So many events, so little time. I was still feeling saturated from my tour of North Carolina when I arrived back home in Music City on the eve of Nashville Craft Beer Week 2014. In the end, I chose four events: a special appearance by New Belgium brewer Andy Sturm at 12 South Taproom on Thursday night, and three separate small batch releases at Black Abbey on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday (I stopped by the Abbey and had a pint each afternoon: more about this in an upcoming post). Next year I will try to plan for this week more in advance.
I arrived at the Taproom a bit early to get a seat at the bar – in my experience even when there is no event taking place, it’s difficult to find a place to sit by 5:30 or 6 pm.
New Belgium Snapshot (Wheat) 5 ABV 13 IBU (7)
New Belgium Yuzu Imperial Berliner Weisse 8 ABV 6 IBU (7)
New Belgium La Folie (Oud Bruin) 7 ABV 18 IBU (9)
New Belgium Ooh La Leopold (Bourbon Barrel Aged La Folie) (10)
(phirx ratings) are on a scale of 1-10.
I had a pint of Snapshot while I waited for the event to begin, not wanting to overtax my palate or tolerance. This light-bodied, creamy summer beer is a blend of two worts brewed with coriander and grains of paradise. One wort is fermented with ale yeast and one with lactobacillus, then the two are blended to achieve the final beer. Snapshot is lemony and only slightly tart at the finish, and leaves beautiful Belgian lace down the sides of the glass.
Yuzu is a strong Berliner Weisse style beer brewed with yuzu juice – yuzu is an East Asian citrus fruit whose juice has a tart flavor that compares to that of grapefruit with flavors also reminiscent of mandarin orange. The fruit is used in Japanese and Korean cuisine and some skin care products. This was the first time I ever had a beer made with it. It was very easy to drink – a strong, light-bodied wheat beer with an unusual – new to my taste buds – citrus flavor, slightly sour with no bitterness at all.
New Belgium Staff Brewer Andy Sturm was present at the event, and we spoke about brewing, sours, and New Belgium for a few minutes. Andy is very tall, greying about the temples, and was dressed casually in a Ranger IPA t-shirt. He seemed genuinely enthusiastic about his work as a brewer at New Belgium, and thrilled to be in Nashville for the first time.
Andy began his brewing career as a homebrewer. HIs first professional gig was with Legend Brewing Co. in Richmond, Virginia, and he has been working for New Belgium since 2002. He recounted for me one of his first tasks at New Belgium: rebuilding one of the barrels they use for fermenting sours, stave by stave. These large wooden barrels – originally for wine – are called fouders and he said mostly New Belgium has acquired them from France or California. These barrels are 15 feet tall and 10 or 11 feet in diameter, and each holds from 80-125 barrels of beer. They must be refilled as soon as they are empty or they will begin to spring leaks, requiring the brewers to keep a careful schedule for the New Belgium sours program.
Sour beers are first fermented in stainless steel using New Belgium’s house lager yeast, then transferred to the oak fouders and inoculated with a blend of brettanomyces, lactobacillus, etc. depending on the beer. This is how the La Folie is made. Oud Bruin is a sour style of brown ale, traditionally from Flanders. La Folie (Madness) is very sour, yet remarkably easy to drink, a lightly carbonated ale with a strong malt background supporting the beer’s extreme tartness, and no bitterness.
To make Ooh La Leopold, New Belgium brewers took La Folie one step further, and decanted it into blackberry whiskey barrels from Leopold Bros., a small batch distillery in Denver. This remarkable beer is nearly still, and has a depth of character beyond La Folie, akin to a sherry. It is smooth, sour, rich, and fruity. I didn’t want to drink anything else after it.
When I mentioned how remarkable it is that such a large brewing company is putting such effort into an artisanal brewing effort like sours, Andy said “To be able to do it we’re incredibly lucky – to be able to focus on this sour beer segment of the market. It challenges us to be better brewers.”