Tonight’s Drinkin: Sour Ales

My love for unusual styles of beers will be the death of my checkbook.

So ever since I tasted my first sour ale at the Rhino, I’ve been hunting for more. I love tangy, sour, acidic, mouth-puckering flavors, especially as a contrast to eating something rich and earthy like braised golden beets. (Which, you might guess, I made the other day. They rocked, of course.)

It turns out this obscure beer style derives from Flanders, where brewers started making beer with lactic-acid producing Lactobaccillus, in addition to typical yeasts, and aging it in oak barrels to give it depth of flavor.

While traipsing around Oregon’s finest drinking establishments, I’ve had the privilege of getting my grubby mitts on some sour ales lately. I should note that New Belgium makes delicious, moderately priced sour beers, but I’ve had trouble finding the brand in this state. My Montana buddies will have better luck with that.

For west coasters, if you see the following in your favorite bottleshop or beer bar, check ’em out:

Cascade Brewing Sour Wit Belgian: On my latest trip to Portland (a delightful adventure filled with Voodoo donuts, threats of being tear-gassed at the Occupy Portland protests, heart-on-your-sleeve folk singers in a bar basement, roadside pho slurped at an outdoor table in the rain, third-wave ska CD mixes and many excellent microbrews) my very last stop before getting back on I-84 back to Pendleton was at Cascade, which specializes in sour ales. This sour wit is their only sour available in a growler, so it was my only option, but I can’t complain. It’s like if Lemonheads and beer made a baby. A sharp, citrusy glass of summer baby.

I stepped in Cascade on a dreary, drizzly Portland day, and would have liked nothing more than to while away an afternoon tasting everything. I’ll be back. (She said, in a Terminator voice. Call me the Beer Terminator.)

Rodenbach Flemish Red Brown Ale: I took this home from a recent visit to 16 Tons in Eugene, a bottleshop and taproom that looks a lot like what I imagine heaven to be. Their selection was exhaustive, their bartender attractive and helpful. This is another place I’d happily blow paychecks in, so maybe it’s all right that I live a 5-hour drive away. If I start grad school at UO and become a duck, you can blame 16 Tons.

Anyway, this imported Belgian beer was the most straightforward sour ale I’ve had, not overly puckering, but pleasantly rich, sweet and sharp. A friend of mine commented that it tasted nearly like wine, and I realized that’s why I love sour ales: all the carbohydratey, malty goodness of beer with the acidity and subtle notes characteristic of wine.

And Tastiest of Them All:

The Jolly Pumpkin La Parcela Sour Pumpkin Ale: Now, perhaps this seemed more delicious by virtue of being $6 per 12 oz. glass (making for an absurdly expensive growler fill) so I couldn’t have more of it…but goddamn if this wasn’t the best beer I’ve ever tasted. This is the first pumpkin beer from Michigan’s Jolly Pumpkin brewery, and tasted like a glass of sweet, perfectly tangy pumpkin pie.

Eugene’s 16 Tons carried this when I stopped in around Oct. 22, and I couldn’t tell you where find it. So, if you don’t live near an obsessively exhaustive bottleshop or in Michigan, well, nah-nah. I win.

Previously: Tonight’s Drinking: New Belgium Le Terroir Sour Ale

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