I think it goes without saying that drinking beer with friends is the best way go. I’ve also come to realize that bottle shares are a great way to get to know like-minded people, on top of being a forum that allows you to sample small amounts of a variety of beers in one sitting. Sure, there’s something to be said about sitting at home, cracking open a bottle and examining it’s contents without distraction, giving you a chance to drink the whole thing while extensively assessing it. However, I’ve had several “bottle shares” or “beer tastings,” and not only is it a lot of fun, but also a great learning experience. Being able to do horizontal tastings (same style from different breweries), or vertical tastings (comparing different vintages), or simply sessioning a themed line up, really gives you the ability to compare similarities and differences in real time, as opposed to relying on notes or memory.
This night was ALL about sours. Our line up was a smörgåsbord of different varieties, from the more traditional belgian fair; like Gueuzes, Flanders Reds, and Krieks, to more modern hybrid examples, like sour stouts and wine barrel aged blends infected with wild yeasts. About half are from Belgium, but there are others from Quebec, Ontario, and the U.S. as well. We were seven in total, some of whom I’d known pretty well, and some who I got to know quite well after many, many drinks. It’s taken me a few months to get this article written, and since then, many of us have become close friends and do these get togethers almost monthly (although not always to this magnitude).
When you have a sixteen bottle tasting, it’s important that you decide the right order. Just like wine – or anything else really – you want to start out lighter and then progress. However, what “light” means completely changes depending of what kind of flavors you are dealing with. Derek (Malty Tasker) took the reigns and quickly set the line up, assessing the sour to roast ratios. We started with those on the lower end of that spectrum, then moved forward onto the more potent examples. Of course, he completely winged it based on assumptions, but it worked out perfectly. I wrote minimal notes given the number of examples, not to mention the fact that this was all in one night! However, I think I was able to piece everything together once I was in a more sober state.
Quebec Sour Blends and Brett Beers
Brasseurs du Monde – La Réserve du Picoleur – Le Bretteux
We began our tasting adventure with Bretteux from Brasseurs du Monde, a Quebec based craft brewery that seems to pump out new beers constantly. I don’t seek out their offerings very often anymore, but this would be my first from their Picoleur series, which is their “higher end,” and can only be purchased at the brewery. This American wild ale pours out looking like dirty brown swamp water. It’s got some Bretty funk going on, it’s quite dry, and has only a slight tartness. It’s pretty good actually, but a tad on the watery side.
Le Trou Du Diable – L’Ours (Batch #1 & #2)
Second up was L’Ours from Le Trou du Diable, another Quebec based brewery who dabbles quite a lot in barrel aged beauties. L’Ours consists mostly of a young saison, but is blended with another wine barrel aged beer. They have had a few batches at this point, and we were able to include the first two in this session. We began with batch #2, as the consensus was that this is the lesser of the two. #2 pours out a nice, foggy, golden orange. It’s a little funky, but also a little watery in the flavour department. There is some rubber and oak coming through as well, but nothing mind shattering. This would be a good “session sour,” if such a thing existed. #1 was very much the same beer, yet still quite different. The flavors were subtly more present, somehow managing to function better as a whole, with a more pronounced character.
Le Trou Du Diable – Bar Volo 25th Anniversary Ale
This beer, also by Le Trou du Diable, was brewed in honor of Bar Volo’s 25th anniversary. It’s also a blend, composed of various beers aged in oak barrel’s previously containing other Trou du Diable beers. It pours out a slightly darker copper orange if compared to L’Ours. The nose is fruity and tart, carrying some nice woody funk with it. Basically, this is a better version of the L’Ours – it’s more robust, more sour, more funky, and more full bodied. It’s quite fruity, tart, and delicious. One of the best Le Trou Du Diable has done.
Brasserie Cantillon – Cuvée Saint-Gilloise
You could certainly say that Cantillion is one of the world leaders when it comes to sours. They have been doing it for some time, and are sought after by beer geeks worldwide. Unlike most Gueuzes, this dry hopped Gueuze isn’t a blend of younger and older Lambic; rather, it is a blend of two year old Lambic. It poured out a pretty foggy orange colour. The flavors are gorgeous, with tons of grapefruit rind, hops, and acidic perfection. Because this bottle was over a year old, the Styrian Goldings dry hop was not as apparent as I imagine it would be in a fresh bottle. However, this bottle was amazing, and at this point, the tasting got real!
Oud Beersel – Oude Gueuze
Gueuze is basically how I really fell in love with sours. They generally have this potent musty funk that doesn’t compare to any other beer style. They take on a lot of the funk flavor because along with the young beer, these are blended with older, more infected mature beers as well. Much like the Cantillion, this one has grapefruit zest, musty barnyard flavors, and lots of acidic properties, but less hops. It’s also a bit more tart than the previous, and just as stellar. It has this incredible resiny sour finish; basically heaven.
