Serious Eats: Drinks

April Sours: A Celebration of Tart Beers

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Hopfenstark Rauch Saison and Le Framboise [Photographs: Maggie Hoffman]

Beer lovers gathered this weekend at Jimmy's No. 43 in NY for a taste of sour beers from around the world. In addition to a few top-notch Belgian lambics, we also had a chance to taste tart offerings from German, Italian, American, and Swiss breweries. Some of them tasted sparkling lemonade, some like apple cider vinegar, and some like champagne with gobs of fresh fruit mixed in. It's a range of flavors that are very new and unfamiliar to many casual beer drinkers, but of course some of these beer styles have been around for hundreds of years.

We started with the beers on tap, including two from Hopfenstark in Quebec. Their Framboise was light and crisp, a bright beer with a delicately woody bitterness, while their Rauch Saison was rich with caramel flavors, like a tart bananas foster, with just a little toast.

The Vrienden from Allagash offered ripe mango and strawberry-banana notes along with a delicate sourness from Allagash's brettanomyces and lactobacillus from collaborators New Belgium Brewing. Apparently elderberries and dandelion greens were used in this beer as well. Can't say I've ever seen that before!

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Jolly Pumpkin's sour stout, Madrugada Obscura, gave us a peek at the darker side of sours. It's smoky and tart, with char up front and sourness on the finish.

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Bottles from Italy weren't to be missed: the Quarta Runa from Birrificio Montegioco is brewed with peaches, but isn't a sweet fruity beer. Instead, it's like a tart, fresh, Champagne, with light peach-skin perfume. We also enjoyed the focused balsamic-like tartness of Panil Barriquée, a traditionally made Sour Red that spends three months in cognac barrels.

The Leipziger Gose from Germany made us lament that we don't see this style more often. Why aren't more breweries making this lactic sour beer style, brewed with some wheat and some barley as well as salted water? It's the perfect refreshment on a hot day, if you can find it.

All these sour beers were excellent, but we're still getting to our favorites.

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We weren't that familiar with sour Swiss beer before this event, but the Abbaye De Saint Bon-Chien from Brasserie Des Franches-Montagnes knocked our socks off. It's smooth and tart, with a hint of almond and tart sour cherries, and a full oaky richness. This bottle is definitely on our beer-shopping list now. (We hear they sell it at Whole Foods.)

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It's hard to beat the Belgians at the fruit beer game, and Cantillon's Rosé de Gambrinus (a lambic brewed with raspberries) is famous for good reason. It has a floral scent, with tart lemon rind and hibiscus notes, a focused, sour fruity flavor that smacks you in the mouth.

Drei Fonteinen's Schaerbeekse Kriek, made with rare tart cherries (pits and all) is a true treat, with its intense pop of cherry-vinegary flavor. We went back for a second pour.

Are you into sours? Have you tried these beers?

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