Sorry for the delay in getting to part 2. I’m still recovering from my week in Cali, and spent a quiet weekend in Seattle with my better half. I’ll throw the beery details of the Seattle trip in another post.
Without further adieu, lets roll with Part II.
As previously noted, my friends Scott and Abby were kind enough to let me crash on their couch after the events of Saturday night. After slowly rising from the near dead, I had to make a quick run to my parent’s fridge in North County prior to attending the Sour Fest. Why the mad dash, you might ask? Squirreled away in their fridge was a 1 liter swing top bottle containing the magic elixir known as Storm Brewing’s 12 year old Black Currant Lambic.
I smuggled, not one, but two bottles of Storm Lambic into the US. The first was the 12 year Geueze with fresh cherries discussed in Part I, and the second was “The Holy Grail” of Lambics, the Black Currant.
After grabbing the lambic, I rushed to Stone so I could stand in sweltering heat for 45 minutes waiting to get into Sour Fest. Let me say that I have lived in Southern California for most of my life, so heat is usually not an issue. Hell, I used to live in Bullhead City, AZ where the temps regularly exceeded 120 degrees. The temperature Sunday probably topped out in the low 100’s, but after Saturday night, it felt like 200! At some point (I honestly lost track of time) Scott and Abby caught up with me and we made our way into the Sour Fest. Thankfully we got there early (despite the heat) as the crowd exceeded even Stone’s expectations. It wasn’t long until they were running out of commemorative taster glasses, and late comers were given either 12th Anniversary glassware or simply plain glasses.
Once the entry to the fest was completed, we immediately made our way into the garden for the festivities. We remade the acquaintance of Larry and Natalie from L.A. and our chance meeting at the Ritual. We had discussed a plan of action the night before and while in line in the oppressive heat. On the advice of Dr. Bill we immediately headed for the pouring stations on the lower part of the lawn area. This is where the ‘good stuff’ was pouring, and Bill had intimated that many of these taps were likely to run out early.
On tap at the West Side of the lawn were:
Russian River Brewing’s Consecration, Temptation, Sanctification and Supplication.
Lost Abbey’s Isabelle Proximus, Red Poppy, Veritas ’02, Cuvee de Tomme 2009 and Duck Duck Gooze.
Valley Brewing’s Olallieberry Sour, Chilie Wonka, Dysfunktion Ale Part Deux, and Grand Cru 2009.
On the East Side of the Lawn:
New Belgium’s Love Barrel # 3, Le Terroir, La Folie, Spicy Folie, Tart Lychee, Transatlantique Kriek, Eric’s Ale 2007, and Bottleworks 10th Anniversary.
Avery Brewing’s Voltron, Bad Sally, De Vogelbekdieren, Altar Boy, Brabant, and Anniversary Ale 16.
Since we had met up with Larry and Natalie, they had grabbed a table on the patio with an umbrella to shade us from the blistering sun. (It didn’t work, it was still absolutely brutally hot!) We decided as a group that to conserve taster tickets and taste as many beers as possible, we would “team taste”. We would each get a different beer, share with each other and pass judgment and decide which ones we would go back for. We decided to pass on the Russian River beers for the most part, as we had all had them before. We also decided to put our focus on the draft stations as we had been fortunate enough to have pretty much all of the bottled sours previously.
We immediately headed to the lawn, as we were forewarned that Tomme Arthur’s newest, Duck Duck Gooze would be one of the taps to go quickly*. I opted for the Duck Duck, while Scott chose Red Poppy and Larry went for the Love Barrel. Natalie grabbed a Spicy Folie while her friend Arianna manned the table. The Duck Duck is a pale golden color, with bright spicy notes in the aroma. Wickedly tart and very refreshing. The Red Poppy was dark, rich and an explosion of sour cherries. Based on a dark ale and named for the poppies common to both California and Flanders, barrel aged for a minimum of 6 months. The Love Barrel was by far one of our faves of the fest, bright gold, funky, sour, crisp…words can’t describe! The Spicy Folie was complex and interesting, but we all felt that the added spice somewhat overpowered the malts and tartness of the original.
*Oddly enough, this tap lasted pretty much the entire day. Many of the sour heads knew it was being released in bottles during Lost Abbey’s “Christmas in July” the following weekend, so they passed on the draft version.
