A Rasberry Encore: Fruit Beer is Still a Beautiful Thing (Especially When It’s Funky)

Last year I wrote an article about raspberry beer. One of it’s main goals was to try to debunk some of the stigma surrounding fruit beer. My main argument was centered around the fact that although mass produced fruit infused beer is generally awful and marketed towards people who don’t actually like beer, fruit (and other ingredients) has been used to “spice” beer for a very long time, and are quite fantastic when done well. It was one of my more successful articles; you can read it here.

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As my beergeekdom expands, so does my experience, and my palate. When I wrote this last article, I wasn’t familiar with sours quite in the same way that I am now, especially Lambics and barrel aged blends. There were some I liked, and some I didn’t, but I was uncertain as to why. By now having sampled many funky sours, and by reading about how various bacteria and wild yeasts affect beer, I have a (somewhat) better understand of what I’m drinking. I think the more you understand what you are drinking, the more you can ascertain what you like verses what you dislike. I should also point out that the sour beer world is very, very complicated, with so much to learn and understand – I’m still only starting to scratch the surface at this point.

IMG_20140703_103219I like sour, but I LOVE funk. And no, I’m not talking about music, but rather I’m referring to the interesting yet bizarre aromatic flavour by-products that Lambic, barrel aged, and wild yeast spiked beers tend to produce. That’s not to say that I can’t dig a Berliner Weiss (German sour wheat Beer), or an overly sour Saison (Belgian Farmhouse ale), but when I comes to wild beers, it’s not always the sourness I pine after, but rather the funkyness that often comes with “infected” beer. The sourness for me, is kind of along for the ride a lot of the time. These funky flavours are often described as “dusty barnyard” or “horseblanket,” and although that sounds disgusting, I can assure you that these flavours are deliciously complex. “Funky” is also an extremely broad term, and depending on who’s talking about it, it can also describe the dank, woody oak complexities found in these beers as well. They can often be compared to wine, and not so much because they share flavour profiles (although some can), but rather because they are far more unpredictable and can vary a lot from batch to batch.

Again, I quite like “sour,” more and more each day actually, but I can still have a bit of trouble with sour beers when they are incredibly acidic (partially to do with my acid reflux problems). However, that will likely change with time and experience. Take an IPA for example; many people love the fruity, floral, aromatic flavours that come from hops, but they don’t particularly enjoy the bitterness. I for one, love ALL aspects of the mighty hop, including the intense palate destroying bitterness. Perhaps one day I’ll get there with over the top sourness – time will tell. So that’s that, let’s move on. For this year’s raspberry beer edition, I’m stepping it up a notch and (hopefully) getting more funky.

Although sharing one very important ingredient – raspberries – the following four beers differ a lot in style and will likely differ a lot in flavour profile as well. That being said, all of these beers have spent time in an oak barrel, and should land somewhere on the funky-sour spectrum; some far more than others (I’m looking at you, Cantillon!). There are two examples from Quebec, and two from Belgium. Let’s crack ’em open!

Boon Framboise – Brouwerij Boon

IMG_20140513_021051(1)Boon Framboise is a raspberry Lambic from Brouwerij Boon, which is owned and run by Frank Boon, someone who is largely responsible for keeping the Lambic beer style alive during the “beer dark ages” of the later half of the 20th century.  It pours out a deep burgandy red colour, with a bone-white head. It’s aromas consist mainly of acidic raspberry juice, freshly squeezed berries, bile, and some cherries. I don’t really get much in the area of oak, or any dusty funk attributes. It’s not overly complex in any way, but still inviting. It also smells like it could be a bit sweet (this scares me).

Phew! It’s far more dry than expected from what the nose let on. It is quite tart actually, sour even. It’s nice and raspberry forward, with some cherries in the background. Like the nose, there are not much, if any, barrel flavours or brett (wild yeast) characteristics. It actually  reminds me a bit of Dieu du Ciel’s Solstice D’été (Raspberry Berliner Weisse). I’m getting little to no bitterness, which is to be expected, however the aftertaste has a nice lingering tart fruit presence. There actually isn’t all that much going on, but I’m still enjoying sipping it on a warm summer afternoon in the sun. It seems like this was great one to start with, as I presume it will be the most “tame” of the bunch.

Framboise Forte 2012 (Unblended) – Hopfenstark

IMG_20140623_053111Hopfenstark is a brewery located not too far outside of Montreal. They are one of the more mythical beer producers around here, as their bottles can be difficult to find a lot of the time. Even more so lately, since they have been concentrating their efforts on their recently opened brewpub in downtown Montreal called Station Ho.st. They make a standard and more regularly available beer called “Framboise,” which is a wheat beer brewed with Raspberries. I’ve heard rumors that the owner hand picks all the berries himself. The beer I’m going to talk about today is their Framboise Forte, a stronger, oak aged, and unblended version. All that distinguishes the bottle from the standard Framboise is someone’s black sharpy scribbles on the label. I got this one in a trade, so I have to just trust the fact that it’s not actually the original in there (but he was a nice guy, so I’m sure it’s fine).

