Last weekend saw two divergent beer styles taking center stage in Los Angeles.
New Belgium Brewing brought a serious sour education to the Library Alehouse for those wanting to learn more about the dark art of tart beers in a Sour Beer Symposium and Blending Workshop. It is by far the most fun symposium I have attended and also one of the most educational.
Lauren and Eric Salazar, leaders of the wood aged brigade, detailed how New Belgium went from seven wine barrels in 1998 to 64 foeders in 2014. [One is named Baby, and it is appropriately in a corner.] When they began souring beers it required finding yeast strains in Berlin from ancient bottles of Berliner Weisse. More inspiration came from other unexpected sources like rogue bottles of Fat Tire that had undergone acidification. Nowadays Fat Tire never leaves Fort Collins if it doesn’t pass stringent quality control.
To back up, Lauren Salazar explained that brewing yeast is like the hare in Aesop’s classic fable. Off to a fast start, eating all the sugar it can and then tuckering out before the finish line while the wild yeast is like the tortoise. Slowly going about business, methodically chewing up all the sugar it finds and eventually hitting the finish line.
Second, most of the sour beers coming from New Belgium start life as either Oscar, a dark beer like their 1554, minus the black malt; or as Felix, a strong golden lager. They want simple beers for the bugs and yeast to work on without creating strange flavors. There is a lot of science behind it involving molecules and splitting them, tannins, beeswax and translating for French coopers, but I moved on to the 2014 La Folie, which was marvelous. Big and strawberry jammy with a delicate touch of tartness in each sip.
This beer was introduced in 1999 and the bottling of the limited amount did not go well. The corks were the wrong size. There were bottles exploding and the workday to fix the problem was a long one, but persistence has led to the point today where La Folie is justly praised.
Eager attendees then got to practice blending with sours from four different foeders. I would need a full day, plenty of water and naps and practice-practice-practice before nailing down the perfect blend of “Sure Thing”, “Lady Marmalade”, “Grape Ape” and “ODB”. But it was fun to try each individually and compare it to the mix.
While talking about the Pediococcus bacteria, Lauren Salazar off the cuff stated that it “Pukes out some gnarly stuff.” And they were right. They are creating some serious sours.
The very next day, Mohawk Bend hosted IPA’s from all over California in its second annual L.A. IPA Festival. You may remember that Evan Price of Noble Ale Works won last year’s judging with Tongue Tickles. This year 60+ IPA’s were on tap in Echo Park to see who win would the 2014 crown.
I showed up the following day for leftovers and elbow room, since the Fest and IPA’s are so popular. The bartenders seemed shell-shocked by the crowds. The event was so popular that there was no room inside and fans had to idle outside.
I made my selections from the still massive Sunday offerings based on what beers don’t make it on tap to L.A. city limits very often. I started with Dork Squad from Bagby Beer Co. It was dank and strong with fruit punch notes hidden underneath. Next up was Kickout from Beach City Brewery. This was more my speed. It has a nice bite, but the fruit notes shine brighter and the wheat’s malt added a nice element too. My final choice was Hops Angeles from Lancaster’s Kinetic Brewing. Quite carbonated with a bitter kick to the palate.
All three were quite differentiated from the other which is probably why an IPA festival is so popular; there is something for everyone.
The Beer of the Week is a combo of the two items above. A winter white IPA from New Belgium, Accumulation, is a fruit bomb of an IPA with delicate wheat notes underneath. I heard people before the Sour Beer Symposium describing it as Fruit Loopy. In a good way. And I agree. Filled with Target and Centennial hops then dry hopped with Mosaic and Amarillo, this is an excellent antidote to big, dank IPA’s.
Your Homework this week is to check out the new Eagle Rock Brewery Public House. It opened up last night! Now you can taste what Chef Jerry Su has cooked up to pair with Solidarity, Populist or the winter seasonal, Jubilee. Make your reservations and bring the Christmas vacationers here to really show off the craft beer and craft food that Los Angeles has to offer.
Find more of Sean Inman’s writing on his blog, Beer Search Party.