Friday, April 8, 2011

Beerschooled - Sours Class

After the great intro to homebrewing class by Beerschooled, I knew I'd go to another as long as the topic was interesting to me.  I finally got my chance when they announced a sours tasting class.  The Hulmeville Inn was hosting a Cicerone exam proctored by certified Cicerone Nicole Erny and so Jeff (beerschooled Jeff, not Hulmeville Inn owner Jeff.  So many Jeffs) took advantage of that and asked her to teach a class on sours with a little bit on Belgium.  I arrived at the Hulmeville Inn a bit early so I got a glass of Rogue Shakespeare Stout, an oatmeal stout, to pass the time.
It was on nitro so it was very thick and creamy.  Slightly sweet aroma with a little nuttiness.  Chocolate, roast, and a tiny bit of coffee inside of a thick milk shake texture.  Very easy drinking stout.  As I drank more, I got even more chocolate flavors and it really just opens up.  Great way to prepare the palate for the sours to come. (Ok, I'm making that up, but it totally sounds good, doesn't it?)

So, on to the class.  Nicole started with a bit of history on Belgium and the location of where sours are mostly produced there.  I want to say all, but lets go with most just to be safe, of the sours made in Belgium are from the northern region.  There's an area where lambics come from, an area where Flanders Reds are made, and an area where Flanders Oud Bruins are brewed.  She then went on to describe the different micro-organisms that involve themselves in creating a sour.  Depending on the style, different amounts and types of organisms appear.  I say involve themselves rather than are used because most of the sours are spontaneously fermented, meaning the wort is left open to the air and whatever feels like growing in it is incorporated.  True, the brewers have a little more control than that makes it sound, but only a bit and things are getting a bit more difficult with urban development occurring more.  I will say, though, not all sours in Belgium are spontaneously fermented just a lot of them.  The major ones in the US have specific bacteria pitched into them to control the fermentation and they still taste great so it's not like it means the beer will be awesome.  Just another brewing technique although definitely more traditional.

After the history and chemistry lesson, she went on to the breweries.  We started with a small glass of Orval from Brasserie D'Orval.
Orval is a Belgian Pale Ale made with Brettanomyces (Brett) yeast which gives it a bit of funk and farmhouse.  Fresh bottles are going to taste very different than aged as the yeast hasn't had a chance to eat all the delicious sugar.  Sweet and floral aroma.  This glass had a bit of funk mixed with a bit of bitterness.  Very different flavor than most things.  Nice calm way to start the sour tasting.

Up next was the Oud Beersel Framboise, a raspberry lambic.
Looks almost brown.  Had a little vinegar in the nose with a bit of raspberry.  Nicole said she could smell seeds as the raspberries are masticated (soaked in sugar basically) then thrown into the lambic completely whole.  Not very sour tasting, but not too sweet either.  Pretty well balanced.  I got a little bit of sugar in it followed by a decent bit of caramel.  Body was very creamy which unfortunately turned a little syrupy after having some of the later geuzes.  Decent but I still prefer the more sour lambics for this style.

After that was Hanssens Oude Kriek, a cherry lambic.  No picture as I forgot to take one.  Was a bit more red than the framboise.  Sort of a cheese like aroma mixed with some funkiness.  Nicole used the phrase "mouse fur" to describe the aroma but, well, I didn't know what to make of that so yeah.  Sour and tart with some vinegar in the back.  A bit sharp from the cherries.  Nice and not sweet or medicinal like some fruit lambics can be.  I'd get this again.  Reminds me of Weyerbacher Riserva a bit even though that is made with raspberries.

Moving away from the fruit lambic, we came to unflavored lambic and geuze.  We started with Cantillon Bruocsella Grand Cru, a 3 year old (I think) unblended lambic.
Smelled very dry, no sweetness, with a funky barnyard like quality.  Started sort of watery and finished with some tartness and a mild funkiness.  I'll be honest, I wasn't a huge fan of this one.  It did get more complex as it warmed up, but even then the initial flavor was still sort of watery.  Its final gravity is very low as the Brett in it will ferment anything so after 3 years there is very little, if any, sugar left in the lambic.  As such, it really is pretty close to water although with alcohol and flavor obviously.  Still, not my thing I guess and kind of glad I never picked up a bottle of it.

The next, however, I loved.  Drie Fonteinen Oude Geuze.  A geuze generally being a blend of 1, 2 and 3 year old lambics.
Because of the young lambic, there is a lot more carbonation in this compared to the Cantillon.  The nose is similar, though, with the same funkiness.  However, the taste is just so much more.  Just a little bit of wateriness is replaced immediately with a bit of sweetness, some tartness, and finished off with some funky mustiness.  (Yes, I'm using funky a ton.  So sue me.)  As I drank more, I got a slight sense of apples but it was really mild.  This was just really well balanced between funky, sweet, and dry.  I could easily drink a lot of this.  I'd heard a lot of good things about it before the class and was really happy it held up.

After the lambics, we arrived at the flanders red and oud bruin styles.  The main difference (at least I think so) between the two is the former is aged in giant wood tanks while the latter is aged in stainless steel.  We started with a flanders red, Rodenbach Classic.
The classic version of Rodenbach is 75% new mixed with 25% aged beer.  As such, this is very sweet instead of sour and tart.  Tons of caramel and apple in the aroma.  Caramel, sugar, and apples with just a tiny hint of sour in the finish.  Just tons of caramel.  Decent but too sweet to even be a gateway sour.  Someone in the room described it as having a "brown butter" flavor which is a good descriptor.

We finished up with an aged belgian pale in the style of flanders oud bruin, Petrus Aged Pale.  I've had this a couple times and really, really like it.
Big vinegar nose and pretty sharp.  Flavor isn't quite as strong as the vinegar is balanced nicely with sourness and a little apple.  Really enjoyable sour and while it's strong tasting, none of the strong flavors linger making it almost refreshing.  Considering its cost, this would make a good intro sour.

So that was it.  Six styles, six very different sours (I'm counting the Cantillon and Drie Fonteinen as very different and you'll just have to deal).  Nicole's presentation was very good with lots of interesting facts and pictures.  She gave a nice history of each individual brewery whose beers we sampled and then gave some nice descriptions for the beers themselves.  She is way more eloquent than I am, that's for sure.  As far as the beers, I'd definitely get the Drie Fonteinen and Petrus again but not sure about the others.  I feel like the Cantillon should have been better although it's not like it was bad.  Another great Beerschooled class and definitely looking forward to another interesting topic.

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