Saturday, October 13, 2007

Return of the Sours

It seemed that 2005 was the year that sour beers stood up and announced their collective arrival at the Great American Beer Festival. Two years later, American sours are so established that they even have their own new category in the judging - but they are once again the talk of the festival.

Don't take my word for it; just show up and look at the lines that form behind the two best sour makers in the U.S., New Glarus and Russian River. Typically stretching 20 people long as soon as a signficant crowd has entered the convention hall, they are comprised of the rabid fans who will get their beer, head straight to the back of the line and go through another two or three times. Not everything those breweries serve is sour, but the stuff that goes the quickest is, and in the case of New Glarus, it often doesn't last for even half of the festival's 4-1/2 hours.

I'm still working on trying to figure out my favorite beer at this year's festival, but I can almost guarantee it will come from this category. That said, if you're headed there today for the final sessions, let me point you to a couple of sours you don't want to miss:
*Russian River's Supplication, a tart but still approachable barrel-aged beer made with sour cherries;
*New Glarus' Raspberry Tart, the most eye-popping of its offerings that blur the line between beer and other beverages but taste so unique that you stop worrying about that and start enjoying them;
*New Belgium's Eric's Ale. I was told when I was at the brewery in early August that they were soon rotating this out of the Lips of Faith experimental series. I'm not sure, then, what its presence at the festival bodes for its future, but I will savor this sour peach ale as long as it's out;
*Bristol Brewing's Skull and Bones Cuvee, which tastes deeper and tarter than it has in years. This could be the real sleeper of the festival;
*Allagash's Interlude isn't quite a full sour, but it's myriad of fruit flavors developed while sitting in French Merlot oak barrels takes this a step beyond normal Belgians;
*Finally, there is Dogfish Head's Fort, aptly described at its 18 percent ABV as the strongest fruit beer in the world. Made literally with a ton of raspberries, this may have pushed the sour fruit taste a little too far for me. But I'm still going back and having more tonight.

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