Unrepentant beer drinkers, rejoice! Each week, Clean Plate Charlie
will select one craft or import beer and give you the lowdown on it:
How does it taste? What should you drink it with? Where can you find
it? But mostly, it's all about the love of the brew. If you have a beer
you'd like featured in Beer of the Week, let us know via a comment.
I'm getting more and more sour in my old age.
By that I mean, I'm enjoying sour beers in a way I never thought I would.
What's a sour beer? Well, they come in a few varieties, but basically the name says it all. A sour ale is a beer that tastes sour, made so by a lengthy aging process as well as exposure to certain funky strains of bacteria such as the dreaded brettanomyces (dreaded by other brewers, that is). The words "bacteria" and "funky" might sound like a turn off to the majority of beer drinkers out there. But for an ever growing faction of aficionados, sour beers represent the final frontier in craft beer making; a place where flavor profiles such as fruity, champagne-like, and "barnyardy" are the norm, and each batch has the potential to backfire on a brewery, turning hundreds of barrels into undrinkable waste.
Sour ale styles like lambics, saisons, farmhouse ales, gueuzes, and
Flemish reds have long enjoyed popularity in Belgium, France, and even
Italy. But in just the past 10 years, these styles have started to
migrate stateside. In 2002, the Great American Beer Festival introduced
its first sour beer category, sporting a field of 15 beers. In 2009,
that number jumped to over 100 beers in four different categories.
You may never be able to find a sour beer sitting next to the Budweiser
at Publix, but chances are your local liquor store already carries
them. You've probably even seen those fruity Raspberry and Peach Lambic
bottles at ABC Liquors or Crown. Total Wine has an even more impressive
selection of sours, including this fantastic Belgian saison, Le Merle,
from California's North Coast Brewery.
Le Merle, or "the blackbird" in French, is a perfect sour for
beginners. Not because it's overly simple (it's complex, in fact) or
because it hides its true colors (it's bold). Rather, Le Merle is quite
simply a damn fine beer reminiscent of tropical fruit and sparkling
wine. It has a clean, crisp, sour/tart taste on the forward, but behind
that is a rich malty-ness and a creamy golden body that reminds me of a
full-flavor Belgian tripel (think Chimay Tripel).
As a food beer, Le Merle (like many great sours) pairs great with fish,
pasta, and even salads. My fiancee and I split a bottle the other
night, and drank it like a bottle of wine alongside a salad of grilled
shrimp, apples, goat cheese, and lemon vinaigrette. The tart flavor
jibed perfectly with the lemon, without overpowering the shrimp.
The only bad news about sours? Thanks to a more complex brewing
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process, they tend to be pricey compared to other beers. Le Merle will
cost you about $12 for a 22-ounce bottle at Total Wine, but its worth
it. Sure, you can buy a six pack of something else for that price, but
this is more like investing in a bottle of enjoyable wine.