Girardin Gueuze – White Label
I’ve had the Black label before, but this is my first time trying white. The flavors are quite interesting, like no Gueuze I’ve had before. There is certainly some earthy and musty funk, but it’s not as pronounced as other examples of the style. Mixed in are some pretty potent honey wheat flavors that are reminiscent of a lager or a honey-wheat beer. There is a sourness, but it’s not super intense. I feel like this might be a good introduction for someone who wants to get into the funk only a little bit, as they might not be turned off too much from the usually predominant barnyard horse blanket flavor profile.
Girardin Gueuze – Black Label
Now this is more like it! The Black label pounds my nostrils with loads of zesty citrus and dusty funk right off the bat. There is so much more must, soil, and dust happening here as compared to the white label. There is also some spicy white pepper, grapefruit, and lemon zest in the finish. This is a beautiful beer, I could drink it everyday (although I could probably say this about the whole line-up)
Reds, Browns & Ambers
Rodenbach – Caractère Rouge
Flanders Red’s are an interesting variety of sour, being generally fruitier and maltier than some of the other varieties. Rodenbauch’s Caractère Rouge is brewed with raspberries, cherries and cranberries. It pours out a sexy dark red, almost maroon colour. Wow, this is incredibly fruity , with lots of tart raspberry, cherries, and cranberries punching the palate. Although being on the sweeter side, it’s all balanced wonderfully with a big acidic and sour finish that carries a cough syrup like flavour with it (in the best possible way).
New Belgium Brewing – Lips Of Faith – La Folie
I’ve been excited to try this new world Oud Bruin for some time. Brewed by New Belgium Brewing, it pours out a dark reddish brown with some beautiful lacing that hugs the sides of the glass. Wow, just wow. The intense flavors throw up aromas of cherries, zesty yeast, tobacco, and cheese (I know, weird eh?). This is incredibly sour, with flavors of blackberry, tobacco, and yeast funk at the fore front. This is up there as one of the best of the bunch for me. Impressive stuff.
Brasserie Cantillon – Iris
Iris poured out an amber orange colour. At first sip it reminds me of pure grapefruit juice, with this dusty, stale cigarette smoke element . It also has a ton of barnyard and horse blanket, but with that citrus rind punch really leading the way. This was an incredible beer.
Krieks (Cherry Lambics)
Girardin – Kreik 1882
This is actually my first time having a real lambic Kreik, and I’m pretty excited to see how the fruit works with the rest of the flavours. Wow, this smells like cherry pie! I just want to dive right in. And, you guessed it, it also tastes a bit like cherry pie, with that cherry filling flavour we all know. There is some dusty funk as well, mixed with a minimal amount of sweetness, and still dry enough to be balanced perfectly.
Boon – Boon Oude Kriek Mariage Parfait
Wow, this one if even more of a cherry bomb! But it’s also extremely dusty and funky, with some stale smoke, and a big fruity backdrop. It is quite dry (more so than the Girardin), as well as perfectly tart and sour. I hope to find this again.
Brasserie Cantillon – Kriek 100% Lambic
As you might be noticing, my descriptions are now getting shorter and somewhat repetitive. I’d like to blame it on palate fatigue, but really, it’s because I was drunk. The Cantillon, like the previous two, had that awesome and inviting cherry pie thing, but mixed with a beautiful layer of dusty barnyard funk. It’s incredibly fruity, but very dry at the same time, and of course, bracingly sour. As usual, Cantillon does it right!
Bellwoods Brewery – Donkey Venom
Sour stouts are a pretty new creation, but more and more are popping up. Donkey Venom pours out pitch black, with some dark roasted grain and acidic aromas. It is tart, bordering on sour, with lots of black cherries, coffee, and some dark chocolate. Although Bellwoods is a fantastic brewery, I was surprised to see this hold up to the plethora of sour wonders that we previously inhaled; but it certainly does, and I can’t wait to try it again!
The Bruery – Tart Of Darkness
This would be my second time trying this bad boy. It’s extremely dry and extremely sour. In fact, I’d say it’s the most sour of the bunch. So much so that I can barely finish my glass. It has some dark roasted elements – however, not nearly as pronounced as the Donkey Venom. Although delicious, I think this one goes past my threshold for acidity. It’s not for the faint of heart!
If you can believe it, we continued trying beers late into the night. Somehow, my stomach survived and didn’t disintegrate into a gooey pile of useless acidic leftovers (although the next day was a different story). We left and headed over to Max and Remi’s place, where most of my tastings occur at this point. They just launched their new page called Beer Related – check them out! Once there, we hit some big imperial stouts and then finally called it a night. This evening was most certainly a good learning experience, but more importantly, it was a really good time! I took away some new knowledge, but also some new friends in the process.