Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Avery Sour Beer Fest

A week or so ago I was honored enough to be able to attend an event populated by an elite group of beer aficionados and 30 of the best breweries in the U.S. One of the first of its kind anywhere in North America and hosted by Avery Brewing Company in Boulder, the Inaugural Sour Beer Fest was a wonderful event even though all of the beers were spoiled. Sour beers, traditionally Belgian ales, use strains of bacteria such as pediococcus and lactobacillus and sometimes wild yeasts to intentionally sour the beer which adds a host of complex flavors and aromas that are sometimes a serious affront to one’s senses. I’ve been brewing beer at home on and off for many years now, and I’ve had my fair share of unintentionally soured disasters that end up smelling like someone kicked a hole in the side of a rotting pig carcass. To steal a quote from a brewmaster friend of mine: “If you fuck up a beer, call it a Belgian.” It’s easy to see where he’s coming from especially since some of the common descriptors used for the aromas and flavors for the sour ales are horsey, barnyard and baby poop. However, on that fine Saturday afternoon there were over 50 examples of sour ales from breweries across America, and a few of the have got the art of blending off flavors down to a science.

Even though all attendees were to receive 20, 2oz. sample pours, the opportunity to mingle with the brewers and creators of many of the beers on display and discussing their sometimes beautiful complexity with 100 or so of the strangest people around made slugging 20 tasters down in four hours nearly impossible. The pictures are scans of the ales that were present along with a checklist of the beers the guys that I went to the festival with tried. A “D” denotes those ales that were tried by yours-truly, “A” marks the ones that The Hippy tasted, and the checkmarks are for the selections downed by the incomparable Klaver…as far as we can remember. The taps were arranged alphabetically by brewery making it difficult to go in with a specific tasting strategy. So we just putzed around sort of randomly grabbing samples as we moseyed about the brewery.

There were some clear winners in the group, which implies that there were also some clear losers. Surprisingly, Deschuttes’ soured Black Butte Porter was on the latter list even though I would normally consider the non-soured version to be one of the best porters brewed today. Similarly, Victory’s Wild Devil wasn’t the best even though the Hop Devil IPA is beautiful otherwise. However, they both were at least bearable. I did try one Flanders Red that tasted and smelled like somebody had wrung-out Andy Dufresne’s clothes into a glass immediately after he escaped from Shawshank…and then puked in it. Not good…at all. The vast majority of other beers that I tried were quite interesting. All of the Berliner-Wiesses were well-balanced and refreshingly light. Avery’s Sui Generis was an incredible blend of 10 beers then aged in an oak barrel, and the Oude Tart from The Bruery was an excellent example of a Flemmish Red, delightfully tart and complex. But the clear reigning champ in the sour beer arena in the U.S. has to be The Russian River Brewery. Every one of their beers was perfectly balanced between sour and non-sour notes, and The Temptation is the only beer that I tried more than once. (My mouth is watering as I write this.) As a testament to how well they craft their beers, a friend of mine attended the festival with us without ever having tasted a sour beer before, and, despite having difficulty appreciating some of the other ales, those done by The Russian River were his choice for best-of-show. There is just something that they do right in this class that leaves all other American sour brewers trying to play catch-up.

All-in-all it was a nearly perfect day. I say nearly perfect because The Hippy and I decided, rather stupidly, to try to conquer the ghost-pepper-sauce hot wing challenge at Oskar Blues Brewery the night before. It was a dismal failure on so many levels that I don’t know where to begin. It didn’t help that The Hippy called the chef a pussy. Let’s just say that the bathroom at the BMW dealership next door to Avery “suffered” due to its proximity the next day. Other than having dissolved my guts with the hottest pepper on the planet and the whole burning anus thing, the Inaugural Sour Beer Fest was excellent. I’m certain everyone in attendance would agree.

Cheers and funky, sour beers!


The Hippy said...

You know, I'm beginning to rethink the strategy of calling chef's 'pussy' before embarking on their gourmet competitions. I'm not sure it was a BMW dealer either - I remember Porsche's, but it was all a little hazy, my ass cheeks were clenched like Ditka's jowls, and I had steam coming out of my left trouser leg. The sour's were awesome though.

Klaver said...

Very fine summary of the day, D! We definitely will be getting tickets again for next year. Might I suggest you two eat something a little more innocuous the night before - like buttered bread with a side of applesauce - instead of something requires you to even consider covering your anus with yogurt.