Hello Sour Beer Friends!
Personally, I get pretty excited when I hear of a new brewery being planned that will focus entirely on sour beer. As a listener of The Brewing Network, this was the case several years ago when I first heard of The Rare Barrel, of Berkley, CA. Created by Jay Goodwin, Alex Wallash, and Brad Goodwin, The Rare Barrel team first announced their plans to produce sour beer in February of 2012 and subsequently released their first beers in October of 2013. One thing (besides the promise of more sour beer on the market) that first drew my attention to The Rare Barrel was their innovative business model. Rather than investing a lot of money in a traditional brewing system, the brewers elected to purchase their wort from other local breweries and then transport it to their warehouse for fermentation, barrel aging, and ultimately blending. This model allows The Rare Barrel to invest more resources in the steps critical to producing excellent sour beer.
Referring again to The Brewing Network, I was also excited to hear in a recent interview on The Sunday Session with Jay and Alex that their brewery is devoted to both experimentation and documentation of results with all of the beers that they produce. This is something that I personally feel is critical in the realm of sour beer, an area which for too long has been steeped in tradition and superstition but is sadly lacking in science. In an equally awesome move, Jay Goodwin, The Rare Barrel’s head brewer and blender, also recently began hosting a new program on The Brewing Network called “The Sour Hour”. This hour-long regularly scheduled radio show will feature sour beer interviews and answer listener questions relating to all facets of sour beer. These facts alone had me thinking pretty highly of The Rare Barrel and its team before I even had a chance to try their beer, which unfortunately, is pretty difficult to find outside of the San Francisco Bay Area. I think it’s great to see brewers giving out information freely to both home and other professional brewers. It’s obvious that these guys, like myself, are interested in raising the quality of sour beer as a whole.
On Wednesday, August 27th, following the premiere of Jay’s new show, my friends Cale and Carlo sat down with me to taste our first Rare Barrel beer, Consigliere, a dark sour aged in oak. At 4% ABV, this medium bodied, very sessionable sour brown did not disappoint.
The beer poured brilliantly clear and was dark amber to brown in color with a thin tan head that dissipated almost immediately. An aroma of oak jumps to the forefront when pouring the beer. Investigating a bit further reveals dark fruits, plums, and a combination of caramel and roasted malt aromas. There is also a distinct lactic acid aroma. While the presence of Lactobacillus is evident by smell we didn’t pick up any funky aromas attributable to Brettanomyces.
Cleaner aromas and flavors are often found in beers that undergo 100% primary fermentation with Brettanomyces. Characteristics like leather, wet hay, bleu cheese, and farmyard funk tend to develop when Brettanomyces undergo the stress of trying to reproduce in the lower nutrient environment found in an already fermented beer. Check out other 100% Brettanomyces beers as well like Crooked Stave’s Vieille Artisanal Saison, and The Lost Abbey’s Mo Betta Bretta to taste this for yourself.
When tasting Consigliere, we were greeted with a strong lactic acid punch up front followed by a blend of oak and cherry pie esters. The sour profile is composed almost completely of lactic acid with a light touch of ethyl acetate (which adds a mild sharpness to the blend). As in the aroma, the sourness is clean and fruity with a big cherry pie note. The slightest hint of vinegar may be present although this flavor seemed to meld with the oak character in a way that was difficult to detect separately. The beer has a medium body and a fuller mouthfeel than many sours I have experienced with flavors of both higher lovibond crystal and chocolate malts present. Toffee, raisins, dark dehydrated fruits, and tobacco are also present. There were no detectable hop flavors or aromas in Consigliere.
The beer presents a medium oakiness and a tannic wine barrel character. These vinous notes remind me of the flavors of a white wine barrel being presented in a dark caramel beer. The carbonation level is low. The aftertaste is soft and comprised of the same pleasant lactic, oak, and malt that make up the middle of a sip. Consigliere isn’t bone dry like many low ABV sours and I found that this fullness in mouthfeel helped boost the perception of malt sweetness in an otherwise very sour beer.
Overall, Consigliere is a well crafted and tasty American sour ale. I especially liked the big Brettanomyces cherry pie ester profile and smooth soft malt character. These flavors were balanced with the beer’s strong acidity to produce a very easy drinking product. I would love to have a few pints of this sessionable sour over the course of an evening with friends. I am really looking forward to trying more examples from this new brewery.
For those of you visiting or living near the San Fransisco Bay area, make sure to check out The Rare Barrel’s tasting room. For those of you like myself who don’t have easy access to their beers, don’t pass up the opportunity to taste them when you get the chance! If you’d like to learn more about the brewery and its beers, check out their interview on the July 14, 2014 episode of The Brewing Network’s Sunday Session. Lastly, if you’re interested in learning more about sour beers from the head brewer of the Rare Barrel, check out Jay Goodwin’s new radio show: The Sour Hour!