it’s cherry flavored (ok, I know… inappropriate but I couldn’t resist)
Click here to check out what Beer Advocate has to say on the subject. I don’t know enough about lambic style ales to comment too much on it, but I’ll say that you really should go there if you want to try something new. I like it. I’ve had it three times now and I will have it again.
Lambics are tart and a little sweet. They don’t have the traditional “beer taste.” They are created with spontaneous fermentation which incorporates wild yeast compared to the carefully cultivated brewers yeast used in most other types of beers. The yeast actually comes from the air, and is what is mainly responsible for the unique taste. The yeast are unique because they are from the Senne River Valley in Belgium. Where american craft brewers get this wild yeast – I do not know. Aged hops are also used instead of fresh hops taking away some of the edgy bitterness we love in IPAs. Lambics are aged in port or sherry wine wood casks for months to years. Bacteria in the wood also contributes to the flavor. Another style of lambic is called Gueuze, which is next on my list to try. Gueuzes are blends of lambics from different casks. The fruity notes in Lambics are used to balance out the sour taste, and plus the sugar in the fruit gives the yeast something else to eat.
So I just said that the Duchesse is a Flanders Red. It’s different than a Lambic because it was aged in a oak barrels, usually used for wine in the Tuscany region. They also use darker Vienna(red) malts. The Duchesse is awesome tasting, but I wouldn’t want to drink more than one in a sitting – not yet anyway. It boasts several layers of flavors, most notably the sour cherries.
This allows me to digress to the point of this post.
Dissident – characterized by departure from accepted beliefs or standards.
I have always been a huge fan of Deschutes Brewery, but after visiting the brewery in Bend, Oregon in July, I became an even bigger fan. For example, they have lots of dried hop flowers. lots and lots. Forget the pellets. I also learned about some of their annual limited release beers – most notably – The Abyss(Imperial Stout. YES) and The Dissident.
The Dissident comes out once a year. It’s one of their very special beers, so I was excited to get my hands on a few bottles. The aroma of the beer was so good and made my mouth water when I opened the cap. I love sour candy, so sour beer is kind of like candy and it makes you pucker up just a little bit.
So what about that wild yeast from the Senne Valley? All I could find was that they use brettanomyces yeast and lactobacillus (a facultative aerobe bacteria, found in our normal microbiota and also used to ferment a lot of different foods we love like yogurt, cheese, pickles, and also beer and wine) Hey, my microbiology class actually can apply to real life things… whoda thunk? Lactobacillus is also used to make heavenly milk stouts (I am loving Lefthand Brewery’s Milk Stout). Brettanomyces is also used in wine fermentation, and takes longer. The Dissident is fermented in pinot and cab barrels, and also incorporate that great sour cherry flavor.
So. I got one to taste, and one to age.
It wasn’t quite as sour as the Duchesse, and it was more drinkable simply because it wasn’t quite as sour. That could be due to the different yeast. If you can find it, try it. I wonder what the bottle I’m saving will taste like, and how long I’ll be able to save it. The goal is 2 years.
Ok, enough beer geekiness. Now for my first off-season race (haha) – Colorado Cyclocross State Champs. I rode for the first time in 2 weeks yesterday. I spent the last week running about 5 miles a day which was a refreshing change. Let’s see how it goes today – Stale? Tired? Motivation? Do I have any competitive mojo left in me after the ball busting 360 mile stage race in Brasil that ended just 2 weeks ago?