It pours out a very deep orange colour with some copper highlights. There isn’t much carbonation – nothing but a thing ring around the glass. I can smell the acidity by just pouring it; my mouth salivates in anticipation. Wow, the nose on this is spectacular; vinegar, spices, oak, wet wood, cinnamon (?), barrel funk, and just so much fruitiness, with raspberries leading the way.

On the palate there are a lot of acetic acids (vinegar) alongside some flavors that remind me of kombucha. There are tons of great aromatic raspberry flavours, with a very tart and exceptionally sour finish. It kind of burns on the way down after every sip.  The barrel really comes through, with all kinds of vanilla, woody funk, tannins, and spices. It’s also a bit meaty, with some umami compounds which remind me of balsamic, but not in a bad way.

Saison Framboise Zinfandel – Brasserie Dunham

IMG_20140811_054749Brasserie Dunham is one of my favorite breweries. They are located in the Eastern Townships of Montreal (about an hour outside of town). They make an array of beer styles, but mostly seem to concentrate on Belgian and American influenced creations. Last summer, they released “Saison Framboise,” a tart and fruity Saison which was perfect for the heat (I reviewed it here in my first post). A few months later at one of their many bottle release parties, they released a Zinfandel Barrel aged version containing Brettanomeces (wild yeast). I held onto the bottle for some time, looking for the right moment to crack it, and when I decided to do this follow up piece, it was the perfect occasion.

After cracking open the bottle, I was worried for a second that it was going to gush like crazy, bit it didn’t. Instead, it gently, slowly, and continuously foamed over. The top of the bottle looked like raspberry soft serve iced cream (pictured above). It pours out a pretty bright red with a handsome mammoth rocky head that never dissipates. The nose is filled with fruity berries (especially raspberries), oak, vanilla, dusty & earthy yeast funk, a lot of tart aromas, and some acidic properties. It’s quite incredibly fruity; very inviting.

It is extremely dry and tart, with a nice lingering sourness in the finish. I’m also getting some vanilla and wet wood, mixed with berries, yeast funk, sour grapes, and oak tannins. The Saison yeast is more apparent here than on the nose. There are all kinds of awesome vinous elements at play, and it’s so frothy from the Brett that it’s like drinking delicious bitter raspberry foam. The flavors are actually pretty light overall, making it very easy drinking; the 6.5% is virtually unnoticeable (the year or so in the cellar probably helped with that). There is some sourness, but is it light, more tart and dry from the brett mixed with some of the berry acids. As I keep drinking, the tannins come out more and the flavors become more pronounced, with a nice bitterness and generally full-flavored finish. This beer was fantastic and I’d love to try it again if they ever remake it.

Cantillon Rosé De Gambrinus – Brasserie Cantillon

IMG_20140902_043440The moment you start discussing sour beer, Brasserie Cantillon comes up pretty quickly. The beers they concoct are funky and sour perfection, and are often considered the pinnacle of comparison for all other traditional Lambic sours. They are legendary, extremely sought after, and not easily procurable. The brewery, located in Brussels, was founded in 1900, and has been continuously family run since.

Gambrinus pours out a ruby red colour with some sexy orange highlights. The head carries a pinkish hue and dissipates to a small ring around the glass. Wow, as I expected, this bad boy smells acidic, and more specifically I primarily smell acetic acid (vinegar) with some citric acid as well. I get raspberries, earth, musty dust, a little barnyard, oak, rubber, and cranberries. Very complex.

Well, it’s certainly very sour, but not off-putting in the least. The raspberries were huge on the nose, but less so in the flavour. It’s Incredibly dry, with a sour and tart finish lingering on the back of my tongue. As it warms the oak really comes out, with some wet wood and rubber. The body is robust, but incredibly smooth, going down easy. Simply put, I get raspberries, oak, rubber, vinegar, general tartness, and it finish sour & dry. It has a bit of that meaty flavor similar to the Hopfenstark; I think it might be an acetic acid byproduct, perhaps I associate vinegar with savory dishes, so my palate thinks “umami.” Who knows.

So that concludes round two of my raspberry beer examination. I think it’s pretty amazing how I’ve covered seven different bottles, and that doesn’t even scratch the surface of how many raspberry beers there are out there, let alone how many fruit beers there are in general. I hope that if you are weary about fruit beer, but actually took the time to read this article (and my previous post), you’d be more willing to give it a go now. The above beers are beastly, full flavored, and not to be underestimated. They were funky and delicious – that Cantillon will slap you in the face. If you can find ’em, drink ’em!

An Article by Noah Forrest

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