Saturday, February 07, 2015

The Art of the Sour Beer Festival

At a time when more people than ever are expanding their palates to enjoy sour beer, it's only natural that a niche sector is emerging for beer festivals dedicated to this once fringe art. But that doesn't mean that all of these celebrations of wild yeast and funky taste leave your palate in the same state.

Take, for example, New Belgium's now-annual celebration of its sour styles, the Lost in the Woods party, shown above. (The brewery is throwing a party at its location in Fort Collins tonight and then hosting a celebration in Denver tomorrow night at the Terminal Bar.)

Themed around its annual releases of its La Folie and its Transatlantique Kriek, the party is swimming in sour, from the new editions of the aforementioned beers to cellared versions of past efforts. (A 2007 La Folie served last year, for example, remained exquisitely tart with a slightly lighter body.) But in addition to just pouring beer, the brewery also offers a symposium detailing its souring efforts and has cellar-room officials both leading tours and pouring various concoctions not typically released to the public, giving attendees a sense of why this is all so experimental and important in today's beer world.

Less talk, more tasting, you say? Actually, this is not only educational, but in some ways needed. For a full night of tasting sour beer can wreak havoc on both tongue and tummy. And that can become apparent even at the most celebrated funk festivals in the state.

The annual "What the Funk" festival that runs parallel with the Great American Beer Festival (or the Craft Brewers Conference, when that was in Denver last year) is the biggest, boldest collection of wild-yeast and barrel-aged beers you can find. The beer geek can find themselves in a deliriously exuberant state as they bounce between Jester King's Cerveza de Tempranillo (a tart barrel-aged sour with Tempranillo wine grapes) and Wicked Weed's Amorous (a bold barrel-aged, dry-hopped sour IPA), as the Fearless Tasting Crew did last year.

But repeated doses of sour beers over a several-hour period can add up quickly; I, for one, found my stomach rumbling and myself looking for something "mild" by the end of the show. And while I couldn't stop talking about the myriad flavors I'd discovered the next day, I also found myself with a limited desire to drink anything more, even though it was in the midst of a brewers conference.

Pace, then, may be the key. And to that end, it is worth seeking out the smaller, site-specific sour fests that the best breweries and beer bars may offer.

Last year, for example, World of Beer Cherry Creek presented a one-day sour tasting featuring 19 different beers - not as many as you'll find at What the Funk or Avery's Sourfest, but more than you'll find in many decent liquor stores. We sampled offerings from the Bear Republic Tartare to the Green Flash Little Friek and left sated but not overburdened. Plus, had things just gotten too tart, there was an available menu of a couple of hundred other beers to us as well. It was a great day.

Truth is, it's had to go wrong with a sour festival. And the best news is that more and more are cropping up. But be warned that overindulging in even the best beers may leave you wishing for a mellow German lager for a few days afterward.

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