The Sour Session
The sour beer never made sense to me. I understood sweet. Bitter came later, but I got it, that and everything in between. However, the idea of a sour beer seemed wrong.
I started running with a beer-centric crowd just as sours were beginning to take off. I tried this and that, but none of it made sense to me. What was the big deal? The beers were either not that sour (Ommegang Bière de Mars) or were frankly too sophisticated for my naive palate (anything from Russian River). In a world of bitter hop bombs and syrupy imperial stouts, the sour was at least a respite from such abrasive flavors, not their equal.
As time went by, I began to appreciate sour beers, though. Of course, “sour” as a style barely began to describe these beers. Some were tart from processes in the mash. Others were soured with the addition of fruits or unique yeast strains. Still, others were soured in the barrels of beer’s sworn enemy: wine. The variations and multitude of supplemental flavors opened up my senses to a whole other world of craft beer enthusiasm.
However, something was missing. There wasn’t the equivalent of a Mikkeller 1000 IBU, Southern Tier Crème Brûlée, or Dogfish Head 120 Minute. Somehow, the imperial and extreme approach passed over sour beers. Sours are known for their subtlety. The goal with sour beer is not to make you pucker until your lips fall off. Instead, a sour is meant to tease the senses with a complex variety of flavors that recall tart berries, oak barrels, and ye olde farm house. Although I really enjoy the ethereal qualities of a sour beer, sometimes I want the extreme to contrast the typical.
For me, the sour beer that best fills this want is New Belgium’s La Folie.
La Folie is a controversial beer. People either love it or they hate it. It’s straight sour. You can pretend to sense other flavors with your nuanced taster, all you really get is Sour Patch x 100 without the sugar.
The beer is flat, nearly dead with it’s thin ring of foam that circles the brown pucker juice within your glass. Maybe New Belgium couldn’t figure out how to carbonate this beast or maybe they didn’t want to. One can only imagine the fury this truly arrogant bastard. would unleash on your tongue if there was even a few more bubbles to carry the sour further.
And if this truly is the extreme sour beer I crave, it’s remarkable that alcohol only accounts for 6% of its volume. Typically, beers with extreme flavors come correct with an extreme ABV. New Belgium knew what they had when they first poured La Folie down their gullets. Booze would only taint the sour with sweetness, a la those aforementioned Sour Patch Kids.
Of course, aside from supplementing flavors with some wooziness, alcohol is mainly there to slow your roll. It makes you sip a beer that’s meant for sipping, not chugging. Let the flavors linger. La Folie doesn’t need ABV. The sour slows you down on it’s own.
It’s an intimidating beer. I’d be lying if I pretended that I wasn’t…I’m not still intimidated. The current packaging is way less ominous with its annual redesign. When I first tried this beer a couple years ago, it came in the big 750 mL bottles, corked and baring only a tag and a little red stamp of the New Belgium bicycle logo. It took me two days sharing it with another dude to swallow it down.
This recent La Folie was less daunting. Maybe it was the smaller, cuter packaging. Maybe it was the last two or so years exploring Jolly Pumpkin, Boulevard, Captain Lawrence, Russian River, Stillwater, Odell’s, and more New Belgium. Whatever it was, I enjoyed sipping that La Folie over pizza and while I brewed an imperial stout of my own design.
Love it. Hate it. Fuck it. It may or may not be a sour to you. It may or may not be drinkable. Whatever. La Folie is a benchmark for me when it comes to sour beer. Maybe it’s extreme, maybe it isn’t. All I know is that it’s more interesting, more controversial, more sour than whatever’s in your glass right now.
1Is this even considered sour? That may be my first problem.
2Well, anything not named Pliny.
3Or a wet horse blanket, maybe even vagina.
4Yes, that is a tiny jab at friend of the blog Greg Koch whose Stone Brewery hosts an infamous sour beer event despite no sour beers of their own. It’s time Stone got on this, Greg.
5Or is it session of sours?
6my bottle looked like a wood barrel. Anyone know when those were bottled?
7Lips of Faith indeed. I could mention a long list of old Begians, but I never commit those beers to memory…aside from the Duchess. Sweet and sour, succulent Duchesse.
8This footnote is here just to let you know that I composed most of this post – footnotes and all – on my iPhone in a bar without a beer in hand and while local punk bands played on stage.