Corks, Kegs and Commentary

Events, news and musings from the crew at Hayden Beverage Company. Information on beer, wine and events in the state of Idaho

Oh Sour My Sour

Brian Golden - Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Most people, at the mere sight of words like Pediococcus and Lactobacillus, go running for the Clorox bleach and rubber gloves.  That is especially true of most commercial brewers, who associate these terms with infection and poor sanitation. But not Eric Salazar, who heads up the wood beer program for Colorado's New Belgium Brewing Company.  He depends on these invasive bacteria strains to develop sour beers crafted in the style of Belgium's famous Roddenbach Brewery, the undisputed heavyweight champ of wood aged sour beer.  Having met Eric and learned his love for the sour, I am even inclined to believe he hosts bbq's and ice cream socials for these little critters...

Eric and several other members of the New Belgium crew came to Boise last week to host a series of blending seminars and dinners, all designed to educate beer lovers and preach the virtues of wood borne bacteria and the resulting sour beer.  They were incredibly informative and well designed, and I for one greatly appreciate Eric taking the time to shine a spotlight on this unique beer style.

Generally speaking, the New Belgium Wood Beer Program, with the "La Folie" series as its flagship, uses a series of giant wood casks, known as foudres (pronounced "food-er") that have been inoculated with these bacteria strains.  The vessels, the largest of which are 225 hectolitres (about 5000 gallons), are filled with freshly brewed beer that is allowed to rest and mature for up to two years.  The bacteria goes to work, creating lactic acid and the distinct sourness that is essential to the style.  Along the way Eric and his team sample and track the development of flavors in each foeder, and ultimately blend their creations from several or even all of the foeders in their arsenal.  The bacteria that lives in the wood, with the occasional assist of wild yeast strains such as Brettanomyces, produces a finished product unlike anything you have likely tasted.

Sour beer, at its finest, is sour.  And it is so much more.  The interaction between fresh beer and cultivated bacteria creates an undeniable tang, and yet somehow allows so many unique characteristics to shine through.  The bracing acidity is balanced by toast and malt and traces of sweetness, and the resulting experience is incredibly unique. 

The moral of the story is: try one.  Hoist a La Folie or one of its sour brethren, and see what you think.  It might not be for you, but it just might be the next chapter in your love for craft beer. 

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