Next we moved to Transatlantique Kriek, which was another of everyone’s favorites. Very clear pink, the aroma of cherries was amazing, with a hint of vinegar on the nose. Dry, tart, mildly sweet, with a big sour/vinegar finish. The Tart Lychee was interesting to say the least. I am a big fan of lychee fruit, and wondered how it would come across in a beer. The beer poured extremely cloudy, with a big funky horsey aroma. The lychee was definitely present imparting a tropical fruitiness to the brew. Good, but there were others we preferred more. Le Terroir has been one of my personal faves since I first had an illegal taste of it 2-3 years ago. A local tavern owner had traded/smuggled a keg to San Diego and had it on tap for a couple of days (it went fast!). After the first taste on Sunday, I was immediately reminded why I loved it so; Bright, crisp and sour, sour sour! Eric’s Ale is another wonderful creation (did I mention we were drinking all night with Eric?) A peach sour, the peach flavor is just a whisper in the aroma and at the finish. In between it’s wonderfully tart and dry.
Lost Abbey’s Isabelle Proximus was amazing as well. Similar in style to the Duck Duck, the aging from 2002 softened some of the sour notes, and made it extremely drinkable. The Cuvee de Tomme 2009 was very tasty as well. More cherry notes and slightly less sour than previous batches, this may be the most balanced Cuvee yet (although I like the super sour Cuvee). The Avery 16 seemed to be missing something. The body was a bit thin, and there was little or no lasting flavor to it. Someone likened it to a sour pilsner!
Valley Brewing was a new taste for me, as I don’t get to North Central California often. What the hell was I thinking? I’ll make road trips just for this stuff! The Olallieberry Sour was incredible. Amazing fruity aroma, deep reddish pink color, and simply amazing fruit flavor with just the right balance of sour notes. The Chilie Wonka had a very peppery aroma and the palate was very spicy and mildly sour. I’m told that there are no chilies in the Chilie Wonka. I want to know how he got the spicy notes and aroma! The Dysfunktion Ale was rich and malty and funky and only slightly sour.
OK, here is my aside to the heat. It was BRUTAL (best pronounced as 2 words; BRU – TAL!) Initially when you ran into someone you know, you did this funky half hug thing, so you wouldn’t get your sweat all over them. By 1 o’clock, everyone was so drenched and miserably hot, that courtesy went out the window. Just a big ol’ sweaty, dripping hug! You felt kinda sorry for the people who didn’t dress properly; girls in tight jeans, anyone in pants, the poor bastard dressed up as a monk. The monk guy was in full regalia; heavy wool robes, high collared shirt underneath, the works! (I could swear I took a picture of the Monk, but it could have been a mirage from the heat and sour beer!)* Women who wore anything but the most basic of makeup were in for it as well. That was a pretty sight! Some of the girls looked like Tim Curry during the pool scene in “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”.
We moved on to the Outside Bar, mostly because it was only a few steps from our table. Plus it was HOT!
*At some point in here, we were joined at our table by my good friend Danielle from Lost Abbey. I never expected to see her at a sour fest. At our favorite pub, Churchill’s, Danielle would drink Stella Artois and/or Cider, and do shots! Since she started working at Lost Abbey however, her palate has opened up and she’s a real beer fan now! Congratulations and welcome to the club, Danielle!
The Outside Bar:
Ballast Point Hout Dark Cherry, Hout Geueze, and Sour Wench
The Bruery Cuvee Jeune, White Zin, and Berliner Weisse
Green Flash Grand Mantis
Deschutes St Lucy’s Artisan Ale, Saison de la Bond, Green Monster and Little Buddha
Craftsman El Prieto and Honesty
Moonlight # 16 Sour Blonde and #28 Sour Ale
St Louis Geueze
Telegraph Reserve Wheat
Verhaeghe Duchess de Bourgogne and Echte Kriekenbier
Van Honsebruck Bacchus
DFH Festina Peche
Drakes Brewing It’s Fity and George Brett Triple
Ballast Point Hout Dark Cherry was spectacular. It poured a deep reddish brown with lots of fruit in the nose, rich malty and sour on the palate. The Sour Wench came off a bit too vinegary, previous batches were better. Deschutes Little Buddha was one of our least favorites. Strongly astringent, too much vinegar. Let’s leave it at that*. When I think of Moonlight Brewing, I think of lagers, not sours. The #28 Sour Ale was rather plain, not very sour. Their lagers are awesome, though!
The Bruery provided 3 of the highlights of the festival; Cuvee Jeune, White Zin and Berliner Weisse. The White Zin is a wild ale aged in, what else, Zinfandel Barrels. Peachy color with an intense grape aroma. Sour but not too tart, the grapes come through more in the nose and slightly in the finish. The Cuvee Jeune is another wild ale, this time aged in Chardonnay barrels. Possibly the most drinkable beer here. Pale gold, slight lemony aroma, with a hint of grape. Tart and refreshing. The Berliner Weisse was the perfect beer for such an incredibly hot day. Very light, only 3.1% ABV, pale gold and clear. Light lactic tartness, incredibly refreshing. Here’s to the revival of the style, it’s the perfect summer sour.
