Monday, February 11, 2013


We're in the midst of San Francisco Beer Week here in, uh, San Francisco, and Beer Samizdat decided to forgo the annual opening night bacchanal this past Friday in favor of another, later, event that had received some revelatory reviews the past couple years: SOUR SUNDAY. I did my best to annoy my wife as much as possible this week by only referring to Sunday, the day, as "Sour Sunday", so happy and anticipatory was I for this blessed event. It took place in Berkeley at two venues over the course of a few hours - Triple Rock Brewery, which had all the foreign stuff (Cantillon and other rarities, etc.) and Jupiter, which was all American brewers, virtually all of them local. You got 8 tickets/tastes for your $30, and once we settled into a table at 11:30am at Jupiter, we totally forgot all about the plan to bounce back between both venues, and decided to go 'Merican all the way. USA!

This is absolutely one of the great beer events of our time. Yeah, I say that as a guy who scored a table and got to recline in the sun drinking nine amazing beers in the 'lil glass you see here - unlike the many who arrived after we did, and had to stand around praying for a table. But mein gott, what a lineup! The American venue had 31 beers, many of which were either brewed for Beer Week or in very small quantities, so it's the sorta thing where if you don't drink it here, you're just not drinking it (which is why I forced my drunk-averse carcass to the event). There were 31 stations with little kegs of sour beer, which really ranged from simple low-alcohol saisons, all the way to the truly bacteria-infested, puckering sours.

It does feel nice to have mastered the sour, somewhat. What was once an experience I approached with trepidation - a sour beer! - is really now just another beer. Even the beer that was the most intensely puckering and vinegar-like, BLACK DIAMOND's "Oudest Trick in the Book V.2.0", was a delight to savor and swirl. Not one of the nine I tried was a bad beer or really even mediocre. I passed on the 4 Russian River beers that were being poured - Temptation, Supplication, Consecration and Sanctification - in favor of the weird, the one-time and the unique:

HIGH WATER BREWING - "Le Petit Diablotin"
BEAR REPUBLIC - "Cuvee De Bubba"
BROUWERIJ WEST - "Dog Ate My Homework"
IRON SPRINGS BREWERY - "Chardonnay Apricot Rye"
ALMANAC BEER CO. - "Farmer's Reserve #1"
ALMANAC BEER CO. - "Farmer's Reserve #2"
BLACK DIAMOND - "Oudest Trick In The Book V.2.0"

There was one clear winner for me that absolutely knocked me for a loop - Bear Republic's "Cuvee De Bubba", described as a "spontaneous wild fermented ale aged in oak barrels". So amazingly flavorful. I'm thinking of starting a Kickstarter campaign to get these guys to bottle this thing. Heretic Brewing's "Miscreant", a barrel-aged dark sour (pictured above), was mindblowing as well; Almanac's "Farmer's Reserve #1", a saison aged in wine barrels with plums, cabernet and concord & muscat grapes, took the bronze and was fantastic and complex. As I understand it, this actually is available in bottles, starting this week.

The folks that put this on did a terrific job keeping it manageable and enjoyable for all attendees, and I'm pretty sure this'll become an annual thing for me from this point forward. It also may help herald the pseudo-mainstreaming of sour ale, which I would have called redonkulous a few years ago, yet given its popularity of late, and the number of American brewers who are experimenting with wild yeasts and barrels, it seems to be a welcome trend that I think we can probably stop calling a trend.


Mark said...

I'm shocked at how well received sour beers are by beer neophytes. I've brought several to general bottle shares (which are attended by varying levels of beer nerdery, usually on the lower, non-nerdy end) and been surprised at how quickly people respond to these. Then again, it's hard not to like something like Supplication! Personally, I've found sours to be an acquired taste (and now that I've acquired it, I'm loving it), but wine people seem to gravitate to sours quickly (perhaps because of all the wine barrel aging that happens on a lot of these).

troymccluresf said...

That's surprised me, too, but it makes some sense in that the vinegar-like qualities are more familiar to the general public, which pays off when people think they just plain don't like "beer."