Here’s a random post for you. With my first taste of alcohol having been a glass of wine on my 18th birthday, I’ve always been a wine over beer girl. However, with my man’s growing interest in Belgian beers and local microbreweries (i.e. quality sipping beers, not the yellow water most people drink), over the past few years I’ve opened up my adult-beverage palette and have developed my own taste for a good brew. For the most part, my favorites are quite similar to my man’s, with the list including a number of Trappist beers, anything from Brooklyn Brewery, and good stouts and porters (i.e. no girly beers). One taste we do not share though is my intense love of sour beers.
I first encountered this taste when we visited the Dieu du Ciel! brewpub in Montreal. I believe the beer in question was called ‘Pouliche’ as that is the only one on the brewpub list that matches the description and timeline, but it was brewed especially for the brewpub and never sold in bottles so I suppose the name is irrelevant. At any rate, I can still, two years later, distinctly remember the taste of that black carbonated beverage: I kid you not, it tasted like Coke, if Coke was a beer. And for some reason, that means it had an underlying flavour of sour cherries. It was the best thing I had ever tasted and I immensely enjoyed every single sip.
With the knowledge that I wanted sour cherries in my beer, last year (almost exactly!) when we found a literal hole in the wall pub in Bruges called ‘t Poatersgat (“The Monk’s Hole” – the large black hole in the building seen on the left), I jumped at the opportunity to have a real Belgian cherry lambic, the Oude Kriek Boon. This was a girly beer, for sure, as all lambics are basically beers trying to be champagne: super fruity, sweet, carbonated, and a dessert in themselves. The Oude, however, is, according to our knowledgeable server, the only way Belgians think a cherry lambic should be done, with sour cherries and no fake flavours. Which is not to say the Belgians don’t make other cherry lambics for the less refined palettes of tourists and people who just don’t care, but this is the only one you should bother with (don’t even bother with the Kriek Boon from the same brewery – this unfortunately was the last beer I ordered whilst in Belgium, which is itself a notable tragedy). That said, aside from the sour cherry taste, a bright red lambic could never compare to a dark sour ale.
Then, having despaired of ever finding that taste in a non-girly beer again, when my man sent me a link to the menu of a heavy metal-themed (!) brewpub he was visiting while on a quick trip to Denver, I immediately requested that he smuggle home a couple bottles. While TRVE Brewing Co.‘s list of ‘Mythological Occult Ales’ seemed merely amusing at first, I couldn’t help but think that their Manannan, a sour brown ale aged in whiskey barrels, or their Winter Zephyr, a sour black ale aged in wine barrels, would be well worth a try if it would result in a taste like I experienced at Dieu du Ciel!. And goodness me, the bottles made their way here safely, and they were both well worth the risk. Both were extremely sour with every sip, appeasing my never-ending need for the tartest lemonades you can find. The Manannan had a taste more on the side of apple cider, while the Winter Zephyr, as I expected, had more of that Coke-as-a-beer flavour. I was very sad to see those bottles get emptied (in particular the Winter Zephyr, whose fantastic label you can see below), and will heartily approve a repeat trip to Denver just to stock up.
Soon after that, I suddenly noticed a section in a local cafe’s beer menu called ‘Flanders Ale,’ which apparently is the general term for sour brown ales in particular, as Flanders, Belgium is where this type of beer originates. Excitedly, I ordered the first of the two options in this section, the Duchess Du Bourgogne. With a high rating on Beer Advocate and reviews noting its sour cherry taste, I had very high hopes that I had finally found a locally available quality sour cherry beer. Not the case. With a very strong taste of vinegar and a metallic penny-taste that only very slightly diminished as the beer warmed up, I only drank about an inch and a half out of this $9 glass. It was then with trepidation that I tried the second on the list (available at the local liquor store, for half the price of the Duchess), the Rodenbach. With a lower rating than the Duchess, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but with no mention of a metallic taste in the reviews, I thought I might as well explore all my options. And this one was disappointing as well. No metallic or vinegar taste, sure, but the sour taste was so subtle that they might as well not have bothered, like the lame bottled lemonade you get in a pop machine. It wasn’t horrible, but I’d rather drink a good brown ale with a lemon square on the side. Not to mention that the Rodenbach was the ugliest looking beer I’d ever seen, with the unexplainable murky look of a brown-cow (i.e. Coke with milk). No thanks.
And so, my search for a locally available great sour beer continues. If you know of any, please let me know. And you geniuses at TRVE Brewing, please make your wares available in Canada, stat.