*Funny, the Little Buddha was one of the first taps to be pulled. I don’t know if it was because the keg blew due to it’s overwhelming popularity (doubtful) or because they wanted to save people from wasting a precious taster ticket)
Dogfish Head Festina Peche was terrific as always, first time I have had it on draft. Another Berliner Weisse style beer, great tartness from the lactobacillus, nice fruity finish from the peaches. Green Flash Grand Mantis, which is the Grand Cru inocculated with Brettanomyces and barrel aged. Only a slight tartness to stand up to the rich malt of the Grand Cru. I think this beer will be fantastic in another 6 months as the brett continues to work it’s magic. The Craftsman El Prieto poured a deep reddish brown and smelled of Dr Pepper and slightly vinegar. Lots of roasted malt, slightly overpowering the sour notes. Good tart dry finish.
For me the most surprising beer of the fest was Drakes ‘George Brett Triple’. I’ve never been a big fan of Drakes beers, it seemed like they were trying too hard. Their IPA’s and DIPA’s were too astringently hoppy and poorly balanced, their previous attempts at Belgian-style beer fell kind of flat for me. Imagine my surprise when my friend Danielle from Lost Abbey shared her taster of George Brett with me! Bright, robust biscuit character, with just a bit of blanket in the nose. Perfectly balanced tart/sour notes that matched up well with the malt and yeast. Dry tart finish from the brett. Very impressive indeed.
At various times throughout the day, I wandered over to the VIP area Dr. Bill had set up for friends and dignitaries. As a “Beer Ambassador” I had access to the aforementioned VIP area. This is where some of the more hardcore beer geeks were gathered.
Many, if not all brought rare bottles to share and taste. John Schulz brought Lost Abbey Cable Car and Yellow Bus, Stone Web Developer Bill Sobieski brought his homebrewed sour, Mission Impecheable.
I brought the Holy Grail, Storm Black Currant Lambic. Honestly, there were too many great beers pouring, and I can’t remember them all. Maybe it was the heat? Or perhaps the alcohol?
The Mission Impecheable was very nice, especially considering that it was homebrew. Bright tart peach aroma, followed by horse blanket and lactic notes. Light peach flavor at the beginning, followed by the ever present tartness, with a dry finish. Not quite on par with Eric’s Ale from New Belgium, but an excellent offering nonetheless.
We also sampled Cable Car and Yellow Bus, limited edition offerings from Lost Abbey which are no longer available anywhere. The Yellow Bus is a peach sour, with big lactic notes and mild wood in the nose. The peach is very subdued, just a whisper in the nose and on the palate. Very tart, acidic bite, super dry, with a hint of fruit; pineapple, not peaches! Mild oakiness in the finish, but not overpowering. An astounding beer! Cable Car is a pale orangey color, with a small head. Big aroma of grapes (chardonnay?) and funk. Very sour with hints of lemon and grapes again. Dry finish with mild wood notes. Another example of the quality Lambics being produced in the US.
And now, the beer you’ve all been waiting to hear about: Storm Brewing’s Black Currant Lambic (Cassis) aged 12 years in Oak barrels. I can honestly say this one of the unsung hits of the fest. Once I shared it with a few people, our table was flooded with people coming by begging for a small taste. Word travels fast at a festival, eh?
The lambic pours a faint purplish brown, with an aroma of vinegar, wood and fruit, almost like a Flemish sour on the nose. It starts with some muted barnyard funk and wood tones, followed by a big blast of sour. A bit on the acidic side, the fruit announces it’s presence with a light, almost imperceptible sweetness. The finish is sour, followed by more lingering funk, and a dry sourness on the sides of your tongue. Definitely a world class lambic from our resident alchemist, James Walton. The raves from the beer geeks were unanimous in praise of this rare beer. The guys from Brouwer’s Cafe, were asking if I could smuggle a small keg down for their sour fest! Others offered me bottles of Cable Car and Yellow bus in exchange for a hand filled bottle in trade! (I’ll have to ask James about that!)
I made several trips back to Valley Brewing, New Belgium, Lost Abbey, and The Bruery to refill my glass with more of my favorites from the fest. Even after tasting dozens of wonderful beers in the team tasting and refilling for personal lubrication, I still had 5 of the original 10 taster tickets I was issued! After a nice conversation with the late arriving Tomme Arthur, I shared my remaining tickets with late arriving friends and excused myself from the festivities.
Except for the unbearable heat, the Sour Fest was an unqualified success! I can’t wait to see what Dr. Bill comes up with next year.
Special thanks to Kathryn Bouscaren of Stone for sharing the photos. Either it was too hot, or I was too hungover to man the camera myself.
Andy The Beerman